We Love a Challenge: Promoting Staff Development

“The best teacher is the learning teacher.”

If new teachers must learn all they need by trial and error, they’re missing out on opportunities to invest in the long-term flourishing of the school, says Ken Kauffman. In this address to school board members, he surveys resources for teacher growth available to Anabaptist schools. He warns schools not to dump new teachers into the classroom without careful investment in their preparedness. Likewise, the fact that a teacher has some experience doesn’t remove the need for continued professional development. Ken encourages each school to foster a culture in which teachers welcome input and help each other grow in skill.

Listen to Ken’s full talk:


Who trains your teachers? Is it experience? Which is ultimately the students, really. Or are they skilled trusted mentors? Far too many of our teachers experience the sink-or-swim idea.

Just don’t dump them into your classroom without any expectations, without getting to know you and the people in your classroom, and then all their training will be by student experience. Boots on the ground is a way to gain proficiency, but it’s a slow way, and it’s often a burnout way, too.

Many of us are involved in trades or occupations. We benefit from apprenticeships and mentor/mentee arrangements. Whether farmers or shopkeepers or builders, we find it helpful to attend trade shows and informational meetings and seminars, or whatever, to keep up with things, or to stay on the cutting edge. I suppose we’d have a lot less teacher burnout, or quit-out, if they also had similar opportunities to keep up with things, or to stay on the cutting edge of their profession.

Is your teacher development program intentional or haphazard? Give them an opportunity to develop their skills. It is to their advantage and to your school’s advantage as well for the longterm. Not only for this next term, but for possibly for the long term.

The earlier you can secure your teachers for the following year, the more time you’re going to have to develop their skills and talents and to discern what their interest are and shore up the subjects maybe that they’re weak in.

References and interviews if you don’t know the teacher very well. That is one way of actually developing your staff: by you getting to know them. If you don’t know them very well, be sure you have plenty of good references from qualified sources. Then interview the teacher, too, if you don’t know her or him very well.

Then advance training and development would be another way that we can help develop staff for this fall: Hope Teachers Institute—I think it’s week-long, right? Christian Light Teacher Training; Western Fellowship Teachers Institute; Faith Builders Teachers Week. Then other more intensive preparation would be things like hire them in advance so that they can attend the summer term at Faith Builders. Teacher apprenticing term at Faith Builders, that would be like a two-year course. Take enrichment courses in a local community college, or online courses or computer courses.

There was a young man—I was really impressed when, after he was hired and after he was interviewed by the other school—I was really impressed how diligently he began to prepare for that assignment. He knew that his weakness would be English and so he bought an English handbook, he studied English literature. He went all out to shore himself up on English because he knew that’s where his weakness would be. You want to take that kind of ambition and build on it and give them the courses and the resources that can work.

Assign a mentor to young or beginning teachers. Young or beginning teachers need a mentor. You need to have someone assigned with them. Give them a daily phone call or a weekly phone call, whatever the need is. Work with them for a day every week. Just mentor them through.

Developing present staff: Staff meetings: Staff meetings can be enrichment times and this is something that I just enjoyed very much. One of the best memories I have of staff meetings from when I was principal and teaching was reading through a book as a staff. We’d read a book, maybe a chapter a week. Each one of us would read a chapter a week. Or maybe we’d read it as a devotional, kind of, for our staff meeting and then we discuss it. The Master Teacher, for example, Rod and Staff’s Master Teacher, and other books that you can read for staff development and developing skills.

Staff meetings can also be a great time to discuss methodology and “How do you handle this?” and “What would you recommend for my student here?” Iron sharpens iron. You just blend together and work as a team. You will all develop together.

Develop a culture in your school that teachers really want to be critiqued. They really want to be evaluated. There are forms. There are ways that you can do this. This should come, though, from an experienced teacher, someone that has experience in that area, or maybe from outside the school if your school doesn’t have an experienced teacher that can provide that.

Don’t forget to affirm and appreciate, as well as show out the areas of weakness that they need to improve on. Affirmation and approval, appreciation, go a long ways in developing teaching skill.

Schedule three to five days per term for in-service training. I’m suggesting that you actually build this into your calendar: Southeastern Educator Seminar in Hartwell, Georgia is every February; the Virginia School Institute; Texas Teacher Conference is a new and growing one; CLE Workshops are in October and November—that’s a traveling workshop of experienced educators going around. Then you have CMTI, Conservative Mennonite Teachers Institute, usually held in September, one in the East and one in the West, except West doesn’t come that far west, really.

Visit other schools as well. That can be an enriching time. Some schools go as far as actually swapping teachers for a day. I’m not sure that it’d recommend that one, but that is what a few schools that I know have done. Visiting other schools is a way to sharpen your iron, sharpen the teacher’s iron.

There are some schools that kind of take the attitude that, “Well, you know, we can’t afford to take off so much,” you know? But I’m saying if you really are concerned about developing your teachers and giving them enough respite time, that they can actually develop skills and refresh and revive, that means… Some of these workshops and some of these meetings like this are essentially revival meetings. It’s teacher revival meetings is what they are. It gives them a boost in their energy and brings them back with lots of ideas and they’re brimming over.

Then the summer development opportunities. Teachers teach best out of freshness. The best teachers are learning teachers. If you do pay your teachers during the summer, then you do, I think, also have a little right to also specify what kinds of things they should be doing. You can ask them to take classes. For example, they might have to go to Summer Term at Faith Builders. They might have to attend a week of teacher training somewhere again just as alumni. Go back and do it again and take it over. Or maybe do required reading with book reports. We’re going to require things like that. Research projects with term papers, for example, Menno Simons’ view on education.

Travel study: This is something that I’m kind of excited about. I see more and more teachers doing this during the summer. They’re being paid right on during the summer, but it’s structured in such a way with an agreement with the school board that it’s going to work for the school’s benefit. Some of their teachers would go to work in refugee camps for the summer, over in Greece, or something like that. They’d write articles about it when they come back. Their classrooms are better for it because they have a broader experience now and they can teach social studies like never before.

Provide stimulating periodicals and resources: the Christian School Builder by Rod and Staff; the Blackboard Bulletin by Pathway, LightLines, which is a free publication from Christian Light. ACSI has periodicals if your school is a member of ACSI, Association of Christian Schools International. If your school is a member of that, you can get their periodicals free. There’s more. There will be lots more that you can get, so keep good reading materials in front of them, including articles that you cut out of the Wall Street Journal, or whatever you’re reading, that might be helpful or stimulating for their development.

Human beings, men especially, are up to challenges. We like to be challenged. We like to develop our skills, alright? That’s inherent in anybody that is thinking sanely, I think, as far as teaching is concerned.

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