How can you remember your calling as a teacher and integrate those thoughts, ideas and philosophies into your professional learning?

“Every calling is great when greatly pursued.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes

Practical Tips
Can you remember why you went into teaching in the first place? Can you reconnect with your original goals and desires? Still identify your motivation for making a difference in the classroom and in the lives of young people?

One of the most fundamental and necessary planks of sound professional and personal development is an appreciation of the extent to which your vision is supported by the professional learning that you undertake. We can sometimes mistakenly believe that external agendas for development should prevail but it doesn’t take a genius to realise that what is internally driven, as opposed to what is externally imposed, is more likely to lead to genuine progress.

There have been several writers on this theme in the world of education, including Parker J Palmer, whose work covers such issues in detail. He explains that while we cannot always have the luxury of simply changing our job the moment we realise that it no longer holds meaning for us, or doesn’t make us happy (after all, bills have to be paid and security has to be pursued in the current set-up of society) we do have to be aware of the ‘violence’ we do to ourselves and to others by working in ways which are at odds with our beliefs and understanding about our work. In short, this approach to a career in education is about integrity; possibly the most useful professional development tool we have!

So how can we combine professional and personal development with meeting the undisputed need to feel that we are working with our integrity intact? Here are some points to consider:

  • To what extent does the direction of your professional learning match your work in the classroom? Is there a mismatch? Why has this occurred?
  • Find colleagues who are of a like mind. Is there anyone you can team up with in the spirit of mutual support rather than competition? This is a very effective way of boosting professional learning in a mutually productive way. Choose such collaborators wisely!
  • Remember that learning is an emotional event. Or rather, in order to learn, the hormone dopamine needs to be present and that is controlled in the main by the limbic/emotional brain. According to Andrew Curran, the author of The Little Book of Big Stuff about the Brain (Crown House Publishing, ISBN 9781845900854), chronic stress is bad for the brain in a number of fundamental ways. It can also make learning more difficult. Existing in a working world in which ‘circumstances’ (for example, political constraints on teaching, financial restrictions, lack of positive working atmosphere at school and so on) contribute to the negative stress levels you experience, will almost certainly have an impact on how and what you learn in your career.
  • Andrew Curran also explains that it is through reward and anticipation of reward that we produce dopamine in a way that is ‘physiologically appropriate to normal learning’. That’s worth reading again − it’s an immense statement on learning and consequently on teaching. But what does it mean for you, as a professional learner? How much reward do you derive from professional learning? Are you prepared to anticipate reward and if so, how long are you prepared to wait? These are significant questions to consider.
  • Sometimes, even subtle changes in our approach to work involve taking an empty-handed leap into what seems to be unknown territory. The thing is, the more frequently you do this, the more familiar the process of unknown leaps becomes! The ‘unknown’ element ceases to hold professional fear.
  • Have you picked up professional learning habits in the context in which you work that are not, quintessentially, you? What do you need to shed that doesn’t belong to you?
  • Finally, keep a check on the extent to which you come to believe that working with any sense of purpose or integrity is a luxury you cannot afford. If these thoughts start to develop, it may well be time for a significant shift in the way in which you operate as a teacher.

The bottom line is that while we may share some goals, aspirations and education/work philosophies with others, we basically dance to our own tune, live by our own rules and take a level of risk that we feel able to manage. Keeping that in mind when pursuing professional and personal development is a great way of working with what we’ve got, rather than against it. And there can be no more efficient way of going about our working life!

Issues and Information

National Year of Reading
Just in case it has passed you by, this year is the National Year of Reading, a campaign designed to celebrate reading in all its many forms. It aims to develop a national passion for reading among children, adults, within families and communities.

Naturally there is much for schools to become involved in, and there is a big potential knock-on impact on teaching and learning. The National Year of Reading website carries a number of challenges for schools, including:

  • Becoming a ‘Reading Connects’ school
  • Making stronger links with the local library
  • Running a read-athon
  • Linking football and reading
  • Supporting Children’s Book Week
  • Supporting reading through the extended schools initiative
  • Using the monthly National Year of Reading themes
  • Encouraging children to join their local library
  • Encouraging Chatterbooks reading groups for children

The remaining monthly themes for the National Year of Reading are:

  • May: Mind and body
  • June: Reading escapes
  • July: Rhythm and rhyme
  • August: Read the game
  • September: You are what you read
  • October: Word of mouth
  • November: Screen reads
  • December: Write the future

Find out more
For inspiration on how to make the National Year of Reading work for you and your school, take a look at the campaign website

This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 2008

About the author: Elizabeth Holmes qualified as a teacher at the Institute of Education, London and is the author of several books specialising in the areas of professional development and teacher well-being.