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Ultimate Guide to Professional Development for Teachers

January 12, 2024 - Izaskun Olarreaga

“One quality of leaders and high achievers in every area seems to be a commitment to ongoing personal and professional development.” – Brian Tracy.

We all know the vital role that teachers play in developing both the minds and characters of their students. Always with the hope of stimulating a lifelong interest in learning.

However, do you have a desire to enhance your own skills and insights? If so, then what direction should your own learning and development take?

Promotion and new job opportunities

Your reasons for reading this guide would generally fall into two categories. You are either ambitious to advance at your existing school, or you want to increase your chances of getting a better job at a new one.

According to the government’s School Workforce England report, there are still more people entering the teaching profession than leaving it. Leading to a rise in the overall number of teachers in the country. This means more competition for the best positions of course.

Also, despite the fact that 75.5% of teachers in England are women, “Female teachers are less likely than their male counterparts to be in leadership positions.” Though that shocking dichotomy is slowly decreasing, according to the survey findings.

Becoming a leader in education

Whether you are male or female, one of the most assured ways to rise through the ranks to positions like head, deputy head and assistant head, is to build your leadership skills. In particular, your ability to communicate, collaborate and coordinate beyond the classroom.

At one time, the expression commonly used for attributes not covered by professional qualifications was ‘soft skills’. However, increasingly the term applied is ’empowerment skills’. These are the personal characteristics that improve your potential to be a leader but they are also relevant to all levels of teaching.

There are excellent online leadership courses. However, for now, let’s explore general empowerment skills for teachers.

Becoming a leader in education

Emotional intelligence in education

This is a valued attribute across every employment sector. It is a core skill for leadership, as well as a way to improve your impact in the classroom too.

What is meant by emotional intelligence?

It is effective relationship management, and taking the time to better understand others, so you can ‘get the best’ out of them.

Emotional intelligence is also about being able to assess and regulate your own emotional responses. What situations tend to distract, depress or anger you, in a way that reduces your performance?

Working on your ability to be emotionally intelligent connects to another attribute greatly valued across all career paths – empathy.

By being more empathetic, your communication and collaboration skills increase exponentially, as does your ability to motivate and inspire.

Emotional intelligence and empathy will also enable you to be more responsive and effective in moderating behaviours. Including in conflict situations, or when dealing with students who have serious challenges beyond the classroom.

One study into this topic focused on teaching English as a second language. It concluded: “The positive and significant relationship between teacher empathy and learner engagement has been verified” and that “teacher empathy leads to learner self-confidence in educational contexts.”

Also, an increased capacity to recognise emotional context – in yourself and others – can grow your job satisfaction as a teacher.

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” – William Arthur Ward.

Technology and teaching

No list of learning and development goals for teachers would be complete without mentioning the importance of confidence in the use of technology.

That must include not just a continuously updated understanding of how to use devices and software. You also need to be competent in data collation, analysis and application.

Besides, teachers need to be familiar with emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and extended reality (XR). AI is already being used in education to personalize learning, provide feedback, and automate tasks. XR, which includes technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), has the potential to revolutionize education by creating immersive and interactive learning experiences.

Teachers who are familiar with AI and XR will be better equipped to use these technologies to improve their teaching and the learning experience for their students. For example, AI can be used to develop personalized learning plans for each student, provide real-time feedback on student work, and identify students who need extra help. XR can be used to create virtual field trips, immersive simulations, and interactive games that make learning more engaging and effective.

Improved collaboration skills

What other learning and development goals enhance your standing in your current school, or increase your attractiveness to future employers?

Do you ever have to explain to your students the importance of “being able to play nicely with others”? Well, this is also a fundamental form of a skill teachers need to constantly enhance in themselves too! You need to be a good collaborator and team player.

Modern teachers interact with diverse audiences – not just children and their parents. Including outside agencies. So, being an effective member or leader of teams will increase your status greatly.

Active listening

Active listening is not simply sitting quietly while others speak. It involves developing your ability to ask questions and generally stimulate feedback from others.

It also includes being aware of nuances such as non-verbal communication. Does the colleague slumped in their chair with a glazed expression not understand, are they silently dissenting, or do they have a problem preventing them from contributing?

Once again, this is not just a leadership skill for teachers. It is also an ability that can help enhance your performance in the classroom.

Trust building

You can become better at collaboration – and therefore more effective as a teacher, team member and manager – if you learn the best ways to build trust.

The consensus is that there are two central pillars of all work-based relationships – competence and warmth. You can get a long way in any profession if you can demonstrate good knowledge (often rooted in proper research and consideration) and strong abilities. However, you can get even further if you deliver both knowledge and ability in a warm way.

This requires you to be inclusive and to demonstrate that you are open-minded, alert to the needs of others, and adaptable.

There is a five-year-old TedTalk video (see below) that has stood the test of time and provides an interesting perspective on “What makes a good teacher great?” It highlights the importance of listening skills and calmness. Possibly the most crucial point though is that teachers earn trust if they are willing to learn alongside their students.

Problem-solving and innovation

Another way to become both a better team player and leader in teaching is another ‘twin-set’ of attributes. Can you apply critical thinking to formulate practical solutions, and can you also be innovative when required?

Of course, the ability to be a good problem solver also requires a substantial degree of creativity.

The best learning and development goals to support enhanced creativity and responsiveness are covered elsewhere in this guide. They include growing your skills in emotional intelligence, confident use of technology and effective communication.

You also need to be well organised, and willing to invest in expanding your knowledge and insights constantly, so you can apply that to any situation.

Advanced communications skills for teachers

This is undoubtedly a vital attribute for teachers who want to advance their career into management roles, create the right impression in interviews, or simply increase classroom effectiveness.

Of course, you communicate well every day. It’s a core competence of your profession. However, there are some highly recommended communications courses that enhance that skill further.

For instance, could a business writing course grow your confidence and contribution when delivering reports that inform, influence, persuade, or ‘sell’?

Also, a presentation skills course would be of value. Teachers often find advanced public speaking skills make their presentations to parents, peers and other audiences far less daunting.

The access to high quality communications courses provided by Virtual Speech – and our system for practicing skills online in an effective way – are ideal for ambitious teachers investing in their own future.