I wrote once before about viewing our colleagues as a resource. As part of our professional development, I suggested tapping into an online teaching community to read about issues common to all classrooms, conducting peer observations to make us reflective teachers, and keeping a communication board in the staff room on which teachers could post tricky language questions for consideration and discussion. What else can our colleagues do for us? What can we do for them? Here are a few ideas.
- Share lesson plans. As an experienced teacher, your lesson plans may be so abbreviated that they may look something like a cross between a secret code and chicken scratch, but consider the benefits of rewriting a particularly successful lesson plan in a readable format and sharing it with your peers. Aren’t you curious to know what practices others are using in their classrooms? The exercise of reviewing someone else’s lesson plan makes you reflect on choices she or he made. You think about how you might have done things differently, but realize that this particular sequence of steps led to successful learning. If you’re part of a school staff, you can consider different platforms for sharing. For example, this can be done on a rotating basis at your monthly staff meeting. The presenter of the month can distribute hard copies for review. Online options for exchanging lesson plans include file sharing via a Yahoo Group, a wiki, or a virtual office at Tapped In. (Digital documents are great because they save paper and can be archived.)
- Share links. There are so many ESL/EFL-related sites out there. How can we find them? When you discover a good one, do you share it with your colleagues? The folks at TESOL’s Electronic Village taught me about social bookmarking. What a great concept!
- Exchange the favor of reviewing/ editing materials. Despite the fact that there are great printed resources out there, you still might find yourself (or choose to place yourself) in the position of writing original lesson or test material. Rule #1 about materials writing: proofread. Rule #2: Have someone else proofread when possible. It really helps to have a second set of eyes, and if that set of eyes belongs to a fellow teacher, she or he can also provide feedback regarding the overall quality of your work.
- Share your knowledge. There’s so much we can learn from one another. Sometimes it’s a small piece of information, such as some insight into pronouncing foreign names because you know a language that a colleague doesn’t. Other times it could be a set of skills. For example, I mentioned in another posting that colleagues may be able teach you how to use the technology you want to bring into your teaching. Perhaps you want to share links with colleagues and students. You’ve heard of social bookmarking, but never tried it. Try asking another teacher. Maybe she or he has an account on Delicious and can show you how it works.
So much of our time is spent in the company of our students or alone as we prepare our lessons and correct assignments. The time we spend with our peers may not amount to much in comparison, but it’s important. Whether it’s a staff room at a school or a virtual office, we need a place to interact with one another. Through our exchanges we can offer support and even promote one another’s professional development. Of course, realistically, not every shared moment is going to be work-related…and that’s fine. Enjoying one another’s company through a recap of a fun weekend or a discussion of recent news has a purpose, too. It creates comfort and familiarity. Our relationships grow, and we then feel more secure in taking and offering support. Besides, conversation and shared laughter add a warmth that every work environment needs.