Prioritizing Personal and Professional Growth as an Educator During COVID

Personal and professional growth is hard to achieve, even under typical circumstances. Take into consideration a worldwide pandemic that upended routines and rituals, threatened our health on a daily basis, and held tragic consequences for more than half a million Americans, and growth likely took a backseat while you tried to meet your most basic needs.

Of course, in school this meant widespread changes on the fly, whether the learning happened at home, in a classroom, or some combination of both. Teachers, support staff, and education leaders all played instrumental roles in developing plans, scrapping them, and trying again for what seemed like, well, forever. The past 15 months have been a roller coaster ride. Educators nationwide had to brace themselves through the twists, turns, and drops that left butterflies in their stomachs and heads spinning.

Since March 2020, you’ve grown whether you realized it or not. We tend to be hard on ourselves as educators. We aren’t quick to realize that small steps like communicating with students through a new learning platform, leading a staff meeting virtually, or consistently tweaking a policy, procedure, or lesson, all demonstrate growth. Take time to reflect on some of the changes you made during COVID that had a positive effect—even it was for one student, one time.

Steps for Personal and Professional Growth

If you’re still struggling to think through the onslaught of lesson planning, getting all your students back to school (whatever it looks like), planning for the next phase over and over again, and feeling like you didn’t do any of it well, you can take the following steps to jumpstart your own personal or professional growth journey for the next school year.

1. Identify your own self-talk when you make mistakes.

When faced with a challenge, something new or difficult, is your first thought negative or positive? Constant negative reinforcement comes from a place of a fixed mindset—I’m not good enough and never will be—and is not helpful. I would suggest you stop the negative self-talk and take a growth-minded approach to challenges. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?” “What new skill or strategy should I try?” “What resources are available?” “Who from my team can help me?”

2. Make a plan.

Look, we’ve all experienced setbacks in our learning. Effective learners think ahead, try to foresee challenges, and plan their response. For instance, if you look back and think, “We didn’t effectively connect with all of our students this school year,” reach out to your school adjustment counselor, psychologist, or a mental health professional, or purchase a book on building relationships with students. Plot out what you can do to build stronger relationships and what steps you can take when plans go astray. For example, anticipating challenges actually helps you avoid them in the present while providing a route to travel, if difficulties arise.

"Plot out what you can do to build stronger relationships and what steps you can take when plans go astray."

3. Take measure of victories, no matter how small.

A fellow teacher shared a simple technique she used with her students to recognize a job well done. She taught them to pat themselves on the back following an accomplishment. Seriously, she would say, “Now take your right hand, raise it above your head, and pat yourself on your left shoulder.” I have used this self-awareness strategy with students and staff often, and why not? Maybe you have another way of recognizing a moment of learning or progress. Teach the technique to your students or staff and consistently model it yourself.

4. Curate a culture of warmth, understanding, gratitude, and learning.

Curation means sharing and gathering stories of overcoming difficulty, tapping into the child and adult resources all around you, recognizing and uplifting the voices of all you serve, and being thankful for the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children every day. Culture does not come from just one individual. It takes a collection of people—in a classroom, a boardroom, or a school— working together toward a common goal: growth.

A mentor of mine once said, “You will not have student growth without teacher growth.” In this regard, educator growth is paramount to student success. Whether you formally lead growth efforts for a school or district or are a teacher looking for a few more tools for yourself or your students, your growth is necessary and important.

Please take the time to build in behaviors that will allow you to move through the difficulty of the day and become a better teacher and leader—today and into tomorrow.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.

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Learn more about skills and strategies that can lead to growth in this edWeb webinar featuring author Anthony Colannino, along with HMH’s Heather Bender.

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