Sunday, November 23, 2014

Where Are You Going: Assessing Your Professional Direction

There are many layers related to a profession in education. There's your direct job title and responsibilities, contribution to your organization, professional learning, efforts with outside organizations and groups, and your professional direction. There is time in the days, months, and year to consider each area, and due to the current level of change and development in our field, it's essential to make these considerations on a regular schedule.

Job Expectations
The most important consideration includes the questions: Do you know what your job is, and are you meeting the expectations of your job title?  There are many roles in education, and it's important that you understand well your role and expectations. Then it's your responsibility to devote most of your professional time and energy to this effort.

Contribution to Your Organization
Outside of your role, how can you contribute to your larger organization? At my place of work, like many, there are multiple ways to get involved including committee work, mentoring, attending special events, tutoring, and sharing your knowledge at Institutes and other venues. It's important to balance your contributions and your job expectations so that your contributions don't take away from your first responsibility, your job in the organization.

Professional Learning
A steady diet of professional learning is paramount to teaching well. For example, it is going to be imperative that every educator is well versed with technology and blended learning. It is also imperative, at this time, that every educator understand new standards and processes well. A routine of reading regular updates from local, state, and national organizations that lead and contribute to your work is important as well.

As you think long term, it's great to match your professional learning efforts with salary increase systems and additional areas of competency as that leads to a better paycheck and greater value with regard to your current job expectations and future, possible job titles or roles.

Efforts Outside Your Organization
It's great to work with educators within and outside your organization as this is a way to grow your strength and versatility as an educator. There are many real-time and online groups you can connect with to grow your education repertoire. Joining well-regarded organizations such as NCTE, NCTM, IRA and others keep you up to date with well researched, valued methods of teaching in specific disciplines. Further, online share such as Twitter chats, blogging, webinars, and online conferences keep you current with what's happening in education in this country and around the world. Attending noteworthy conferences and professional learning events also develops your skill, concept, and knowledge with regard to your profession. There are multiple summer seminars that open their doors to educators often at no cost. The applications for these seminars are generally due sometime between January and March or April. I have a few of those events listed on a webpage for your reference. (note it's been a while since I updated that webpage)

Reflection and a Long Term Destination
All of the efforts above lead to reflection, and that reflection should help you to determine a long term destination in education, a destination that needs to be reviewed periodically as you develop, and the world of education changes.

As for me, my long term destination is to teach well in the organization where I work. Later I'd like to volunteer or get a part-time job in a system with greater needs and help students in that system in a one-to-one or small group way. As I reach for my long term destination, I'm cognizant of the areas above as I ask myself these questions:
  • Am I meeting the expectations of my role as a fifth grade math/science teacher?
  • Am I contributing to the greater organization in worthwhile ways?
  • Am I taking part in professional learning activities to develop my teaching/learning repertoire?
  • Do I connect to organizations outside of my school system in ways that positively impact my work?
Personal Health, Happiness, and Family
As I write again and again, "All work and no play, makes one a dull teacher." Therefore another very important part of this discussion is your life outside of school. Do you make the time to be healthy, happy, and nurture important relationships. This is critical to teaching well, and this is often a challenge for busy educators.

Young educators entering the field can make sure to lay solid patterns in these areas so that while they work well, they also nurture a life enriching personal life. Veteran teachers like me need to rework patterns so that this time is secured. 

System-wide protocols related to communication, job expectations, patterns of work and effort, and family-life supports such as fair pay, on-site day care, health club memberships, manageable workloads, and healthy work environments can also support individuals' health, happiness, and relationships.

Financial Security
It's also important to take the time to think about financial security. Are you making the most of the money you earn? Do you invest in 403B accounts ROTH IRA's and other accounts that can provide security in the future? Are you living within or outside of your means? Does the system you work for provide supports with regard to choosing the best health care and investment accounts, and do they make that support available at times you can attend?

Long ago, a wise colleague, helped me in this area, and I am grateful for this. There's more for me to learn and do in this regard, but the colleague led me to the first, important step.

Reach out to Colleagues
Don't be afraid to reach out to colleagues for support and advice. For example, when I was young, I couldn't afford to pay up front for professional learning so I had to seek out free courses and avenues to professional growth. Avenues such as hosting student teachers and attending free summer institutes can work in that regard.

Similarly, the same wise colleague who helped me with securing a small investment strategy also urged me to reach for higher levels on the pay scale by taking courses for credit rather spending the professional learning time in efforts that did not lead to a pay increase. The one change I would have made to my professional path is that I wish I had taken all those credits under one more certificate area so that I had a more versatile profile. For example rather than taking multiple credits in multiple areas, I could have taken all those credits and put them towards a degree in math, technology, ESL or another area of interest.

Your colleagues, new and veteran, have experiences to share with regard to professional direction and personal happiness so don't be afraid to reach out for ideas if needed. We are all stronger if we help each other grow with success and happiness.

I recommend that you take a few minutes before the new year to review this list and think about your professional efforts and direction. This will help you to teach well and live better. I'm going to make the time to do the same.