As an educator you’re used to being in front of the class leading lectures, discussions, presentations and the like, all in the name of imparting a lesson or concept upon your students. To be the best teacher you can, it also helps to try being a student once again.
Your passion for education has motivated you to seek out ways to improve your teaching skills. That isn’t always easy, given the countless hours spent in and out of the classroom working on instruction, grading, lesson prep, meetings, conferences, and more.
Luckily, we have compiled an easy reference with suggestions for teacher’s improvement tactics and tools that you can use right now. These 10 strategies, divided into the in-classroom and out-of-classroom settings, are sure to help spark your curiosity as an education professional and guide you as you seek to improve your teaching methods.
In-Classroom Suggestions for Teacher Improvement
1. Start small, think big
We know that there is much more material to get through with students than there is time in the day, which often drives teachers to try to cram in as much as possible. Unfortunately, this rarely works, as studies show that students struggle to pay attention and fall off task when instructions lasts longer than 10 minutes.
Therefore, it’s impractical to try and teach a large concept all at once – not only will your students never retain all that information, they’ll stop paying attention just minutes into the lesson. Instead, it is vital that teachers today break down large concepts into smaller, more digestible lessons. Essentially, focus on the granular first and build to large concepts.
One method that helps teachers take big-picture concepts and make them small is the ADEPT method. The ADEPT method breaks your potential lesson into five simple steps:
- Analogy – Tell them something it’s like
- Diagram – Help them visualize it
- Example – Let them experience it
- Plain English – Describe it in everyday words
- Technical Definition – Discuss the formal, bigger-picture details
Once you have laid the foundation and slowly built up your students’ knowledge base about a concept or subject, you have increased the odds they are absorbing the lesson and will retain it. This not only helps them do well in class, it helps you get through more material and have a more successful semester.
2. Utilize the latest technologies
Technology is inevitably impacting your classroom one way or another, so why not leverage it to improve your teaching skills? Whether it be apps, games or tools, technology can and will change how teachers teach and students learn.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services published a comprehensive report outlining their goals for technology’s role in the future of America’s classrooms. Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education states that, “educators will be supported by technology that connects them to people, data, content, resources, expertise, and learning experiences that can empower and inspire them to provide more effective teaching for all learners.”
This report also outlines four guiding principles teachers should implement to help them best use technology in education:
- #1: Technology — when used appropriately — can be a tool for learning.
- #2: Technology should be used to increase access to learning opportunities for all children.
- #3: Technology may be used to strengthen relationships among parents, families, early educators and young children.
- #4: Technology is more effective for learning when adults and peers interact or co-view with young students.
Technology also helps teachers adapt lessons into a teaching style known as Universal Design for Learning (UDL). The National Center on Universal Design for Learning and education nonprofit CAST recommends implementing various technologies and flexible learning environments to help teachers accommodate and reach more diverse learning styles. One Indiana school implemented UDL using technology and, since implementation, their graduation rates have increased 8% while overall AP class enrollment has also substantially increased.
3. Prioritize student relationships
Depending on your grade level and subject area, you are teaching students of different ages, genders, personalities, learning styles, socioeconomic circumstances and more. Appreciating those differences will pay dividends in the long run and help nurture an environment conducive to learning.
Positive teacher-student relationships are shown to improve academic and social performance for students, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). To help nurture the teacher-student relationship in a safe, appropriate and effective manner while also improving your teaching skills, try these strategies from the APA:
- Set clear expectations and rules
- Make an effort to get to know and connect with each student
- Spend time with them individually
- Foster a positive social climate in the classroom
- Give meaningful feedback
4. Empower parents to be your ally
Parents are more involved in their children’s education than ever before, so why not use this to your advantage? Parents can be a valuable tool to improve student and teacher successes in the classroom.
Building these relationships starts from the very first day of school. Send home a note or even an email and make it very clear what your expectations are for both student and parent. This can help to nurture an open, honest and trustworthy relationship with parents from the get-go.
Technology is also helping to remove any communication roadblocks – both good and bad – between teachers and parents. With student emails and learning portals, parents can get instantaneous feedback on their child’s performance, and you as a teacher can communicate where and how a parent could support their child’s learning. The parents are a great resource to help reinforce classroom objectives, both content-wise and behaviorally.
Finally, parents can also be involved in the classroom beyond just monitoring their child’s grades and behavior. Many classrooms, usually in the elementary grade levels, have classroom moms, dads and volunteers for special occasions or celebrations. Parents are also an invaluable asset when it comes time to get chaperones for field trips, and if you already have a relationship, getting volunteers is a much smoother process.
5. Ensure your curriculum knowledge
You are a well-educated professional with extensive knowledge of your subject matter, and likely many disciplines beyond that. But just because you know the biggest concepts by heart doesn’t mean you couldn’t use a refresher on your material.
To keep lessons engaging and as current as possible, teachers should employ various tools to ensure that their knowledge of the curriculum is as up to date as possible. Teachers must always make sure their understanding of subject matter is current. Some popular strategies to keep your knowledge levels current include:
- Enroll in a continuing education course – Going back to school, whether it’s just for one course or a new certification, will definitely ensure that you have a firm grasp on their material.
- Join a professional organization in your subject – There are many wonderful options, but some of the most popular include National Education Association (NEA), Kappa Delta Pi (KDP), Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
- Refresh your lesson plans – We know you’ve worked hard to craft your lesson plans around the standards already, but just revisiting your work can help remind you of important concepts and talking points. When you put yourself in the student’s shoes for a moment, you can see what works and what needs a little help.
Out-of-Classroom Suggestions for Teacher Improvement
6: Ask for feedback – and use it
This can be the toughest part of honing one’s craft – asking for suggestions for your own teaching improvement. But when delivered properly and constructively, feedback can be one of the most effective ways to improve teaching skills.
So, who should you seek out feedback from?
- From leadership/peers – This can be achieved through annual reviews, mentorship programs, and even asking for genuine feedback from colleagues who also teach your subject matter.
- From students – This can be treacherous depending on your grade level, but student-led teaching assessments can be beneficial in understanding what is computing with your students. Some useful assessment tools include:
- Group-Work Evaluation: Students complete a brief survey about how their group is functioning and make suggestions for improving the group process.
- Reading Rating Sheets: Students complete a form that rates the effectiveness of the assigned readings.
- Assignment Assessments: Students respond to two or three open-ended questions about the value of an assignment to their learning.
- Exam Evaluations: Students provide feedback about an exam’s learning value and/or format.
7. Networking and building professional relationships
Networking events are a great way to diversify your teaching skills in a setting that’s not a classroom. Not only are they a great way to grow your professional network, but they also give you insight into what your peers are doing in their classrooms.
For new teachers, networking has two primary benefits that can’t be overlooked. First, new teachers can meet and make good impressions on potential colleagues or even employers. Getting a teaching job can be difficult depending on your district and geographic location but getting to know people through your professional network can definitely help. Secondly, new teachers can use networking events to potentially meet a mentor or gain valuable insight from veteran teachers. They certainly will have suggestions for how to improve your teaching methods and can be a great sounding board as you continue to grow as an educator.
To find a worthwhile networking opportunity, seek out conferences that are exclusively for teachers. Some of the most popular teachers-only conferences and events include:
8. Professional development
Many school districts require teachers to take professional development courses, either to keep their licensure updated or to meet requirements for salary advancement. No matter what your motivation is, professional development is one of the best ways to improve your teaching skills.
It’s essential that teachers understand that professional development takes time. An Education Week story put it best – “to create lasting changes in pedagogy, professional development shouldn’t be ‘one and done’.” To help keep it new and exciting, try to vary the types of professional development you participate in, such as college courses, certifications, trainings or conferences.
For educators, the benefits of professional development go well beyond just improving teaching skills, including:
- It helps students in the long run: Teachers learn new strategies, technologies and even more advanced subject matter. When teachers are at the top of their game, students can be too.
- It prevents teacher burnout: According to a Learning Forward report, the complexity of teaching is so great that one-third of teachers leave the profession within three years and 50% leave within five years. To help ease that pressure and keep skills fresh, professional development can be a saving grace for teachers new and old.
9. Have an on-site mentor
Many schools have a required mentorship program for new teachers or teachers new to their district. Even if you aren’t new to the education field, seeking out and working with a mentor is a great way to enhance your teaching skills and build lasting professional relationships.
Mentors are for more than just bouncing subject matter and assessment strategies off of – they can be a friend, a guide and a sounding board when you need it most. Seek out a mentor within your department to glean more information on material related to what you teach. Having a mentor in another department can also be beneficial, as they may have different teaching styles or tactics that can benefit you.
Don’t just start and end your search for a mentor with the first willing participant. According to the George Lucas Education Foundation, there are certain qualities a good mentor possesses, including:
- Respects what you’re trying to do and helps push you to solve the problem using a different perspective.
- Listens, but knows when to hold up her hand to make you pause and listen.
- Collaborates, shares the air and lives for reciprocal learning.
- Celebrates your successes.
- Gives you a safe space to vent, air, complain and feel shame.
- Models best practices while still appreciating differences in teaching style.
10. Journal/reflect on your work
Journaling is a healthy exercise not just in one’s personal life, but it is also a way to improve your teaching methods. Taking time to reflect on your teaching, class dynamics, and the current and future state of your career can pay dividends in the long run.
Brainstorm some questions or prompts you can pose to yourself, such as:
- From both a content and pedagogical perspective, what worked vs. what didn’t?
- What content are students grasping the most vs. least?
- Did I cover all that I needed to cover for this subject?
- What I could I do differently to make this lesson more impactful?
The best part of a journaling exercise is that there are no right or wrong answers. Taking the time to reflect can help spark ideas for your own teaching improvement, which can ultimately benefit you and your students for years to come.
Interested in learning more about improving your teaching skills or furthering your professional development as an educator? Explore the University of San Diego’s Professional and Continuing Education educator program courses and certificates. These tailormade programs are designed by educators, for educators, and will help further enhance teacher instruction and student learning.