Return on Investment
By Gregory Gilmore
As you begin the school year, you will be asked to invest yourself in many things: kids, parents, committees, projects, graduate work, coaching, new teachers, PLC–and the list continues to build through May. If this wasn’t enough, this list only pertains to your professional life and when combined with commitments from outside of school, they can seem even more daunting. As your calendar quickly fills within the first few weeks of the school year, make it a priority to invest in yourself. Although this investment is the easiest to neglect, it will return the largest benefits to you and your other investments. In fact, the time spent in professional growth will reap compound returns for the rest of your commitments. Consider the fact that the ISTE Standards for Teachers and Coaches both include a standard for professional growth. These standards set the expectations for 21st Century teachers and instructional coaches, and they acknowledge that it would be impossible to provide any student in any location the best possible education in the absence of every certified adult investing in their own professional growth.
Professional growth is no longer an opt-out component within the professional educator’s responsibilities. With the availability of online and face-to-face networking spaces, professional isolation is a conscious choice. One of my most important responsibilities as a EdTech Coach is helping my teachers connect with other educators who are doing the same things and facing the same challenges. When I was asked to help lead ElevateEDU, I saw this organization as a conduit for facilitating periodic personal collisions for my teachers that would naturally lead to on-demand online connections, reaping benefits throughout the year.
ElevateEDU is more than curating content, tips, or, tricks– it brings people together who are striving to transform education in their classrooms and buildings. Your participation makes ElevateEDU stronger and richer.
As you set your priorities for this school year, take some time to consider a few things I have discovered about professional growth (PG) while working as a classroom teacher, librarian, and instructional coach. As there is no formula for effective professional growth, these observations are in no particular order or ranking.
- Forming Connections: PG just isn’t just about absorbing content. It is equally about forming connections with people who will have the content when you need it. Don’t place your colleagues on pedestals that place them out of your reach. They participate in PG for the same reasons that you do and face the same challenges and disappointments. If they didn’t want to interact with you, they would choose to isolate themselves and you wouldn’t even know they existed. Likewise, ignore job titles during PG. True PG levels all playing fields among educators.
- Support: PG is where you find inspiration and support–support to take the great ideas you already have and make them a reality, and perhaps someone to partner with in the process.
- Social: PG is not about using Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, Voxer, or some other digital tool. The power of these tools are the people using them. It’s called social media for a reason–don’t neglect the social aspects of these tools and certainly don’t use them only when you need information.
- Face to Face: PG can never reside solely in a digital environment. When you know people through face to face encounters, you will be more likely to ask them for help in the future and they will be more likely to respond. Meet face to face when possible and keep the digital lines of communication open between these personal meetings.
- Relationships: PG is relationship based. Like any relationship, they must be maintained over time. I’m not talking about hours a week, but don’t neglect the opportunities to connect with other people as they ask for help, celebrate success, or seek support to carry out their next big idea. I guarantee you that they will be excited when you respond to their Tweet, Vox, or other post. If they didn’t want you to respond, they wouldn’t have shared.
- Communication: PG is a two-way communication system. You will will get out of your PG what you put into it. PG is not about finding people who always agree with you. The best PG comes when a colleague challenges or questions your ideas–forcing you to clarify, justify, or revise your perceptions. Do not hoard great ideas and encouragement from others and keep an open mindset as others share their ideas.
- Consider your Growth: The effectiveness of PG is not measured by the time or money spent, distance traveled, or words read. Recalibrate your success metrics to include your growth as an educator and how your growth impacts students and your colleagues.
- Assume the Best: Assume the best of your colleagues and trust their intentions to do what is best for their kids. Unless you see evidence to the contrary, they seek PG for the same reasons that you do–they are making investments in themselves that will reap compound returns in every other professional investment they make. Plus, teachers love to share and teach; the best PG takes place when you spend time in both the student and teacher roles.
This list is only the beginning; since it is incomplete, I am asking you to share what you have discovered about professional growth and what works for you. What observations have you made about effective professional growth? What would you add to this list? More importantly, what is your list? Please add your thoughts in the comments. I want to hear from you, and look forward to communicating with you through this blog and meeting with you face to face at future ElevateEDU events. This conversation is just the beginning, and the collisions that lead to continued professional growth and improvement must never end.