“Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.” - Chinese Proverb
In Part 1 of my blog post on professional growth I share the reasons why growing personally and professionally is necessary. It is important to remember that growing and reflecting on our teaching practices is not something that we rush to complete. I am twenty years into my educational career and I am still learning and growing. There are often times I wish I could turn back the clock so that I could apply my newly developed skills in an early education classroom. Instead of focusing on the past I take to heart the saying “when you know better you do better” and I share the gifts of this new knowledge with educators so they can transform their teaching practices.
In the classroom when I am trying to understand why a child is having a struggle, what direction a project should go in or how I can make connections with a family, I reflect upon guiding questions. This is exactly how you would start your journey into professional growth. Sit down with your favorite beverage, a journal and some fancy gel pens (teachers love a fancy gel pen!). Next, write down a few guiding questions. I have given you some suggestions to get you started.
What am I passionate about?
Why did I become a teacher?
What do I wonder about?
What struggles am I having in the classroom?
What do I want to know more about?
Once you have your questions you need to spend some time reflecting which is the hardest part of this journey. While it is easy for us to give ideas on how others should grow that is not always true when we are looking at ourselves. You need to dig really deep when exploring these guiding questions.
Now that you’ve spent time reflecting upon your guiding questions it is time to make a professional development plan. Maybe you want to transform your teaching practices so that you spend more time being a guide on the side and less time being a sage on the stage. You would set a goal to learn more about child-led learning. With this goal in mind you would look for articles, podcasts, books and courses in this area.
Here are some of my go-to favorites for professional (and personal development):
Professional development does not have be be expensive. Anytime I am asking myself a guiding question I start my research with articles and blog posts. The secret to finding the perfect article is knowing how to perform a search. When you are looking for an article on a topic you need to search using keywords. For instance, if I wanted to know more about child-led learning I would type child + led + learning into my search engine. This would ensure that the first articles that I am shown are on the topic I am interested in learning more about.
When you find articles that really speak to your guiding question it is a good idea to save the article using a bookmarking tool. This will allow you to revisit the article so you can share and discuss it with others. If you are looking for research based journal articles you can use the Google Scholar search engine. One of my favorite sites for education related journal articles is ERIC Institute of Education Science. There are often fees attached to journal articles but they are important if you are looking for the something that is research based. You can sometimes avoid these fees if you are a college student and have access to an online journal library.
Subscribing to a blog is another fantastic free professional development tool. I love reading blog posts written by educators, mental health professionals and parents. There is something so personal about a someone sharing their own reflections and journey. Some of my favorite blogs to read are - Teacher Tom, Fairy Dust Teaching, Happy Families, Interaction Imagination, and Play Counts.
If you follow us on Facebook you see a well-curated collection of articles on parenting and education. I find those articles through my research, first as a teacher then later while developing workshops. I have curated an extensive list of educators, bloggers, parents, and health professional to follow on social media to find such rich content. I don’t always have the time to read the article or post immediately so I save it for a time when I can focus on the content.
To save a post or article on Facebook you will click on the three dots located in the top right hand corner of the post. You will see an option to save the post. To find it again you can click on “saved” under the explore label on the left-hand side of your Facebook newsfeed. You can also organize these saved articles in folders so it is easier for future reference. Some of my favorite pages to follow on Facebook are: Bringing the Outside In, The Inspired Child, Life on Purpose Movement, Positive Parenting Solutions, The OT Toolbox and Roseville Early Years Consultancy.
Videos, Webinars and Podcasts
I am always on the lookout for a great (short) videos to share during my workshop presentations. Videos are a great way for educators (and parents) to see a concept in action. They are also a great way to dig deeper into your professional development journey. You can use the same search engine trick when looking for videos. If you want to learn more about child-led learning you would type child + led+ learning + video into the search engine. You can often find free training videos online that will help you continue your journey. At TECE we offer mini-courses which give you small (but mighty) doses of information.
If you find a Youtuber that posts topics that interest you, subscribe to the Youtube page and you will be notified each time they upload a new video. I’m also a fan of webinars which are most often free and give you a lot of information that you can unpack when you are ready. I really enjoy the webinars presented by Gryphon House. Although they are usually promoting a new book I’ve always found the information useful and it gives me a sneak peak into a book that I may want to look for later. Podcasts are another option and offer you a great way to explore learning on the go! I spend a lot of time traveling so I am always looking for new podcasts. Check out this list of podcasts for teachers.
I have to make a confession...I am a huge book nerd. Walking into a bookstore with the scent of new books makes me swoon. The wonderful thing about using books as a tool for professional development is that you don’t always have to purchase the book. I love my local library which is in walking distance from my home. When I find a book that I feel like I can’t live without I head over to my local library’s web page to see if they have it in their catalog.
Since I want to curb my spending on books I will often find the book at the library and read it before I decide to add it to my collection. Asking the administrators at your school to start a lending library is a great way to another great way to encourage professional growth. Some of my current favorites are: Messy Maths, The Zen Teacher, Teach Like Finland, and, Bambini: The Italian Approach to Infant/Toddler Care.
Training: In Person and Virtual
My favorite part of my role as an early childhood specialist is the connections I make with teachers during training workshops. When a program hosts an on-sight workshop the entire school staff is able to share a vision for growth and development that continues beyond the professional development day. If your program does not offer on-sight training opportunities then it is in your best interest to research your options. In the US, most states have organizations that offer professional development. In North Carolina, each county has a local Partnership which offers professional development opportunities monthly.
If you aren’t able to track down local trainings then you can search for virtual options. I am personally a big fan of online learning. I completed my masters degree in curriculum and instruction online. The key to online learning is finding a course that is the right fit for you and your needs. As we design our our online courses we are mindful of offering a time for reflection along with the ability to apply the knowledge gained during the course. If you are looking for a way to explore your passions and dig deeper into your teaching practices from the comfort of your own home Coursera offers fantastic courses.
Conferences and Memberships
There is nothing like a national education conference. There are so many people to meet and workshops to attend. The downside is that they are often one of the most expensive options for professional development. Most national conferences occur around the same time each year. If you know that attending a specific conference is on your bucket list it’s a good idea to start saving up in advance. You can also often get a discount on admission if you are a member of the organization who is hosting the conference. Some organization's membership allows you to access online educational content.
Another option is to attend local conferences which are often less expensive but just as informative. Many small educational organizations will host their own conferences with local educators presenting the workshops. We are excited to host our first conference in the fall of 2019 where we will feature early childhood educators from North Carolina. The national organization NAEYC also has branches in each state. These local branches often offer their own conferences which are a great way to network with educators in your home state.
In order to grow you need to take this newly gained information and apply it to your teaching practices. The true measure of learning is not memorization of facts but application of knowledge. Reflect, set a goal, dive in and transform your teaching practice.
We’d love for you to share your goals and favorite ways to grow professionally in the comment section!