A secret of lifelong learners is that new information energizes you. Have you ever started googling information after watching a movie or television show, eagerly seeking more details about what you watched? There is excitement in learning new things, and when you realize information is only a few steps away, you start to become comfortable feeling uncomfortable. You greet criticism with an open mind, responding respectfully and reflecting on what you hear. You’re excited to share your passions or listen to new perspectives.
Teachers—and parents—who prioritize lifelong learning become models for students in how they approach education. Is education about achieving high test scores or earning a certain degree? Or is it a process of growth, discovery and understanding that extends far beyond your last days of schooling or university?
Of course schools want students to do well academically, graduate and attend good colleges to land the perfect job. But a true education continues long after graduation. If teachers equip students with the tools to learn how to learn, they prepare them for an interconnected world, show them how to problem solve and cultivate curiosity inside and outside of the classroom.
They help themselves as well, leading to less career burnout and increasing their understanding of the subjects they teach and how to better convey that to students.
To accomplish all this, schools first have to teach the teachers.
A climate of learning
It starts with establishing a workplace that values continuous improvement. At Corbett Prep, teachers regularly meet in divisions and as an entire school to discuss best practices, review current educational research and look for ways to build upon past successes. Teachers study, implement, refine and then start the cycle over again. Corbett’s dedication to the professional development of its teachers is paramount because research shows consistently that teacher quality is the most important factor influencing student achievement.
The school has created a coaching culture that celebrates successes while accepting that there is always room for improvement. Faculty and staff learn to listen to feedback without defensiveness and respond thoughtfully, a skill that when passed on to their classes helps students become open to constructive criticism and develop a growth mindset.
With a growth mindset, students can embrace how struggle often reveals new insights and discoveries. In thinking about the process of learning and looking for options, students work harder and more creatively to get the results they want. Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, known for her research on the growth mindset, found that students who believed their intelligence could be developed outperformed students who saw intelligence as something fixed or limited to what they were born with.
The growth mindset applies to all ages and professions: student, teacher, CEO, parent. And it’s beneficial for students to see the adults in their lives pursuing learning for the sake of learning, whether they are reading a book or enrolling in a course. This summer, Corbett Prep teachers collectively attended hundreds of hours of professional development. Some were new teachers getting up to speed on methodology Corbett Prep uses. Other teachers sought to tune up their skills or broaden their horizons for personal or career goals.
Teaching was a tough job even before the pandemic struck, and two full school years of pandemic teaching has taken a toll. A 2022 RAND Corporation study found that U.S. teachers and principals experienced about twice as much frequent job stress as the general population of adult workers. Teachers struggled with increased levels of uncertainty, worry and pressure, and they worried about how to best support students’ academic achievement.
At the same time, the majority of teachers reported in the State of the American Teacher survey found that they wanted to stay in their jobs. They thought it would help their stress levels to focus on core job responsibilities and building positive relationships among staff and the school community as a whole.
Professional development may seem like placing extra work on overloaded teachers. But the opposite is true. Training opportunities can be helpful and even invigorating. The Kagan Cooperative Learning conference Corbett Prep’s new teachers attended this summer provide teachers with specific strategies for managing classrooms and motivating students. It’s designed to make teachers’ lives easier from the first day back at school and make learning more engaging and fun. Teaching in a classroom full of smiles and engaged students goes a long way in preventing burnout.
The unique part of Corbett Prep’s dedication to professional development is that it allows teachers to pursue their personal and professional passions while strengthening their connection to their classrooms. For example, teachers passionate about curriculum and dedicated to ensuring they were responsive to students’ needs spent time in teams this summer reviewing their International Baccalaureate Programme units.
Teachers who prioritize wellness shape Corbett Prep’s social-emotional learning curriculum and seek out opportunities to work on their personal wellness as well as familiarize themselves with the latest research on emotional awareness, balance and more. Two Corbett Prep teachers interested in environmental education became National Geographic certified educators. An avid reader found connections at a gifted education conference and used them to reinvigorate the school’s literacy program.
Others have opted to return to school for higher degrees. Many teachers have worked toward masters degrees in gifted education, educational leadership or specific content-area curriculum specialties. Four faculty members are currently working on their doctorates through a relationship between Corbett Prep and Mid Sweden University. The research they conducted for this program draws from their experiences at Corbett Prep, and they presented at conferences in Sweden and Portugal this summer (an “energizing educational experience,” one of the teachers said).
Teachers who feel inspired in their learning journeys inspire their classes with their enthusiasm for knowledge, their thrill of discovery and their ideas for new ways to engage students. School administrators enjoy happier faculty members who feel motivated to continually raise the bar. Students see that there is always more to learn, no matter how much you already know.
Educational opportunities fill teachers’ toolkits with options for responding to students’ needs. Whether learning is self-directed or school-provided professional development, everyone benefits when teachers are also students.