Even the most experienced substitute teachers have room for improvement. Many substitutes work only days or weeks in the same classroom, which offers unique challenges and rewards. One of the most important things you can do to continue growing as a teacher is to work through some professional development exercises.
Here are some readings, online coursework, and self-reflection exercises that can help you sharpen your teaching skills.
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Books to Read: Promoting Growth Mindset in Self and Others
Grit by Angela Duckworth: This book is all about resilience, specifically the qualities that help children and adults persist even when they encounter difficult circumstances at school or beyond. It offers insight into students of all ages, and can also help you understand your own emotions associated with entering new classrooms and teaching children with new needs.
The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer: Parker Palmer is a renowned thinker and teacher who focuses on “awakening the teacher within.” Especially for new substitute teachers, it is possible that your identity is connected to another part of your life — perhaps your role as a caregiver to your own children or as a worker in another industry. However, Palmer asserts that we all have an ability to teach and see ourselves as teachers, and reading his book helps you identify the parts of your personality that are uniquely suited to teaching. It’s very empowering!
The First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher by Harry K. Wong: This book, with millions of copies sold, includes ideas to help with classroom management and student achievement. It’s particularly helpful when most of your days in the classroom are in some respect the “first days” of the class. You can learn how to establish routines quickly, which helps ease your transition into a new classroom.
Mindset by Carol Dweck: This book was written by a Stanford University professor known for her research on mindset. Dweck suggests that teachers and others recognize their own capacity to grow and become better at various skills through thoughtful practice and self-analysis. Simply the belief that one can improve is often the first step to improving, which can be incredibly powerful for young children who may feel discouraged at school.
Courses to Try: Online Offerings that Push Teachers to the Next Level
STEDI SubSkills Course: STEDI was founded in 1995 as the Substitute Teaching Institute at Utah State University. The organization has since trained nearly 125,000 substitute teachers nationwide via a range of research-backed courses.
The SubSkills Online Training course focuses on five key areas of substitute teaching:
- Classroom management
- Teaching strategies
- Special education
- Legal issues
The course normally costs $39.99, but Swing Education substitute teachers can take it for free!
Powerful Tools for Teaching and Learning: Web 2.0 Tools: While not all classrooms are wired, many have plenty of access to technology these days. For those of us who don’t know exactly which modern tools can help with creating classroom activities that are engaging and help students learn, this course gives an excellent overview.
Teaching Character and Creating Positive Classrooms: Learning about positive psychology can help you keep your own spirits up and your students thinking positively. This online course teaches you the latest in psychological research as it applies to the classroom. Certainly, not every aspect can be implemented immediately as a short-term substitute, but knowing about positive, character-filled teaching can allow you to take advantage of the opportunities to add an ethical lesson and leave classrooms a little more positive than you found them.
The Science of Learning: This course will bring you up to speed on the latest research into how the brain learns. It’s specifically geared toward teachers so that they can foster learning in their students. The course addresses assessment as well, which can be one of the most important factors into whether students simply memorize material for a test or truly understand key concepts.
Self-Reflection and Journaling: Creating a Log of Teaching Experiences
SWOT Analysis: SWOT, which is also used in many companies and initiatives outside of the education world, stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Write down each word on a piece of paper and think about what you bring to the table as a teacher and what you see as your areas for improvement. Opportunities can be a chance to unite the first two, discussing both upcoming substitute teaching opportunities as well as ways in which you can capitalize on strengths and improve on weaknesses. The threats section seems ominous, but it is simply a place to discuss obstacles to be overcome. For example, if you are naturally shy, it is possible that this makes teaching harder for you. However, it is wise to discuss such a trait in multiple places on the SWOT analysis; your shyness may help you to relate to shy kids, even if the “stage fright” aspect of it may seem like a threat. This analysis can help you solidify a few goals and areas to work toward in your teaching.
MBTI or Enneagram: These are two popular personality tests. They consist of a variety of questions to ask yourself that may help you understand new aspects of your personality. Realizing qualities like whether you are more of an intuitive or sensing person can help you figure out how you know what you know in the classroom, or you can read information about the MBTI types specifically as they apply to teachers.
Keep a Lesson Plan Journal: This is less of a technique and more of a practice, but it is well worth it. As soon as you place with a particular school, write down what you know about the assignment. When you are done with your first day, write down a few quick impressions of what you learned. As you progress as an educator, you’ll find that information quite valuable. This journal can also be a great place to keep track of other professional development activities; keeping much of your PD in the same place means you can always find it when you want it.
Bringing Professional Development Into the Classroom
You’ll notice that many of the books, courses, and activities discussed in this blog are research-related. Similarly, there are times when you’ll be able to do a bit of “research” yourself during substitute teaching assignments (particularly longer-term ones when you develop rapport with faculty). When possible, ask peer teachers and administrators for feedback on your work.ou can
Additionally, as you work through an online course, for example, try to apply the topics to individual circumstances you encounter in the classroom. At the same time, when you do activities like personality tests, you will begin to identify those qualities in your students and peer teachers. You’ll find yourself even more capable and successful as a result.
About the Author
Janine Chen, VP of Talent, leads a dedicated team that helps our substitute teachers succeed. Janine has spent her entire career in education, including positions with schools and non-profits. She is an alumna of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.