10 personal improvement strategies for teachers
1. Model Ideal Behaviour
Why was “dabbing” ever a thing? When did “flossing” and “shuffling” become the coolest moves on the dance floor? Students imitate the behaviours of others, teachers included. Students will watch you closely in your classroom, so you need to ensure that the way you behave reflects the way you expect them to be behaving. Focus on positively reinforcing the students who are acting appropriately to encourage other students to act properly. Be respectful and supportive of your students. This will help you to create a safe and positive learning environment for them. Remember, double standards will damage your credibility as a teacher and your students will lose respect for you. So if they can’t eat in the classroom, you shouldn’t either.
2. Dress Professionally
Teachers work hard to gain the respect they deserve, not just in their schools, but in their communities as well. Dressing as a professional is an essential part of being a role model for your students and to be taken seriously. What you are wearing is important—you demonstrate daily how professional adults look and behave. What you wear sends a message to your students, colleagues, and community about how much respect you have for yourself, your profession and for others. By being well-dressed, you are communicating to your students that you care about being their teacher, that their education is important, and that it should be taken seriously.
3. Maintain Professional Relationships
Teachers should never confuse being friendly towards students and being friends with students. Teachers aren’t supposed to be friends with their students. Full stop. Friendship puts the student on your level and that invites too many problems to address here. Suffice to say it is unprofessional and your students and career will inevitably suffer. Keeping your relationship with your students professional means that you are able to care and be there for them while maintaining the authority and respect necessary for successful teaching. You will also be able to create and sustain a safe learning environment in your classroom.
4. Develop Genuine Rapport
Learn the names of your students as quickly as possible. Calling them by their names is important in so many ways; it shows them implicitly that you care about them. To develop rapport, you are going to have to go a little deeper than that. The best teacher-student relationships are never all about the teaching. You need to actively seek out ways to connect with your students as individuals with different backgrounds, interests and needs. Use time before classes, in the playground, or in the halls to have quick interactions with students about the latest fads they’re in to, how their family is going, or if their team won on the weekend. Showing genuine interest when talking to them can help build a foundation for good rapport. If appropriate, give a student a few minutes to get something off their chest in class before refocusing them to work—hear them out. Attend their sporting and extra-curricular activities when you can (obviously, within reason). Call home when they have done something great or need a boost in class. Show them that you genuinely care and see them respond.
5. Develop Strong Communication Skills
Strong communication skills encompass so much more than speaking clearly. Addressing students effectively, no matter their age-group or class size, requires practice. Don’t be embarrassed to stand in front of the mirror and practice what you want to say to your class. Take note of the verbal and non-verbal cues that you need to work on. Remember that listening is just as important in effective communication. Your ability to understand and respond to the ideas and feelings of your students will greatly influence your classroom environment. Work on how you deal with stress and emotion so that you’re able to maintain your professionalism at all times. In “10 Elements of Strong Communication,” we help break down the key components because it really is fundamental to effective teaching.
6. Have High Expectations
Being in the “bottom class” can encourage students and teachers to develop a preconceived notion of what students in that class are able to achieve. Behavioural problems will stem from teachers’ low expectations of what a student can achieve and the resulting poor self-esteem and self-worth of that student. You need to have high expectations for all your students. This doesn’t mean they should all get A’s. Instead, the student should be shown that the effort they put in is worthwhile and that it will be recognized, valued and appropriately awarded. They don’t have to be the best but expect them to try their best. Set high, achievable goals and show the process to reach them. Explain that mistakes are inevitable, even expected, but they are to always try again and aim to improve. Value their input and allow them to demonstrate their skills in a variety of ways. Hold high behavioural expectations for your students because you want them in your classroom and because you believe in them.
7. Focus on the Future Needs of Your Students
The relevance of what we teach is key to the value that our students see in their education. Effective, modern education looks at the evolving nature of skillsets that will be required by the workplace our students will enter. Teaching should never rest on what was done before. Our students have grown up using complicated devices from an early age. They have access to incredible amounts of information at their fingertips. You can increase student agency and engagement while addressing their future needs by incorporating modern technologies. Let your students embrace technology when it comes to problem solving and use it in creative and innovative ways. Have them create a dating app for Shakespearean characters or elements on the periodic table instead of copying notes. Teachers should not be afraid to let their student’s expertise with modern technology help direct their learning.
8. Build Community
Realise that a school is a community involving teachers, principals, executive staff, and other members of school staff like SLSOs, caretakers, counselors, and parents. Ideally, you will be able to develop a support network at your school to help your professional development, to assist and support colleagues, and to benefit from their assistance and support as well. Be a visible member of your school and form relationships with your colleagues and the parents; this will be beneficial for you as a teacher who is part of the school community. Ask questions and be proactive about issues concerning your school. Look for ways you can contribute to making school-life better and to improve your own teaching strategies. Ask for feedback from your community on what you are teaching and what you should incorporate into your classes. Finally, if you’re receiving support from your community, make sure that you give your whole-hearted support back.
9. Reflect on Your Teaching
Critically evaluate your teaching practice by asking why certain things are working and others are not. The aim is to build upon your strengths and to identify and improve upon your weaknesses. Regular reflection is essential in developing the teaching strategies that will work for you. Remember you’re not alone. Sharing your experiences with a close colleague or in your department meeting is highly beneficial. This allows you to vent, share and gain ownership of an experience, and receive feedback on how you can shape your experience and grow as a teacher. We develop as professionals when our perceptions shift and when we motivate ourselves to try new things. This allows us to become flexible and adaptable in the classroom, and to better model the reflection process to our students who we ask to reflect on their learning.
10. Take Mental and Physical Breaks from Teaching
Anyone who thinks that teachers get too many holidays and breaks is not a teacher. There is probably not a teacher alive who doesn’t spend part of their “free-time” marking schoolwork or planning lessons. It is essential for your mental health to take a break when you need it. Often, teachers will feel guilty about leaving their students to take a sick day. Do you get a reward (or any recognition) for not using your sick days? Nope. However, your students and colleagues will notice when you’re struggling. Don’t feel guilty if you need a day off from teaching. Your students and the school can and will survive a day or two without you. Sometimes, a short break is necessary to refocus, refresh and prevent burnout. Just make sure you leave enough work for the casual.