You are knee-deep in the middle of the school year. I am sure the last thing you are thinking about is your own professional development needs when you have the needs of so many students to care for. With that being said, being a life-long learner is very important for a professional educator to be able to keep up on what is new in the world of education, and to make sure that you don’t stay stagnant with your approach. I always like to have an ongoing professional development goal for myself during the school year. This year, I was fortunate enough to take a class in connection with the State Mathematics Leadership Team focusing on number sense for preschool to second grade students. I am a middle school teacher, but I found this to be of great value in helping me see some of the possible reasons that my middle school students struggle with number sense, and what I may be able to do to adjust their struggles.
Here are a few examples of options you may want to take advantage of during the school year:
1. Visiting other teacher’s classrooms
It’s easy to live in your own bubble in your classroom, especially if you are a rural teacher where you are the only person who does what you do. But even if you’re not, haven’t you ever wondered what else you could be doing, or how something you have only heard about actually works in the classroom? With the state and national push for the Mathematical Practices Standards and Effective Mathematical Teaching Practices, it’s always nice to get out and see how this works in someone else’s classroom. I have people come in all the time to watch problem-solving tasks in action, or to check out how self-pacing works, and I know there are hundreds of great teachers who would welcome you into their classrooms. If you are not sure who would be good to watch, reach out to your AEA for recommendations. Not sure if your administration would let you take a day off to do this? From my experience, if you present a solid plan of why you would be doing this and the benefits that would come from such an experience (always relating to current district goals), I can’t imagine you would have too much trouble convincing them.
2. Having a book study
Finding a common text to read and discuss with your colleagues is a wonderful way to expand your thinking and find ways to improve your practice. If you do not have people to communicate with locally, set up a group with other area teachers and host small gatherings. Also consider using Twitter as the great equalizer. You could get a group of people together from across the nation that have like interests as you, and discuss the questions through a Twitter Chat. Most people are familiar with communicating with people over social media...this would be no different.
Some books I would recommend would include NCTM’s Taking Action Series, which is a practical look at teaching using the Effective Mathematical Teaching Practices (there is a book for elementary, middle school, and high school). NCTM’s Catalyzing Change is also a thought-provoking read for anyone invested in the middle school, to high school, to college transition in regards to mathematics.
3) Brush up on your content knowledge
Truth be told, some people are not comfortable with some of the content they are teaching. This could be for many reasons. Maybe you were thrust into a role that license-wise you can teach, but you have never actually done. Even though the standards were updated a while ago, maybe there are some of the different portions of your grade level content that you don’t fully understand. It might even be that you want to be more comfortable with grade level content above or below your own you so you can better understand where your students are coming from, and where they are headed.
In any of those cases, I would refer you to Khan Academy Missions. Khan Academy Missions lets you choose a certain grade level or class, like 8th grade or Algebra 2, and try to master all skills up to 100%. This is actually something many of my students do on the side, and enjoy as a nice change of pace. There are helpful videos along the way if you get stuck.
Go to khanacademy.org
Make an account, or for most people, sign in using Google
Click on “courses” in the upper left-hand corner
Select the grade or class you want to explore
When that page for the grade or class appears, click in the middle of the screen where it says “Looking for Missions”
You will start with a quick preassessment. Along the way you will complete mastery challenges. The lists of skills are represented by little boxes on the left side of the screen. For more information on missions, go to this link:
Hopefully these three options will give you something to think about so you can continuously be getting better as a teacher and professional We want our students to always be improving. We should want to improve as well!
Dr. Clayton M. Edwards
Central Rivers AEA Regional Director