I am not great at marketing. It is not where my strengths as a writer lie. But I have discovered an amazing resource for teachers that I cannot keep to myself. I am here today to tell you about a resource that will improve your teaching overnight. Even new teachers will be able to see instant results as they draw on years of accumulated experience.
It doesn’t matter where you teach, what you teach or whom you teach: If you are a teacher, you need to know about this incredible resource. I guarantee it will change your life as a teacher! This invaluable resource is overlooked by so many but should not be ignored by any teacher. What is it, you ask?
The greatest resource available to teachers must be expensive, surely. Perhaps it is a glossy, import quality textbook? Perhaps it is an intensive course of training that will take months of your time and great effort? Or perhaps it is some service you must subscribe to and pay monthly fees for? In fact, it is none of these things. The greatest resource available to teachers is…
Teachers. That’s right: other teachers.
An Invaluable But Underused Resource
As I travel around the country visiting schools and campuses, I am disappointed time and again by one feature that seems present across almost all institutions. Whenever I step into the teachers’ room / staff room, I see a space filled with sometimes dozens of teachers, and what are they doing? Almost every time, it is a room abuzz with the sound of gossip, complaints and chitchat.
The greatest resource available to teachers is… Teachers. That’s right: other teachers.
Of course, I fully recognise the benefits of having a positive social environment in the workplace and of cultivating friendly relationships amongst colleagues, but when I walk into these places, what I see above all else is wasted resources. Sitting around a room like that is endless knowledge and talent, sometimes centuries of accumulated experience and radical ideas that have never been shared.
When I think of the ideal teacher’s room, I think of a space where teachers can freely ask one another for help and openly share their ideas. I imagine teachers sitting around tables together, collaborating on lesson plans, activities and assessments. I imagine new teachers at the institution being taken under the wing of their more experienced colleagues, who give them pointers and suggestions for how to deliver effective lessons.
Teachers as a Resource
Whenever I ask teachers where they find resources to become a better teacher, the usual first response is, online. Then textbooks, and often they can name a handful of writers they consider their favourites. Of course, all of this is if they have an answer at all; a troubling number of teachers that I meet don’t seem to be interested in finding resources of any kind to improve themselves!
But no one ever mentions other teachers as a source of knowledge, guidance and inspiration.
I think there is a form of bias at play here; the teacher thinks, perhaps, that if he doesn’t know something, why would the other teachers in the room know it? After all, they are just the same as him. Instead, he’ll go online or try to find a book to read. But this forgets one fundamental fact: those online and textbook materials have all been created by… you guessed it: other teachers!
Perhaps another reason that teachers don’t ask other teachers for help more is fear of judgement. Perhaps the teacher thinks that she is supposed to know something like this, and that by asking for help, she will be publicly displaying her lack of competency. But again, this ignores a concept so important that it should be obvious but often is not: teachers are involved in the institution of learning, and as such should always be learning themselves. Not knowing is not a crime, but not constantly trying to improve can cripple a teacher. There should be no shame in asking for help; on the contrary, it should be worn as a badge of pride, indicating a teacher that is bettering herself at every opportunity.
Why are the teachers at my school the most valuable resource?
The thing that makes online and textbook resources so valuable is that they come from teachers all over the world in a huge variety of different institutions, systems and cultures. You can go online and find blogs and articles from teachers in the wealthiest and the poorest countries in the world. You can read about experiences teaching in extremely conservative or radically liberal cultures. There are books that focus specifically on teaching primary education, secondary education or higher and further education.
With all of these resources readily available, some for free and others paid, you can consume endless resources about experiences you would never encounter otherwise, broadening your horizons extensively without ever having to go anywhere. You can learn about numerous theories and practices without having to enrol in a course or visit another institution.
However, what these resources cannot do as well as the other teachers in your institution is give you specific suggestions tailored to teaching in your institution. These teachers have direct experience with the very materials you are using in class. These teachers know your students personally from teaching them in previous years or other subjects. They know what policies and rules you are bound by in your area. They know what responses to expect from parents and indeed from local authorities when you try out new ideas in the classroom.
No book or online post can give you such specific and personal help in the way that other teachers in your institution can. Unless of course one of them has written a book.
Making the Most of this Resource
What can you do to start taking advantage of the great knowledge of these other teachers that you work with? You can start by asking them for help. It really is that easy. Next time you are in the staff room struggling with a lesson plan or unsure how to respond to a student’s poor assessment results, stand up, walk over to the next table, and ask your colleague for advice.
Something I like to do in workshops is get everybody to write privately on a piece of paper 5 things that they are currently / have recently been struggling with as a teacher. Once they have finished, I tell them to show the teachers sitting around them, which usually means around half a dozen teachers in immediate proximity. Invariably they find two things:
- There is at least one teacher, but usually many more, sitting near them that has one or more of the exact same problems;
- There is at least one teacher, but usually many more, sitting near them that has at least one idea of how to approach the problem—usually from their own past experience of overcoming the same problem.
This means that by voicing your problem, you will not only find someone that can help you: it will also help numerous other teachers who have the same problem but are too afraid to ask for support.
The second thing that you can do immediately, as well as asking your colleagues for help, is start sharing ideas of your own, whether or not anyone asks you for them. If you try something in a lesson and it goes well, or if you find a solution to a problem you have been struggling with, tell other teachers about it. Speak to colleagues one-on-one. Announce it during a discussion. Perhaps write a short piece about it and stick it on the notice board. With any luck, others will start doing the same soon afterwards. Over time you will see a lively culture of actively sharing ideas start to develop.
Think about instigating regular sessions dedicated solely to the sharing of problems, solutions and experiences. Think about planning lessons in groups instead of alone. Even think about asking your colleagues to observe your lessons and offer feedback. There are many ways that you can benefit from the vast wealth of knowledge and experience that your colleagues possess. What’s more, I guarantee that no matter how inexperienced you might feel, you will be able to offer valuable advice and suggestions to your colleagues as well.
Every time I run a training programme, where I am there to help others become better teachers, I learn countless ideas from my trainees, even those who are brand new to the profession. This is because everybody has different experiences in the classroom. It doesn’t always take years of experience to have valuable ideas; sometimes it just takes a different perspective. When there are a dozen teachers in a room together, that is a dozen different perspectives to be tapped. If those teachers choose to sit around gossiping instead, they are wasting the most valuable resource that they have!
What do you do at your institution to make the most of other teachers as a resource? How do you offer support to the other teachers in your institution? What ideas do you have for further developing this culture in your institution?
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Waag Society.