While students were away at camp, working part-time jobs, or traveling with family and friends this summer, many high school teachers were honing their craft through professional development sessions.
Learning new skills and fresh teaching strategies can re-energize some high school teachers and build excitement for a new school year.
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"I've gone into the classroom this year with a new outlook—a new psychology, even," says Cody Oxley, an English teacher at Lockhart High School in Texas. "Ultimately, government regulations be damned, the point here is to prepare students to become contributing members to a society."
Oxley's new outlook was born from a four-day Instructional Leadership Development course he took this summer as part of his training to become a principal. The course focused on preparing students for life after high school—college, jobs, and financial literacy.
"The professional development taught me that though we are pressured to teach in a way that focuses on test scores … our true motivation as teachers should be in the futures of our students," Oxley says.
Instead of daily assignments, Oxley is now teaching time management and self-discipline through long-term projects. He also talks to students about tailoring their language to their audience and desired outcome—job interviews versus scholarship applications or academic papers, for example.
"I told them, not once will I ask them to bubble in a letter to show me that they are learning," he says, referring to practice tests and in-class drills for state assessments, adding that in past years he would spend an "entire month teaching test-taking skills and tricks."
Not every educator comes out of a professional development course with a new teaching philosophy. Instead, sometimes a fresh approach or technique is all a teacher needs to be more effective in the classroom.
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For Colin Williams, a music and humanities teacher at The Bay School in San Francisco, part of that approach is making his band students sing.
"Everyone sings the melody over and over until they have it in their heads, and then learning it on their instruments is much easier," he says.
Williams picked up his new teaching strategy and a few other tricks while attending the Stanford Jazz Workshop. While his students play their instruments, he walks around the room, instructing individual members to listen for different musical elements, teaching them to listen and play simultaneously, he says.
Implementing the techniques from his professional development sessions also helps Williams get more out of his classes with the jazz band, which meets twice a week.
"The Stanford approach maximizes my time with the students, because now they are playing for 80 percent of the class period," he says. "The kids love it, too."
Having a plan and end goal in mind when going into professional development sessions can help teachers implement what they learn in their classrooms, even if the focus shifts to testing or other administrative tasks, says Bill Raabe, senior director at the Center for Great Public Schools, an in-house think tank at the National Education Association.
Teachers who skipped the planning step can still capitalize on newly learned concepts and techniques by putting them into practice as soon as possible, Raabe says.
"Don't let [the idea] sit," he says. "If you wait four, five, six, seven months, it will probably disappear."
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