Listen to this post as a podcast:
Some links in this post are Amazon Affiliate links. If you click these and make a purchase from Amazon, Cult of Pedagogy will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
This post was updated in August of 2021.
One thing I love about teaching is that the list of ways you can improve is a mile long. It truly never gets boring. But because the work of a teacher has so many dimensions, it’s easy to get overwhelmed; you can’t possibly do it all.
So instead of trying to tackle everything at once, I recommend you pick just one thing. Consider an upcoming time frame when you’ll be away from your regular teaching duties, like summer or spring break. Then decide how much of that time you actually want to focus on meeting a goal—after all, you might just want to catch up on your DVR or do some travelling. If you do want to set aside some time to improve your practice, just pick one thing and focus on that.
First, Determine Your Needs
Start by figuring out where you really need work: I have created an exercise called the Gut-Level Teacher Reflection that will help determine what areas of your practice need the most attention. Go ahead and take that, and once you’ve decided on some key areas for improvement, it’s time to set your goal. To help you, I have put together a list of eight possible paths you might take toward self-improvement as a teacher.
1. Strengthen Your Tech Skills
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have some room for growth with technology. But it’s one thing to say you’re going to “get better at technology,” and quite another to take deliberate action to improve your skills. Here are some steps you might take:
- Become a Google Certified Educator. This is a certification that basically marks you as having a solid foundation in Google’s online tools. Becoming a Google Educator is the first step toward becoming a Google Certified Teacher, Coach, or Innovator, all of which are more advanced levels. Learn more at Google for Education Exams and Certifications. And if you’d like help in the process, check out Kasey Bell’s Google Certified Educator Academies, which give you all the tools you need to be successful in achieving your certification.
- Complete my JumpStart Course. JumpStart is a self-paced, 10-module course designed to move moderately comfortable tech users to the next level. I designed it to mimic the same way I learned, a process that took me from being a basic Word-Facebook-PowerPoint-email user to being really, really comfortable with technology. Learn more about the course here.
- Attend an Unconference. If you want to keep it simple, you might want to just focus on exposing yourself to new tools. A fast, fun, and inexpensive way to do this is by going to an “unconference,” a grassroots professional development gathering organized and run by teachers. These are often called EdCamps or TeachMeets, and though they don’t exclusively focus on technology, most seem to lean pretty heavily in that direction. Learn more about attending an EdCamp or TeachMeet in your area.
- Get Better at Twitter. Plenty of people have a Twitter account, but not everyone uses it to its full potential. Learn how here and you just might discover why educators call Twitter “the best professional development I’ve ever had.”
2. Brush up on Your Pedagogy
No matter how long a person has been teaching, there’s always room for pedagogical improvement. Whether you’re learning new theories, brushing up on the basics, or just adding a new technique to your arsenal, improving the way you actually teach should be a recurring feature on every teacher’s to-do list.
- Add some new teaching strategies to what you’re currently doing. To learn one fast, take a look at my collection of instructional strategy videos demonstrating techniques like concept attainment, reciprocal learning, the Jigsaw strategy, and lots of others.
- Learn more about learning. This site has years of posts, book reviews, and interviews about how people learn best. Take a few moments to browse through everything with the Learning & Memory tag and you’ll definitely find some great ideas.
- Improve the way you differentiate instruction. If you’re like most teachers, you think you could be doing a better job at differentiating. Check out my Starter Kit for Differentiated Instruction, a collection of articles, videos, documents, and tools that will help you improve in this area.
3. Improve Your Classroom Management
Here’s another area we could all improve on. If your class isn’t run well and your students aren’t focused, it’s pretty hard to get anything else done. We have looked at the topic of classroom management from a lot of different angles on this site over the years. Browse through all the articles in the classroom management category here.
4. Get More Politically Active
If you’re tired of feeling frustrated by policies that negatively impact your work, it might be time for you to start taking more action to influence those policies. Here are some ways you can move in that direction:
- Listen to Episode 18 of my podcast, where I interviewed activist Anthony Cody about how teachers can get more involved in educational activism.
- Download a copy of my Education Activist’s Starter Kit, a comprehensive list of resources to help any teacher learn how they can start taking action.
- Find a group of like-minded colleagues and make a plan that includes learning about the issues and participating in one of the many events around the country and online that are pushing for saner and more effective educational policies.
5. Adjust Your Mindset
One of the most significant improvements you can make to your teaching is changing the way you think about it. Mindset has a powerful impact on how you experience your work and whether or not you continue to grow and thrive. Here are some ways you can systematically work toward developing a healthier mindset:
- Read a teacher mindset book like Angela Watson’s Awakened: Change Your Mindset to Transform Your Teaching and you’ll notice a big difference in the way you process the daily challenges of teaching. Pair that up with Watson’s newest book Unshakeable: 20 Ways to Enjoy Teaching Every Day…No Matter What and you’ll find yourself experiencing your work in a very different, and happier, way.
- Create a support group with other teachers who want to make the same kinds of changes in their own mindset. Read either of these books together and set aside some time to talk through the insights and questions that come up as you read.
- Build mindfulness practice into your regular routine, which will help you reduce stress, feel more purposeful, and actually become more productive. Meena Srinivasan’s book, Teach, Breathe, Learn: Mindfulness In and Out of the Classroom, talks about the value of mindfulness practice for teachers and includes a mindfulness curriculum you can use with students.
6. Freshen up your Slide Presentations
Chances are, you probably use PowerPoint or Keynote to create slide presentations. But are you familiar with best practices for slide creation? Most people aren’t, and that means the world is chock-full of less-than-effective slideshows. To start improving yours, take a look at my post, Let’s Make Better Slideshows.
7. Take the First Step Toward National Board Certification
Becoming a National Board Certified Teacher was absolutely the best professional decision I ever made, and it had the most significant impact on the quality of my teaching. Even though I have grown in so many ways since my initial certification in 2004, I still see a few key moments during the process as major turning points in the way I view my work. It raised my expectations for myself and drastically changed the way I measure the quality of my teaching. If you are based in the U.S. and want to learn more, start by reading my post about why getting National Board Certification is worth it (Conquering National Board Certification, and why it’s totally worth it)
8. Get Organized
I left this one for the end because my guess is that this is one of the most common goals for everyone. If organization is your issue, the first tip I can give you for getting more organized is to narrow that goal down to something more specific: Do you want to manage your time better? Organize your digital files? Pull together all the pieces of dozens of little projects you have going on? Here are some tools that can get you started:
- To organize your time, try Google Calendar. It took me a little while to learn it, but now I keep all of my important events, daily tasks, birthdays, everything on it. And what I love is that it’s also synced with my phone, so I get reminders on the go as well.
- To organize your digital files, consider using a cloud-based storage platform like Dropbox or Google Drive.
- To organize your projects, a note-taking tool like Evernote can really help you keep all the pieces in one place.
- To really get serious, consider a year-long program that will teach you systems and mindsets that will put your work and life back in balance. The 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Program does all of this and more. Learn more here.
How are you growing as a teacher?
I would love to hear about the goals you’ve set for yourself as a teacher. I’m sure I left some things out (actually, as I was finishing this up I realized I completely forgot building content-area knowledge), so let’s keep building this list together. In the comments below, tell me about a past goal you’ve set for yourself as a teacher, and how successful you were at meeting it. Or share a future goal and tell us what your plans are for reaching it.
As my friend Ruth would say, this really is such a marvelous job, isn’t it? ♥
Join my mailing list and get weekly tips, tools, and inspiration — in quick, bite-sized packages — all geared toward making your teaching more effective and joyful. To thank you, I’ll send you a free copy of my new e-booklet, 20 Ways to Cut Your Grading Time in Half. I look forward to getting to know you better!
Love your website, blog, everything, including the t-shirts. I have been placed in Kinder next year, after having taught 2nd and 3rd for many years. I have no training in the CCSS for Kinder, no knowledge, no inkling about anything that has to do with munchkins. Can you point me to some resources?
I will ask for recommendations from my contacts in K. If anyone here has ideas, please share them!
I like you website is very helpful
Jennifer–Love this post, and want to say every newsletter you share helps me on my personal path of growth as an educator and a colleague! (It all started with the “Marigolds” !) This article is perfect professional development!
Thanks, Donna! Are you going to try one of these this summer?
All your information you touched on was amazing. I’m a Paraprofessional and work with many students throughout the day. Organization is so important for me. I’m wanting to learn more on Google Calendar for sure. Thanks so much!
This is amazing! I feel as if this was written just for me, and I love how you’ve provide a link to all of the resources you recommend.
Thanks, Joanne! I’m really glad you found it helpful.
May I know what short term goals could set to help me achieve my long term goal to becoming a teacher I know I not have enough budget to continue my goal as a teacher can you please help me what to do I need an advice from you please reply God bless.
Hi Yen! While we don’t have anything on the site specific to this, we recommend checking out alternative paths to teaching degrees via Teacher Certification Degrees. You may also want to check out programs like Teacher Ready to see if that fits your needs.
Hope this helps!
would love to get updates… I’m working on doing interactive notebooks for my biology kids next year. I’m excited to start
Hi Carlyn — Are you referring to updates from this blog? If so, go ahead and sign up for my mailing list and you’ll start receiving weekly emails from me. Just go back up to that gray box and click on either of the red links. Thanks!
Great blog I enjoyed reading it thanks.
I have recently become an assistant head teacher and am really enjoying the role. The one area I struggle with is confidence when speaking to the whole staff, for example, at a staff meeting or a whole school assembly. I prepare really well but forget key points I wanted to make because I am so nervous. I make notes and put promts in my slide shows. I’ve done numerous assemblies but only led 2 staff meetings. Any suggestions on how can I overcome my nerves? Thanks
The best advice I’ve heard on calming nerves when you’re presenting is to switch your focus:
Old Focus: How the audience is perceiving you. This creates a lot of anxiety.
New Focus: How you can serve and help your audience and deliver value to them.
I got this advice from reading Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen, which is still the absolute best thing I have ever read on presenting (and I mentioned it in this article above).
I hope this helps!
These goals are absolutely fantastic. Clear, practical, high-quality advice. Thank you for putting them together, and for including resources which you know to be of value.
I’m so glad to hear this, Katharine! Thank you.
Excellent post with great resources for educators. Thanks for sharing. I plan to highlight your post in my next blog! I enjoyed reading your other posts as well. Thanks for being a positive voice in education.
Thank you, Keith!
I wish I had read this post back in June! I’ll still share with my colleagues, better late than never! Thank you 🙂 As for my own goals, I read 8 books to use in my classes, picked excepts and talking points and started a blog about it! Hooray!
I find this piece very useful to my 2016 goals. Thank you for the recipe, and I will always share with my colleagues here in Nigeria.
I find your dedication to helping teachers and students very honorable. Thank you a lot!
thanks for your time creating these goal. it’s has added to my value
I love your website! Thank you for your wonderful work.
Is the “Teacher, Organize Thyself” resource available?
Hey, Melanie! This is Debbie, one of the Customer Experience Managers with CoP. If you scroll down to #8 Get Organized, you’ll see links to the Google Calendar, Evernote, and Google Drive posts which were once part of that earlier series called “Teacher, Organize Thyself.” Hope this helps.
I really don’t know how I got into this page but am so glad I need. I needed a teaching resurrection of some kind.
I am from Nigeria. I teach ICT in an International School and I want to say “Thank you”
You gave me a focal point again!
This is one of the most comprehensive lists I’ve read. The great part about that is I can zero in on the specific ones that are just right for me. It’s overwhelming to think about goals for a new year and you’ve helped me pinpoint some very clear goals as well as attainable steps to reaching them. Thanks very much for the support!
I just found you and just started listening to your podcast and I LOVE your resources! I write down all of the book recommendations that you make on many of your podcasts. Where do you find the time to READ all of these books?
I’m currently a senior in college, and I found your blog to be very helpful for the learning communities. Although, my focus is on higher education I will definitely be coming back often to apply some of these strategies at my work place. Some of the goals I have set for this coming year are creating a support group at work for educators, get better with Twitter, and organizing my time as well as my projects early on.
Hello, Ms. Gonsalez,
Thank you for writing such a great blog. Your tips will help me identify and set goals for the new academic year.
What areas would you suggest for an elementary special education teacher (11 yrs) in a resource Room?
Hi Karyn! This is Holly Burcham, a Customer Experience Manager. This is one of my favorite posts, and inspiring as it is, it’s a lot to take in! My background isn’t SpEd, but I’m thinking the goal-setting ideas in the post could really work for anyone in any educational setting–it really just depends on the area that you want to dig into a bit deeper.
You could start by getting on Twitter or refining your Twitter skills if need be, or check out Evernote, see if you’d like to use that platform regularly. You could get familiar with either platform in an hour or two, and then figure out if you’d like to take them on more fully.
If you’re ready to do a bit more, I’d suggest taking on one of the books mentioned here or dig through the Google Educator tutorials.
Lastly, if you haven’t yet, try out the Gut-Level Teacher Reflection.
Hope this helps!
Nice work. Thank you for sharing
I found this post especially useful because it’s definitely written by someone who has been-there-done-that and that’s what makes it very relate able. Thank you
What a marvelous blog you’ve shared!! I was just reevaluating my goals and craving for some stretch goals when I came upon your blog. It is refreshing, its forward thinking and has the potential to take me away from my comfort zone to grow and be my best self as an educator. Sincere thanks for sharing.
I am just going through my future goals and found your user friendly website invaluable with many new ideas about teaching and learning. Thank you for sharing.
Happy to have found this helpful website. Simply inspiring! This information is greatly appreciated by me as I am looking ahead at my 28th year in teaching!
Hello Jen & thanks for your blog on teaching and teaching recommendations, tips. Much appreciated here as a new teacher in the field. I will definitely recommend this site to others in hopes they find inspiration for the love of teaching. Again, tks!
Hi there, Jenn!
I found all your blogs so informative and helpful for me as an educator. If only I have found out this website three years ago.. I believe I’m a total different educator now. Thanks a lot! By the way, can you help me out what good sources I can get in training teachers for the in – house training? Thanks much..
Hi Jennet! I’m Holly and I work for Cult of Pedagogy. By in-house training, do you mean staff/faculty PD that can be done in school? If so, I’d recommend checking out Hate PD? Try Voluntary Piloting, How Pineapple Charts Revolutionize Professional Development, and How to Plan Outstanding Tech Training for Your Teachers. Jenn also has a tech course called JumpStart which is worth a look.
If I am totally off base, please write back! We’ll do our best to connect you with what you’re looking for.
I am amazed with the suggestions you have provided. These are really the things I believe we need as educators in the 21st Century. I will be updating you how we go along with our training once we are done. Once again, thanks Holly!
Wonderful, thank you!
Wornderful, Thank you
Hello! You identified great resources in regards to professional development. Have you found that schools are willing to pay for these PD opportunities, or should educators plan to set aside a certain amount of money to fund these experiences? Additionally, how much time do you believe a teacher should dedicate to professional development? I appreciate the different types of resources that you listed, including books, websites, and certification opportunities. Do you find that schools often provide these opportunities at the school, or do you seek these out on your own?
Great questions — I’m sure it’s different everywhere, but my experience is that a lot of districts and schools have PD budgets both at the district and building level. I’ve also known teachers to use their own money to attend something they’re highly interested in that the district couldn’t support. And I’ve even seen PTOs financially support some PD opportunities. I don’t know that I’ve ever really thought about how much time a teacher should dedicate to PD…but teachers should always be working toward some sort of goal.
Thank you so much! We are being asked to work on personal growth plans for school this year. I will be sharing this with my colleagues.
Thank God, I was steered to your site! You are indeed one good samaritan in the field of education who is more than willing to share to anyone the good stuff you have about educational management and other related subjects in general. “Just love this topic! Educator as I am, I am most delighted to share this with my colleagues during our WEBINARS. More power and more Blessings to One of the Rare Educators on Earth – That’s You! Love and light…
Thank you so much for sharing this amazing feedback–I’ll be sure to share this with Jenn, I know she’ll want to see it!
I just wanna ask some advise what can be my Teacher’s Target for this first Term of the School Year, that I can set for my formal observation this end of October. I am a KG2 Teacher here in Qatar.
Hope you can help me out in this. Thank you…
In the post, there’s a link to The Gut-Level Teacher Reaction. Check it out – that would be a great place to start as it can really help you pinpoint an area that you’d like to work on. Once you know your end goal, check out the blog index for resources and strategies. For example, if you’re wanting work on designing meaningful collaborative lessons, check out some ideas that fall under the Cooperative Learning topic. Be sure to try some strategies prior to your observation so you know what works and what you’d like to tweak. Hope this helps!
Thank you for sharing these areas to improve on. I find it overwhelming to start a new goal. I found your gut-level teacher reflection very helpful to decide where to start.
Through my education, I found another area to improve on is making the classroom a learning zone instead of a performance zone. There is a lot of pressure on students, having peers always watching and continues assessing. I am trying to distinctly show students when we are in the learning zone by using self- reflections instead of testing. I have switched over to a portfolio report card that shows the students learning progress. I would love to hear other teachers’ suggestions.
I work for a early childhood center. We have children enrolled that are ages 6 weeks to 5 years old. I recently was promoted from a Pre-K Teacher to the Pedagogy Coach for the whole center. Do you have any tips/tricks recommendations for one that is starting out in this profession? I just recently discovered your podcast and your website! Thanks!
Congratulations on your new position! There are so many resources and sites available that have a wealth of information that could support you starting out. As someone that has an Early Childhood background, here are some of my go-to resources/sites that I frequent to stay current:
I hope something here helps. Sending you the best as you start your new chapter!
Resourceful and worthy content. Each idea mentioned ( of setting up the goals ) in the present era is a gem. Thank you so much for sharing such nice blogs. Keep up the good work.
After reading all the tips in the articles I truly am blessed to know that some much resources for me. As a Music teacher sometimes we get thrown in to the side because we are Resource teachers but this will be great for me to have.
The key to goal setting is to help students take practical steps to achieve them. Many teachers have found that they use SMART Improving Classroom Management
I’m a new teacher in Building construction and wanted to say thank you for your information.
Jenn will be so glad to know that the content has been helpful for you as a new teacher! Best wishes on your new journey.