collaboration, Growth mentality, Teaching ideas

Alternative strategies for professional engagement

In my school, staff meetings are necessary events that teachers have to attend, but I think it’s fair to say that they are not generally seen as more than that. As department head, I also hold one meeting per month, and I’ve done the same in my roles on various committees. Whatever the topic, it’s rare to have people walking in excited about a meeting.

Teaching, though, has the potential to be an isolating profession. Teachers can easily become siloed in their own classrooms or their own teaching areas, with few opportunities to interact with colleagues. Those interactions can be rich conversations that can move us forward in our practice in a powerful way, but they don’t always have to take place at meetings. The ideas that follow are not my own, but came from a sharing session of a group of teachers in my district who are currently serving as mentors for other teachers. I wanted to share them both to document them for myself, but also as a way to hopefully ignite ideas for others looking for a new way to interrogate practice.

I have broken these ideas down into three categories:

  1. Independent
  2. Collaborative
  3. Using technology or other outside resources

Professional expertise - Fullan quote


  • Set goals. (Or better yet, set one goal. It’s less overwhelming.)
  • Learn about support staff scheduling and best practices.
  • Look at IEPs (in my district, an individual education plan for a student who requires adaptations or modifications from the regular curriculum – names vary in other areas), referral forms, safety plans, and other documents related to student success.
  • Remember when you were in university and had to do personal reflections? Do one again on strengths and/or weaknesses of a lesson.
  • Examine how differentiation is working in your class.
  • Consider what portfolios would look like to demonstrate student learning in your subject area. What samples of student work would let you know whether students are meeting expectations?


  • Set “critical friends protocols”. What is okay to talk about or say, and where are your boundaries?
  • Choose a “3rd point” to avoid the risk or pitfall of being perceived as judgmental, or just to make the conversation easier and less threatening. For example, talk about the behaviour or response of a student in a class rather than what the teacher said or did.
  • Shadow a teacher for a day.
  • Shadow a student for a day.
  • Observe another teacher for all or part of a lesson, or ask someone to observe you. Set a purpose for the observation, and then debrief afterwards.
  • Talk about a “do over”. If you were to deliver the same lesson over again, how would you do it differently?
  • access interagency support (whatever is available in your district)
  • discuss intentions and delivery around assessment
  • discuss report card comments (often pre-programmed or coded). How do they fit with assessment?
  • Team teach.
  • Share student work samples as exemplars to guide teaching and assessment.
  • Practice listening to understand someone. It’s harder than it looks!
  • Co-plan a lesson with someone teaching the same subject area, and then debrief about how your lessons went.

Using technology or other outside resources

  • Fieldtrip
  • Share resources with a colleague in the same subject area.
  • Share resources with a colleague outside of your subject area. This can often be really interesting! Focus on big picture areas of practice, or think about how you can adapt what the other person is doing.
  • Attend (or give!) a workshop on a unit or area of practice. This is more fun if you go with a colleague!
  • Share assessment resources or research examples of assessment resources you want to learn more about. Find teachers in your school or district who are using them and talk about how it’s going.
  • Use video of yourself teaching to backwards design something.
  • Track student data that’s relevant to an area of concern or interest.
  • Look at curricular websites.
  • Find a case study connected to an area of interest.
  • Attend a professional development workshop outside of your normal circle of colleagues.
  • Outside of the immediate staff in your building, what other options exist for student support in your district? Try to connect with these people and learn what they do.

Why it matters.

Whatever teachers do to reach out to others and improve practice, it’s critical to do something. When we don’t not only do we become isolated, but students are often not exposed to the curricular connections between the various subjects they study either. This article is a great (quick) read on why that matters. If you try something from this list, I’d love to hear how it goes!

Cover image found here.

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