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January 16, 2015
 • By 
Jennifer Furstenberg

3 important areas of growth for teachers


January always brings promises of good intentions and personal growth. With the holiday season finally coming to a close, the cold, wintry weather in my part of the country creates the perfect opportunity to reflect on the year ahead.Since this first month seems to move at a slower pace, I often find myself getting a bit overzealous with my plans. Too frequently I've set lofty goals at the beginning of the year, driven by high expectations and determined to succeed, only to give up by the time February 1 rolls around.

In order to avoid burning out, it's important to keep goals challenging but obtainable.

In my Teaching English Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) classes, we often refer to Krashen’s input hypothesis, commonly referred to as i+1. If the language learner’s level of competence in the foreign language is i, then i+1 is the next step along the development continuum. If the same student started out with i+2, the curriculum would be too difficult—and may leave them feeling frustrated or defeated. i+1 is manageable but still rewarding when it's accomplished.This philosophy can be applied to setting goals, too. Aim for an i+1 goal: something that extends you beyond your comfort zone but isn't too challenging to accomplish.This year, I'm setting professional goals in just three areas of growth—Inside the Classroom, Professional Learning, and Building Relationships. These allow me to narrow my focus, keep my priorities in check, and balance the many hats that we as educators are called to wear without putting on new ones.

Inside the classroom

January is the perfect time to assess how you're progressing with your students. If you teach a yearlong course, create a goal that will truly impact your students. Draw on the time you've spent together. By now, you know what makes them excited to come to class, what skills they struggle with, and where their education needs to progress by the end of the year.My goal in this area is to provide opportunities for student choice. I experimented with student choice in the fall, and I saw such an increase in student engagement that I'm committed to provide other opportunities before the end of the year. For several units in the upcoming semester, I'll give students a choice in how they can demonstrate mastery of a concept. I’m starting with my Tic-Tac-Toe Menu Assessment for Electricity.

Professional learning

As the science instructional facilitator at my school, I have the enormous task of leading our science teachers in incorporating the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) into their classrooms over the next several years. That's why my professional learning is centered on the NGSS. My goal is to watch one webinar a month on the NGSS from the NSTA Learning Center, beginning with the Science and Engineering Practices.

Building relationships

We're at a point in education where things are constantly changing and leaving a lot of work to be done, and this can lead to a staff full of overwhelmed teachers who just want to feel like they're making a difference. My goal is to acknowledge and celebrate teachers' successes in their classrooms because that’s where it truly counts. I'm determined to recognize at least one positive experience in a teacher’s classroom every week and write an old-fashioned thank-you note to let them know how valuable their skills are.As I’m write my goals down, a million more come to mind—but this is where I'll stop myself. The three areas of growth I've chosen are the ones that I feel most strongly about, and I'm looking forward to seeing the outcomes of the goals I've set for myself.This year, what are your areas of growth?