Thursday, September 27, 2012

On the lookout: PD is everywhere!

As an educator, I like to go through my normal life seeing opportunities to learn and grow in my profession. I find Professional Development opportunities everywhere. Let me give you today's example:

I began attending a Spin class at my local gym at 5:45am on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I am not at all the epitome of health, but I am striving to get more healthy and this type of exercise is fun for me. Not only are the frequent members fun to be with, but the instructor, Mary, is a wonderful encouragement.

Watching Mary teach the class this morning reminded me of several qualities needed in a great teacher.

Mary takes the times to build relationships. She knows those of us who are "regulars" and also takes time to get to know each newbie as well. It is more than just knowing our names. I often encounter Mary asking others about their ill family members, their jobs, or their children. These relationships grow over time as they would in the classroom.

Each member of the class is at a different level physically, so Mary differentiates her instruction. This is done in several ways. She offers to assist new members adjust the height of their seat and handlebars, she gives a range of gears so some can cycle with less resistance, and she will often say "if you need to slow things down, go ahead." While pushing us to our physical limit, Mary also reminds us of "proper form" - the basics of cycling. All of these are ways that both newbies and "regulars" are taught and led. When I encounter my students, I need to remember that they all learn differently and are at various levels in their learning. I need to differentiate my instruction to meet their needs.

One element necessary in an exercise class is encouragement. So often we beat up ourselves when we don't feel like we can go any longer. We find other projects to steal our workout time. Mary is consistently encouraging us that we are "worth the effort" and to not "cheat ourselves" by giving up. She not only encourages, but I truly think she believes in each one of us. Each student in my classroom needs encouragement and for me to believe in them and their abilities.

Lastly, Mary presents herself as a participant, not as the expert. Obviously in an exercise class, the instructor participates, but Mary goes above and beyond saying things like "We'll get there together!" If a new person is struggling she empathizes and lets them know she understands and has felt like that in the past. This is a wonderful reminder for teachers to be a life-long learner participating in the process. 

As you go throughout your day, be on the lookout for opportunities to learn and become a better teacher. These experiences are everywhere - maybe even in your daily routine.

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