My, How You’ve Grown!

Even we older folk remember our childhood days when Grandma or an aunt, having not seen us for six months, said this with wide eyes and a smile. We liked it, sort of, because we all wanted to be taller. On the other hand, sometimes we heard a parent, even a teacher, out of frustration, say, “Grow up!’ or “When are you going to grow up?” That growth had nothing to do with our bodies; it meant that we were not as mature in character or behavior as the critic thought we should be.

In the adult world, maybe particularly in schools, the word for teacher, leader, or board member growth is “professional development,” which means, finally, “adults getting better at their jobs”; they’re growing up, even 60-year-olds, even really smart 20-year-olds. It’s hard for some of us to think we have more to learn to grow up more in our school roles. I remember a mentor in teaching, already in his 50s, telling me that he had always worried that he would get to be 40, rest in the rut of the usual, and grow no further.

Almost always the responsibility for professional development in a Christian school is the principal or head of school; he/she sets it up for board members, teachers, and his/her own. The principal gets advice on what is needed, but then hires it, conducts it, supervises it, or/and provides time for it. Most leaders believe growth is more likely if the training is separated from the usual regimen: at a retreat, during a day when students aren’t around, learning from each other in groups.

These attempts at growth sometimes have a short shelf life.

Why? The expert departs with the listeners free to grow or no. Or, in a larger group, two or three run with one idea and other’s another. Or, if the principal says, “I’d like you to try this,” the followers read this as “probably not necessary.” Some followers grow; some carry out the adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

What can a school leader practically do help teachers or board members grow up professionally?

I’ve found that using typical weekly before- or after-school regular faculty meetings (45-60 minutes) to have the best effects in most teachers’ growth. To use this time for professional growth means that typical fare for these meetings (announcements, reviewing schedule, questions, etc.) needs to be put in electronic emails. At least one meeting a month could be devoted to growth with teachers training each other. This time segment is familiar to all teachers who teach students. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Asking Questions. Many teachers ask all the questions in class. In a teacher meeting, have one teacher hold up an object, some writing, a photo, etc., and ask “students” (teachers) to ask him/her questions to try to “understand” it. Have someone type electronically the questions and display them, having the class rate them as most important, then have the class answer the top three. Then instruct all teachers to try that in a class and then report back what happened during the next 45-minute meeting.
  2. Class Decorum. Some teachers have good class decorum, neither threatening nor free-for-all. Some others don’t…but wish for it. Ahead of a meeting have all teachers come with one specific means they use to try to achieve good decorum so that all students can readily learn. Have them type out a summary electronically, with an example, and display it in two-minutes or less. Maybe at the next meeting, have teachers in one-minute each, summarize the effect of using one of the suggestions.
  3. God Sightings. Again either you or a teacher explain what a God-sighting is (probably in an email ahead of the meeting) and have all teachers come to the meeting with two examples of “I saw God at work today (this week).” Have each teacher take no more than two minutes to relate orally a specific incident. Use the next meeting to have teachers explain how they introduced the practice to their students and a God-sighting one or two of their students mentioned.
  4. One-Sentence Takeaway. After everyone has been to a convention, a chapel, an assembly, read an article, seen a video on some aspect of teaching, etc., have all teachers come with an electronically-written, ten-words-or-less (or 25-words in two sentences), takeaway from the whole event. Everybody relates those in the 45-minutes. Again, at the next meeting, maybe have teachers report how they taught students takeaways.

As the school leader, it’s important to evaluate each teacher’s “development” during the year.

Attendance at faculty meetings is not development. Learning, implementing, and reporting on the use of good teaching habits will most likely occur when teachers learn from each other, hear reports from the front lines, and know they will be evaluated for “development.” Even adults wish to hear, “My, how you’ve grown!”

– Dan Vander Ark

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