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Project on Development of Personal Skills

1. Introduction

This study deals with a critical self analysis of my personal skills, qualities, strengths and weaknesses as a teacher and the plans I had adopted over a three week period to implement changes and improve myself. The paper also elucidates my methods of conducting such an analysis, how I was able to arrive at my findings, the goals I had set and how I was able to achieve them.

I am a senior school teacher. I have a class of around 25 students. Six of them are from ethnic backgrounds, mainly Mexico and India. Their ages range between 16-18 years. I consider my students to be bright, responsive and participative with high achievement levels.

As a teacher one must try to be positive, communicative, dependable, personable, organized, committed, motivational, compassionate, flexible, individually perceptive, value based, knowledgeable, creative, patient, and have a sense of humour (Danielson, 1996). I have however seen from experience that there exists a vast difference between the ideal of teaching and the reality of the classroom. A teacher wears many hats; a communicator, a disciplinarian, a conveyor of information, an evaluator, a classroom manager, a counsellor, a decision-maker, a role-model, and a surrogate parent. Teaching, beyond the classroom, requires involvement in after school meetings, committees, assisting students, grading homework, assignments, projects and parent interaction.

The paper consists of two sequential sections. The first section, PART A, deals with Personal Skill Analysis and the second, PART B, deals with Personal Skill Development

2. PART A – Personal Skill Analysis

2.1. Methods

I believe that reflection and self-examination helps in the creation of a healthy and balanced approach to life and in developing the tangible and intangible qualities of good teaching. Whilst working on self analysis, with particular regard to developing my proficiency as a teacher, I attempted to get feedback through specific sources of information, i.e. (a) self evaluation through reflections and questions, (b) students’ perceptions through questionnaires (d) colleague/faculty evaluation through questionnaires, (c) evaluation by the school principal, and (d) feedback from family. The immediate aim was to evaluate my strengths and weakness, prioritise processes, handle existing challenges and implement improvements in areas of classroom management. These were applied in tandem with Daniel Goleman’s principles of Emotional Intelligence(1997) where self awareness, self-regulation, motivation and social skill proficiency are considered to be as vital for classroom management as collaboration with colleagues, use of technology, student perception and response, readiness and educational knowledge.

This exercise has been conducted over a period of 4 weeks commencing September 01 up to September 30, 2010.

I initially listed my perceived strengths and weakness and then sought an external assessment of the same from my principal, colleagues/faculty, students and family.

2.2. Personal Analysis

2.2.1. Strengths

Evaluating my own skills and qualities, I first listed my strengths, particularly in relation to maximum utilization of time in product activities and in active student participation. These are as under:

My determination to see things through and gather all the information my students require. I try to find as many resources as I can to make sure they learn each activity and the way I can best help them as I am determined to see my students succeed and motivate them to achieve good grades. I would rate my pedagogical skills as high. The content of the subjects I teach is broad in range and deep in nature. This helps in conveying information to the students in meaningful ways, whilst maintaining time and content discipline.

I have often applied the Danielson, 1996 Framework for Teaching in my classroom with effective results, particularly in the domain of (a) planning and preparation (b)classroom environment (c) instruction and (d) professional responsibilities

The use of technology gives me much more freedom and ability to teach and collaborate with the students, and elicit better responses. I encourage creative and critical thinking, rather than rote learning.

My students are better prepared and informed at the start of the year. I take care to explain the pedagogy, the evaluation procedure, the ways in which they will gain in knowledge and skills and the conduct rules that need to be followed.

I consider myself to be fair in my approach and assess my students on the basis of their performance, rather than on their personal qualities. I am sufficiently aware of the abilities, needs and ethnic backgrounds of my students, as well as their performance levels and endeavour to promote positive self esteem amongst them – encouraging them to write their ideas, pasting them on the class bulletin, getting every student, including the timid ones, involved in class discussions or answers and other interactive sessions. I have eliminated the use of a red ink pen to grade and instead use a green one, as I have noticed the negative effects of grading in red. I take care to address individual students by their names in order to give them that extra sense of well-being and belonging, and try to create a culture of respect and rapport.

Conversely, I set high expectations for my students and hold them to such expectations. The students, when convinced of their potential to perform well, are more often than not able to aspire to and achieve the high standards.

I try to increase their involvement in classroom activity. I have, to this end, rearranged the seating in my classroom to a U shape, so that each student receives greater attention and can interact better with others.

I often use my sense of humour to diffuse friction in the class room, either between students or with those who seem to constantly want to challenge the teacher. It can be a powerful addition to any lesson and I consciously inculcate it in my teaching methods.

Whenever differences between students or those between a student and me reach unacceptable levels, I invite them for a discussion after class and am more often than not able to amicably sort out the problem. My rate of detention is very low.

Though difficult initially, I cultivated the art of keeping my cool under the most trying circumstances, whether it’s handling an errant student, an over-demanding parent, colleague or administrator.

I think that my common sense, apart from my practical training, has helped me to transition from one task to another with relative ease. It has often helped me to size up a situation and make appropriate decisions, whether they relate to managing a classroom, organising a field trip, or dealing with policy and curriculum issues in the school.

2.2.2. Weaknesses

Parent –Teacher skills: I find myself struggling to cope with demanding parents and feel it imperative to improve my rapport and communication skills. I understand the increasing pressure on children to cope with modern day demands and the anxiety of parents to ensure that their children achieve the required standards. The parents often query my decisions and question my professional judgement. I experience additional stress under such circumstances and feel unable to deal with such demands. I often feel I am at the end of my tether and lose my patience. I am often vocal, sometimes impolite, in voicing my thoughts.

Lack of Discipline - My easy going nature is sometimes taken advantage of and students seems to think that irregularities, like talking in class, disrupting lesson with discussions, answering without raising hands, excessive noise, and even late submission of assignments will be tolerated. Peer friction is more frequent. While my students are comfortable and participative in my class, I am sometimes unable to maintain good classroom order.

2.3. External Assessment

To achieve a more frank and objective analysis of my skills and qualities as a teacher, I enlisted the assistance of external assessment factors by circulating questionnaires to my colleagues, faculty and students, principal and my immediate family for their perceptions of my performance. I organised a video recording of one of my classes in session.

2.3.1. Colleagues and Faculty

The questionnaire to my colleagues and faculty covered topics on (a) planning and preparation, (b) discipline, (c) communication with colleagues and students, (d) proper attention to slow learners and ability to promote gifted students, (e) effective collaboration with other teachers and (f) other strengths and weaknesses

2.3.2 Students

The questionnaire to students was designed to contain the following questions:

Am I good at explaining subjects?

Is my subject content and time management precise?

Have I cultivated an atmosphere of learning?

Do I value the contribution of each student?

Are students encouraged to respect each other and do I handle complaints seriously?

Are ethnic students comfortable and encouraged to learn and adjust to others?

Am I communicative enough?

Do I explain my lessons well?

Are my teaching skills adequate?

Do I successfully engage all my students in discussion?

Am I too strict?

Am I a good role model?

2.3.3. Principal

The School Principal assessed me on the following areas: (a) my student participation and involvement in lessons, (b) class room management and discipline, (c) parent-teacher relationship, (d) collaboration with administrators and colleagues and (e) ability to improve math and reading scores

2.3.4. Family

To my immediate family, my wife and two teenage daughters, I sought feedback on the following areas (a) Am I sensitive enough to the needs of others? (b) Do I have sufficient patience? (c) Am I committed to my tasks? And (d) Am I good at discussing and explaining topics?

2.3.5. Outcome and Feedback from External Assessment

Whilst my pedagogy of teaching styles, student involvement and response, sensitivity to students needs and ability to improve their achievements, good communicative and student rapport skills, assessments, classroom environment and commitment to teaching received positive feedback, the external analysis also indicated lapses in parent-teacher relationships, discipline, time management and collaboration with colleagues.

Parent – Teacher Relationships: Parents tend to feel that I do not regard their opinions and concerns seriously. They have also expressed their dissatisfaction that they are not being allowed to participate more actively in their child’s education.

Discipline: My Classroom discipline is lax which in turn reflects on effective time- management. I do not have sufficient knowledge of the school’s policies regarding student behaviour and disciplinary action.

Time Management: A slackening of the set time frame for lessons as I often adjust to situation in order to ensure better participation and learning.

Colleague collaboration: Other than on a personal level, my professional interaction and collaboration with other teachers is almost nil

3. PART B – Personal Skill Development

3.1. Personal Skill Plan and Implementation for Improvement over Three Weeks (Day 1 to Day 30)

My self-analysis and external assessments indicated a short fall in my teaching proficiency in four areas. Over a three week period, I worked on a specific self-development plan, maintaining a record of goals/objectives to be met, the kind of activities and plans that were required to meet these goals, the time frame within which these goals were to be achieved and the process by which my success or failure in each of these areas was assessed (Danielson, 1996). The progress of these goals was elaborated by further evaluation and reflection, the steps that were taken to remedy them, how I was able to achieve significant success in the areas of discipline, time management and colleague collaboration, and the measures that I needed to adopt to combat my deficiency in parent-teacher relationship management.

No

Goal/Objective

Plan

Date

How evaluated progress

1.

Parent –Teacher Relationship

*Meet each parent at the start of the year and familiarise myself with family background.

*Discuss individual child’s strengths and weaknesses and behavioural problems if any

*Discuss the opinions and decisions of individual parents in relation to child’s education

*And specify short term and long term goals

*Communicate more frequently

*Have enrolled in a short term course which specialises in conflict management and mediation with parents.

First day of school Day 6

From Day 8 to Day 22. Meeting at least one or two parents a day, inviting them for after school discussions

From Day 1 to Day 30

Feedback from the Principal, colleagues, students and some parents, as also a mentor, through a short questionnaire as to whether (a) I was able to effectively communicate and relate to parents? (b) Was I able to work out differences in goals for children?

(c) Were the interests of the child upheld in our discussions?

(d) Am I too sensitive and emotionally involved with my students?

(e) Do I need to be more objective?

2.

Discipline

*Familiarise myself with school policies concerning student behaviour and disciplinary action.

*To develop discipline with dignity.

*Establish a set of classroom rules and discuss the rationale of these rules with students and ensure that they understand them, particularly with reference to paying attention, avoiding excessive noise and handing in assignments on time

*Post a short list of rules on the class notice board.

*Enforce these rules consistently

*Also for peer disagreements, post a discipline plan on the class notice board (focusing on reward and encouragement) to serve as a warning and deter any unnecessary arguments and fights, particularly with regard to ethnic respect, substance abuse and use of violence

Commencement of semester in Day 6

From Day 6, at the start of class semester and consistently through the course of the year

Asked one of my colleagues to video tape one of my classes in session. This was later shown to the students.

With a set of rules in place they all agreed there was a marked improvement in classroom discipline and time management.

Feedback from colleagues / faculty, principal through the viewing of the video and a questionnaire about (a) Do I employ effective use of discipline tools?

(b)Have I developed better student cooperation?

(c) Have peer relationships improved?

(d) Is there appropriate use of consequences for bad behaviour?

(e) Am I firm and consistent enough?

(f) Do I encourage discipline with dignity – is my method preventative or controlling?

( g)Do students experience a better sense of self? (h) Do they feel they are all being judged fairly?

(h) Is there more individual attention to students now?

3.

Time Management

*Effective application of SMART Goals to prioritise time

*Cultivate a better student attitude to learning.

*Ask students to raise hands instead of answering out of turn.

*Before commencing a lesson, mention the target.

*Develop a better set of communication skills.

*Cut down on unnecessary discussion/debate matter and time.

*Better class discipline – less talking and more attention.

*Setting time for specific tasks from beginning to end of period

Start of first semester from Day 6

Feedback through a questionnaire and viewing of the video by students, colleagues and principal, again through a small questionnaire

(a)Are there less class disruptions? (b)Do students raise hands to answer questions? (c) Are lessons better prepared now?

(d)Has the time allotment for tasks like instruction, engagement and academic learning improved?

(e) Do slow learners or those struggling to understand still receive sufficient attention?

(f)Is there adequate additional time allotted for new skills?

4.

Colleague/ Faculty Collaboration

*Build up a network of teachers within the school, seek support staff and faculty

* Seek collaborative information and experience

*Seek out a mentor – a veteran teacher with knowledge and experience

* Collaborate and modify my lessons to meet the needs of different students in my classroom

*Plan with other members of grade level team – what is being taught in maths, science etc, so I can connect my topics and objectives to those being taught in other classes

*Get inputs and resources from Librarian or net

With the commencement of the school semester and to have continual interaction on a weekly basis at the most

Feedback from questionnaire to colleagues and students

(a)Am I an effective team player now?

(b)Have I taken a constructive view of my strengths and weakness as pointed out by others?

(c)Have I been able to successfully tap others’ strengths and weakness and apply them to my professional skills?

(d) Has this improved my teaching skills and classroom management skills?

(e)Have I developed better observational skills?

(f) Have I been able to effectively plan my class with inputs from other faculty members?

(g) How have my students benefited?

Whilst I have been able to make sufficient progress and achieve significant success in three goals namely discipline, time management and colleague collaboration, my parent-teacher relationships have yet to come up to standard. In the ensuing paragraphs I have discussed the various strategies and methods I adopted to overcome the lapses in each area to achieve the desired goal.

4. Evaluation and Reflections

4.1. Parent –Teacher Relationships: I have been unable to achieve much success in this area. A further self analysis and evaluation by external assessors- mentor, colleagues and the principal reveal that there is still considerable restraint in this area. They feel my involvement with the students is too emotional and I need to be more objective. I have to offer more alternatives to the parents and decide on what we can compromise on. It is also pointed out that both parents and I need to commit to recommended solutions that have been arrived at in order to develop the best interests of the child. (Adams & Papciak, 2010).

Time and again I have encountered parents who are over-demanding and pushy, placing unrealistic goals and achievements on their children. They often question my authority and decision as a teacher. Though the specialised course in conflict management and mediation with parents was intended to specifically handle this area, as well as differences with parents over exam marks, homework and involvement in school sports, I have not been able to elicit positive parental participation and acceptance of my decisions as a teacher. My mentor (the school counsellor and a behavioural consultant) has agreed to mediate in these problems by providing information and possible solutions.

My mentor has advised me to consciously develop an atmosphere of trust with the parents. I should, by continual interaction and conference, instil confidence in parents that I am doing the right thing for their child. The best way to approach this would be through the adoption of a no-blame approach and working out the best fit between the child’s characteristics and environments at school and at home (Goleman, 2005). The need for both parties to simultaneously identify problematic areas and share the load of instructional needs of students was also highlighted. Positive feedback to the parents like interesting lessons, school trips taken or special interests and merits along with the negative aspects of the child will help build better parent –teacher relations. I have understood that continual communication is an effective tool and e-mails are a useful mode.

Commitment and shared responsibility appear to be the key to the success of this relationship and through the application of the above, I am confident that with time I will be able to overcome my shortcomings in this area.

4.2. Discipline: Better interventional strategies particularly with a focus on developing discipline with dignity, and the implementation of a concise set of rules and code of conduct have brought about a remarkable change in my classroom management and discipline skills. In the first instance, I have been able to formulate a specific classroom discipline plan by familiarising myself with school policies regarding student behaviour and disciplinary action. I have adopted a stance of being firm and consistent at the same time. Student participation and cooperation has increased after they were explained the correlation between tasks and grades. By being less talkative and more attention, there could be a better time management of lessons, which would benefit both student and teacher. They have also understood that handing in assignments on time could ensure appropriate and timely evaluation / assessments.

The development of discipline with dignity, with the purpose of building responsibility through cooperation, mutual respect and shared decisions, along with the use of preventative techniques through proper praise and reward methods, (rather than control), and the promoting of appropriate use of consequences of bad behaviour, have elicited a better sense of self, respect for each other amongst students and improved classroom discipline (Danielson, 1996). Since I have maintained consistency in expectations and consequences, the students have understood that whilst rules will be enforced, there will be fair judgement for all.

With variation in student behaviour depending on classroom activity, I have set down certain explicit expectations for procedures like the beginning and ending of periods, attendance procedures, and behaviour during periods. Students were informed that they had to raise their hands if they wanted to answer a question, instead of answering out of turn. I also applied this procedure to the use of materials and equipment, teacher-led instruction, seatwork, independent group work such as laboratory activities and smaller group projects. These steps have not only led to better classroom management, but improved time management as well.

4.3. Time Management: Classroom management in four specific areas of allocated time, instructional time, engaged time and academic learning time showed significant improvement with better lesson preparation and fewer class disruptions. This result was obtained by student and colleague feedback and mentor guidance.

Success in this area has been achieved by informing the class in advance about the target and the time frame that will be required for (a) time for instruction, modelling, giving examples and showing a demo, (b) group focused work or individual based task, and (c) summing up lessons with the use of easy-to-execute and self-revelatory reflections. The other areas of focus, which have brought about significant improvement in time management were (i) prioritising classroom related tasks relating to immediate needs before collecting the class, (ii) circulating among students, explaining to those who were unable to understand, (iii) breaking the task down even further for particular students, (iv) introducing new skills with additional time strategies, (v) enabling students get a better grasp of the subject matter by paying effective attention and less talking, and (vi) monitoring the time of each activity with the help of a watch (Danielson, 1996)

4.4. Colleague/Faculty Collaboration: Being a team player has resulted in multiple benefits for me and my students. It has helped me to see different perspectives and think of a variety of relevant solutions, giving me a sharper focus on my work and the opportunity to rethink my teaching strategies. It has highlighted the importance of collaboration, mentoring and teamwork amongst school staff and between staff and administration. The students have also immensely benefited from this collaborative effort, as they need more than one teacher to guide them in various areas.

A collaborative observation with my mentor has brought about an awareness of my own weakness and strengths. Mentors can help decipher IEPs and modify assignments for those who need it. A mentor brings a non-judgemental point of view to the experience

My mentor has helped me to understand this principle with a small exercise: “Having considered the various options, if you were to teach this lesson again to the same student, how would you go about it”? After an in-depth discussion with him, I could see that my directions and tools for the activity were not specific and I would need to remodel these before I started teaching the lesson afresh.

Each teacher has their own specific talents and strengths and I can tap on this to build up mine. Apart from personal acquaintance, teachers are motivated to interact with each other, as they require one another’s inputs to succeed. (McCann & Radford, 1993)

I have also developed better observational and improved classroom management skills, which in turn have assisted me in making my students become active learners. It has also helped me refine my questioning skills and group discussion techniques and a more effective use of technology thus leading to better interaction with the students and improved time management.

5. Conclusions

Sir William Osler has rightly said “It goes without saying that no man can teach successfully who is not at the same time a student.”

A teacher wears many hats and has to imbibe many stellar qualities to be the role model their students look up to. However, teaching is a complex profession with tangible, acquired skills and intangible ones.

The purpose of this study was to examine my strengths and weakness as a teacher, through self-analysis and external assessors like colleagues/faculty, principal and student, family and video recording of a class in session. Whilst the exercise revealed my strong pedagogical and classroom management skills, it also indicated my weakness in four areas particularly parent-teacher relationships, classroom discipline, time management and colleague collaboration. Over a three week period I undertook a specific self-development plan laying out goals/objects, activities, time frame, evaluation process of these tasks and remedial measures taken.

This exercise has given me a better sense of confidence and ability in my personal and professional skills and I understand that I am now better equipped to efficiently handle my task as a school teacher. This has further not only reduced the work load, through a rearrangement of teaching strategies, but eliminated stress related to the problems faced earlier. Teaching is now much more enjoyable and rewarding.

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