Improving Teaching: One Step at a Time

Effective teaching is tough.  Teachers do an amazing job tackling the immense amount of responsibilities (in addition to the meat of what we do, instruction and assessment, there are also the tasks of making phone calls, reading and responding to emails, copying papers, collaborating with colleagues, communication via newsletters, grading and assessing, etc.  The list goes on and on).   So, how does one put in the energy, effort and time to improve, when honestly, teaching is a job that is never “done” at the end of the day.   The answer, I believe, is taking on only one aspect of your teaching, and allowing yourself the time (weeks and months if needed) to delve deeply into a new practice. 

 Let’s compare this to the challenges of weight loss. In our busy lives, sometimes it is quite hard to completely change our eating and exercise lifestyle.  What’s the solution to this dilemma for many? Take on one thing at a time. Drink more water.  Or, take a walk after dinner.  After that is mastered, take on something else such as adding more veggies to your diet or adding one day of weight lifting. 

Many financial planners advise this as well.  The ever popular, and much more important, effective financial plan of Dave Ramsey recommends focusing in on only one debt at a time. Pay that one off. Then take on the next one. 

There is a psychological component here.  When we see ourselves succeeding, it is easier to move forward.   But, if we try to go from living a very unhealthy lifestyle to being a health nut/gym rat, we get overwhelmed and oftentimes all we can see is our failures. The same goes for financial planning and the same goes for improving on our teaching practice.

So, what does this look like in teaching?  Let us say that your district has asked you to take on improving on the five components of reading.  That would be phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.  Let us say you are a fourth-grade teacher and you have not had much professional development on fluency and you are not even sure you can define the components of fluency or even explain high-yield fluency strategies.  But, you also don’t have a solid foundation of phonics and phonemic awareness.  Do you take that all on?  No, not all at one time. Choose one, let’s use fluency in this example Give yourself some time (and this means as much time as is necessary and reasonable), to educate yourself on the topic. Read professional material (such as Timothy Rasinski’s work) listen go podcasts, talk to your instructional coach, learn from colleagues that have a firm understanding of fluency.  And, most importantly practice it in your classroom and monitor its effectiveness in helping students become better readers. 

And, DON’T stress out that you’re not addressing all five components.  Don’t feel guilty if you know you could also improve in phonics instruction.  You will get there.  Anything great takes time to accomplish and you will. Take it one step at a time

2 thoughts on “Improving Teaching: One Step at a Time

  1. Hi Ms. Palmer,
    This is some really amazing advice especially for an aspiring teacher. I think it is very important to try to do everything you can not to stress and keep your self as organized and calm as possible. Thanks for the great knowledge!

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