A New Year, A New-and-Improved You!

Tips for self-mentoring that will help you to continuously improve as an educator, whether it’s your first or twentieth year of teaching.

By Stef Durr

Male teacher in the classroom

There must be a reason that National Mentoring Month falls in January. Perhaps it’s aimed at a time when people are assessing their goals and creating new plans for the future. Take advantage of the time for reflection by aiming to develop self-mentoring skills so you can continue to grow your teaching style and strategies in the evolving world of education.

Reflect On Your Teaching

Sometimes I miss student teaching. I think what I miss most is having built-in time to reflect on my teaching. That reflection time provided me the opportunity to critique myself, my effectiveness as a teacher, and to brainstorm other teaching methods I wanted to try. It’s easy to skip this step the first few years of teaching, and maybe it’s even easier to omit this step as an experienced teacher. After all, you’ve found your stride and the strategies that work well for you. But, no matter how much experience one has, education is evolving, and we have to evolve with it. The first step to growing as an educator is to learn (or re-learn) how to continuously self-mentor.

Reflect On Your Practices

When a lesson goes well, we often smile to ourselves and give ourselves some mental praise for a job well done. When the lesson goes the opposite, we might push it to the back of our memory as we unwind and attempt to find some sense of calm in a crazy day. Whether the lesson went well, or poorly, grab a journal and reflect.  

Some questions to ask yourself after teaching a lesson:

  • Was I interested and excited about the material?
  • How did I engage my class? (Did you play a game? Did you use collaborative groups? Did you use technology?)
  • Did learners have trouble getting started or staying focused? Did I ask appropriate Instruction Checking Questions (ICQs) to clarify the steps before sending them off to work independently?
  • Did the class have trouble completing the assignment? Was it difficult for them? Did I explain it well? Did I complete examples with them?
  • How was the class time structured? (Did I use direct instruction? Did I break students into learning groups? Did they work independently?)
  • Did my class accomplish the day’s objectives? Did I ask any Concept Checking Questions (CCQs)?
  • How do I know what my pupils learned today? (How did you assess their learning?)

Research and Reflect by Observing a Colleague

I don’t know many schools that build time into a teacher’s schedule to conduct peer observations, but consider asking your leadership team if you could schedule a day to observe a teacher you admire. Maybe he or she has a natural bond with students, and you’d like foster this in your classroom. Maybe you want to check out the overly organized teacher and how she handles absences, setting up a hands-on activity, or how she structures a lengthy project. Maybe you’ve never taught a concept or novel before and you want to see what a seasoned teacher’s unit plan entails. Schedule an observation, and don’t forget to take some notes.

Research Teaching Strategies

If observing another teacher isn’t possible (or if you just want to explore more resources), conduct research. Read about different teaching strategies, new theories in education, and different methods of assessment. Follow blogs or up-and-coming Pinterest boards in order to pick up new ways to use technology in the classroom. Even consider attending a conference to discuss new strategies in classroom management or to hone skills in your field. Here’s (http://www.teachthought.com/teaching/50-top-sources-to-become-a-better-teacher/) a collection of resources to explore as you get started.

Reflections Will Improve Your Lessons 

It was the second semester of my first year of teaching that I realized that while I was surviving as a first-year teacher, I wasn’t exactly thriving. So, I closed the door during my preparation period, and sat down to mull over the day. I made notes, spoke with other teachers, read articles, and compiled a list of things I wanted to incorporate into my own classroom. I wanted to set realistic goals for myself, so I decided to pinpoint two things per week that I wanted to work into my lessons. Maybe I wanted to use more video clips to engage my class. Maybe I wanted to create a game using my interactive whiteboard, or maybe I wanted to use exit cards more often to assess learning. Then, when I planned my lessons for the week (usually on Sundays), I sat down with my list, my computer, and the materials I wanted to use that week. With this list right in front of me, it was easy to incorporate new things into my routine.

Reflect, Revise, and Implement

The remainder of the 2012-13 school year is just around the corner; are you ready? What are some things you want to incorporate into your teaching this semester? Take some time to reflect on the past few months. What went well? What would you like to change? Are there areas in which you would like to grow as an educator? Using these reflections to formulate a plan for change will ensure that the second half of your school year will be even better than the first.