Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Secret to Becoming a Better Teacher

Pictured Left Victoria Reid Pictured Right Shawndra Reid holding awards
Shawndra Reid (r) with her daughter Victoria Reid
The opportunity to grow as a teacher is as easy as the click of a mouse, bringing new information to your fingertips. With so many tips and tricks, it can be difficult to know what works and what doesn't. Learn the secret to becoming a better teacher from someone who has experienced it first hand, Rio Salado's Shawndra Reid, Program Supervisor for the Teacher in Residence Program:

I’ve always considered teaching to be a performance profession like actors, professional athletes, or musicians.  In order to become a master of their performance, teachers must continually strive to perfect their craft through coaching. You need someone to watch you teach and give honest feedback with clear pathways to improvement, which did I mention doesn’t have to be your formal evaluator? 

Some of the best feedback I have ever received was from colleagues I invited in to my classroom to watch me teach. You can ask someone to observe to give general feedback or for something specific like questioning strategies, management style, or even how many times “um” slips out during a presentation.  We all have our strengths and weaknesses so take the opportunity to decide what you want to improve and have someone help you! 

We also need to watch ourselves teach. Yes – that means we need record our own lessons and watch them which can be painful, I know. Just remember, our students watch us teach every day, we should be able to watch ourselves teach without cringing! 

When you see yourself doing something amazing, take note so you can be sure to do it again next time. When we watch ourselves doing something clumsy, keep practicing and improving!  We need to celebrate big (think: end zone dance!) when we do well and conversely, we need to own up when we don’t do well (think: awkward TV interview) and reflect on how we will improve. It’s easy to avoid this kind of reflection and feedback because it can make you feel vulnerable, but this is the only way to truly improve – take it from someone who knows. 

Teaching is a performance which requires an audience. Can you imagine a professional athlete who never watched their own games to see how they did? Or an actor who never watched their own plays/movies to analyze their performance? Of course not! True performers are never done learning, never done improving, never done honing their craft.  This type of focus and determination keeps you fresh and on the front edge of the teaching profession. 

So, what’s the next step? Pin point the area you want to improve (most likely whatever made you cringe) and seek out the knowledge and skills you’ll need to succeed.  I typically have two areas of focus at all times, one instructional strategy and one content area and I hope that this technique will work for you, too.

Recently, I have tried Socratic Seminar as an instructional strategy.  It wasn’t perfect, and I will do things differently next time I hold a seminar, but I will keep trying! I have also started teaching Shakespeare.  I was intimidated in the beginning, but I focused on overcoming my nervousness through learning. I read teaching guides and analysis, watched movies, and attended several live performances at the local theatre.  I developed a love for Shakespeare and my enthusiasm spreads to my teaching. 

What will your focus be?  What will you choose to improve? Who will you choose to watch you teach? 

Contributed by Shawndra Reid, Program Supervisor for the Teacher in Residence Program