Take a moment to look through this website. You’ll find that much of the site is dedicated to professional development. Except for maybe Moses himself, every Jewish educator is in need of continuing education and professional development. Deeply knowledgeable educators equipped with the best skills, and adapting to the shifts in culture and technology are key to keeping our communities informed and committed. This is why one of the pillars of the Pincus Fund for Jewish Education is developing the skills of our educators, and Jeducation World is filled with articles to help Jewish educators in that endeavor.
In order for you to develop as an educator, you need to take an active role in it. The school or program you work with will have an interest in helping you, and in many cases will offer seminars and programs for its educators, but it is also very easy for an educator to take a passive role in their education and not move forward. Think of the stereotype of the older teacher who is stuck in their ways; we’ve all heard of them, and we don’t think of them as great role models for new teachers, because they are not committed to professional development.
You also cannot rely 100% on your employer to move you forward. We know that each student in our classrooms learns differently, and the same is true for you and your peers! The programs your school offers you might not be the best path for your own learning. This is why you need to plan and prepare for your own education.
However, going in head first can be overwhelming; which program should you participate in? What cool new techniques can you use in your lesson plans? Who should you go to for support? To be successful, you actually need to think of your education through the lens of, well, an educator. Professional development is in fact teaching with you as both the student and the teacher. Just as you wouldn’t go into a classroom without a lesson plan and curriculum, when you approach your own learning, you should have a plan.
So how do you go about creating a personal professional development plan?
To begin, you have to understand yourself as an educator. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What are your favorite lesson plans and techniques as a teacher, and what have you been doing that hasn’t been working? A lot of this you can do yourself right now. Sit down for a few minutes with a pen and paper, and reflect.
However, you can’t rely only on your subjective reflections. Take it one step further, and do research on yourself. Look for feedback from other educators and administration and study learning outcomes among your students. One excellent way of seeing who you are as an educator might be to even record yourself during a lesson and to watch it later.
After you have done your reflective research, you will have a clearer picture of what you need to work on.
Set broad goals and outcomes
Once you have seen where your strengths or weakness are, it is time to decide on what kind of outcomes you want from your professional development. What do you want to reinforce in yourself and what would you like to stop doing? Start small; reading the entire Gemara so that you can be a better informed Jewish Studies teacher is a great goal, but one that will take years to accomplish. Reading Daf Yomi every day is a smaller short-term goal that can get you to accomplish the larger goal.
Categorize these goals into broader outcomes that you would like to work on. For example, the above would go into the “Becoming More Knowledgeable in Judaism” category, while wanting to work on not being flustered in front of the classroom could fall into the outcomes of either “Becoming a More Confident Educator,” “Being Better Prepared for Lessons,” or perhaps both, depending on what you’ve discovered during reflection.
Determine what works for you
Who are you as a learner? Do you prefer reading a case study or an interesting academic article? Or do you prefer a seminar or group project? Don’t decide based on what you immediately believe you prefer – instead, actually examine yourself. What has worked in the past? Reflect on past cases where you read something or participated in a professional development program. Did you take anything from the experience and bring it into your classroom? What was it about that program that did or did not work? From there you’ll be able to better work out what you need to do in order to tackle those core goals you determined above.
Create SMART Goals
You now have in front of you a list of broad goals and the methodology that you know will work best for accomplishing those goals! Now you need to make it into a plan. Connect the two items to create clear SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound) goals for yourself.
Examples based on different learning styles and goals might be:
- Becoming More Knowledgeable in Judaism
- Read Daf Yomi on your own each morning
- Listen to a lesson every evening
- Attend an adult-learning course at my local synagogue
- Attend the upcoming Limmud conference
- Becoming a More Confident Educator
- Read a personal empowerment book this month
- Attend a public speaking class next semester
- Keep a journal of good teaching moments each week
- Have coffee with a peer or mentor I can share my thoughts with each month
- Being Better Prepared for Lessons
- Find and test new templates each week for lesson plans that work for me
- Get to the classroom 15 minutes earlier each day
- Attend a seminar about classroom management this year
Now that you have a plan set, share it with your peers, mentors and even the administration at your school/program. This is your support network as an educator and student. They might have great advice regarding programs or resources for you to use. They can also help keep you accountable and provide you with assistance and encouragement so that you can you achieve your goals.
Remember to always be active and flexible in your professional development – you need it, and your students need it. If something discussed above isn’t working, or you find a new way that you can improve, adjust your plan! Make sure to check back here at Jeducation World to find new sources of professional development for you to add to your plan.
Best of luck and happy learning!