Professional Practice – what is that?

Over the years, I have taken many courses, workshops and a variety of other ‘training’.  I am always struck by the wide variety of teachers, instructors, facilitators – it’s a real mixed bag.  What do I consider a ‘professional teacher’?

The first PIDP course I took – I took over a weekend.  After working all week, and doing all the household things that I would normally do over the weekend……I thought – “Oh my!  This is going to be a long, long weekend being in this course!  Imagine my surprise, when the first time I thought to check the time – it was 8:35……the class ran until 9:00.  The same thing happened the next day.  I went in thinking, okay – a few hours wasn’t bad, but this is all day!    Again, I didn’t check the time until it was already 11:30.  During all this time the instructor kept us all engaged,  involved in the classroom instruction, discussions and activities.

I came away from that weekend so engaged and was so eager to continue on this educational journey.  I often think of that instructor when I am teaching and really try to model myself after that person. That was a professional teacher!  Could I ever be that?

I had been instructing for about 4 years at that point, and I was shocked at all of the things that I was doing wrong!  I have to say, I was also surprised at all the things that I was doing right!

Now that I have been instructing for a while longer and feel much more comfortable in the role, I have become much more of a reflective practitioner.  I recently read the following article on Faculty Focus: “Advice for New Faculty: Six Lessons from the Front Lines” that really spoke to me.  I wish I would have read it earlier.

Colleagues Are Your Absolute Best Resource – Do not be afraid to ask for help. Your colleagues, even if they have only been at the school for a few years, already have many experiences, stories, strategies, and tips that can be invaluable to your teaching experience if you are open to experiencing their wisdom. There is no shortage of helpful and experienced faculty in any post-secondary institution. However, the cardinal rule is to pass on this support once you get your feet planted firmly on the ground. Creating a culture of sharing and collaboration is paramount to both your personal success and that of the students in your institution.’ (Faculty Focus)

The department I work in is a collection of trades and technical people who just so happen to also be instructors.  Our audience is similar, although not the same.  We bring the same ‘culture’ to our classrooms which is important in order to achieve our company’s educational goals.  We learn from each other in our efforts to make our classrooms a place of safe learning.

‘Professional Development is a Powerhouse of Enlightenment – We cannot stress enough how critical it is to become aware of the professional development available to you at your school. Almost all institutions have a center for faculty development and this is an excellent place to start (Gregory & Cusson, 2013). Your center will be able to find professional development opportunities that fit your individual needs and also provide you information on all upcoming workshops, conferences, etc. Professional development not only improves your teaching practices, it helps you create bonds with other faculty members outside of your school, which can help with our first suggestion: connecting with your colleagues.’ (Faculty Focus)

The Provincial Instructors Diploma program has been the most valuable training that I have ever taken as an instructor.  As I have worked my way through all of the courses, it has given me a real road map to developing, assessing, delivering instruction.  It’s been interesting to incorporate this into the classroom.  My instruction, the assessing of course material has all changed dramatically.  I learned more about curriculum development when I took the evaluation course than I did during the curriculum development course.  When I looked back at the curriculum that I had developed, I realized that I really couldn’t assess it in the way I thought. 

Another course I took that really helps me as an instructor is called ‘Precision Questioning and Answering’, the course tagline is Discover Your Best Thinking.  It made me very aware that in order to develop our best thinking we needed to anticipate what questions others would have and to look at all sides of an issue in order to support our thinking.

‘Set Limits for Yourself and Your Time – It is a difficult balance your first few years of teaching. You want to be the best educator that you can be, but you also need to maintain some semblance of a life as well. With the influx of technology, the boundary between your professional life and your personal life seems to be eroding at a concerning pace. Students expect you to be available to answer their questions at all hours, day or night. When you fail to set boundaries and never unplug from your job, you put yourself on the fast track for burnout. It’s important to establish clear guidelines about communication expectations during the first class and remind students often. It is a good general practice is to respond to emails within 48 hours and return any graded assignments within two weeks.’ (Faculty Focus)

I have my students for 4 – 3 day courses over a period of 6 – 12 months.  They participate in the classroom course, write and exam, for each level, then our journey together ends.  I enjoy seeing them grow and develop over this time.  My goal is to get them to be productive in the workplace as soon as possible so that they can contribute to the success of their team where they are working.  In this short time that I have them, I really try to get across to them that I am not trying to teach them what to think, but how to think. 

‘Enthusiasm for Teaching – It’s Contagious! – Don’t try to bluff your students. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s OK to say “I don’t know.” Ask a student to look it up, or promise the student that you’ll find out, and bring the answer to the next class. It is these moments that will help facilitate your professional growth. In the meantime, as you strive to become a seasoned educator, you can rely on your enthusiasm for teaching, learning, and knowledge (Burmila, 2011) – a novice educator’s most prized possession! That is, by conveying an energetic disposition in class, it not only enhances the student experience, but it also makes teaching fun (Burmila, 2011).’ (Faculty Focus)

This took me a long time to learn.  At the outset, I was afraid to say ‘I don’t know’.  Now I realize that even though I am the instructor, I do not know it all, I cannot know it all and I will never know it all. 

‘Don’t Be Afraid to Show Your True Colors – Would you describe your classroom as being chilly or warm? These descriptors were used by post secondary students, in a study completed by Serex (1997), to describe the atmosphere of their programs (Vogt, 2008). What makes a thermometer in a classroom rise? For starters, the classroom must be safe, supportive, and inviting. This means being approachable and accessible; ready to assist students in reaching their academic and personal goals. It also means welcoming student-teacher interactions —being approachable, smiling, laughing, and joking. Just being yourself requires no effort whatsoever and goes a long way in increasing students’ self-efficacy and grade point average (Vogt, 2008).’ (Faculty Focus)

I am fairly comfortable now in a classroom setting and I feel that I make my students feel that it is a safe environment to learn in and generally we have a lot of fun together. 

‘Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Best Reflector of Them All? – The benefits of reflecting on one’s own teaching did not really dawn on us until we assumed our roles as college faculty. It was amidst the strongly agrees and disagrees of electronic feedback forms; professional evaluations conducted by our deans; and informal conversations with our esteemed colleagues that we realized that we were indeed reflecting on our teaching practices. It may not be in the formal and philosophical ways ascribed by Donald Schon and John Dewey, but we are now more conscious of our teaching and the importance of reflection to our ongoing professional development.’ (Faculty Focus)

This has probably been the biggest learning of my PIDP journey.  Reflection has always been a struggle for me.  Not so much the actual reflection, because I think that this comes naturally to us all.  My challenge is getting those thoughts out of my head and onto paper.  I’m getting better at it, but realize that I still have a long way to go. 

References

Advice for New Faculty: Six Lessons from the Front Lines. (2013). Retrieved September 22, 2016, from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-careers/advice-for-new-faculty-six-lessons-from-the-front-lines/


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