The most important aspect of deliberate practice is that it must focus on improving performance. As teachers this performance could relate to our professional knowledge, practice or engagement. That is it can relate to our understanding of our students, how they learn and how to apply this to our teaching. It could also relate to our understanding of the content and skills that we are teaching and the best ways to ensure students learn these. But we can also apply our deliberate practice to the learning environment for our students and how we engage parents in their learning.
Where should you apply deliberate practice?
As a teacher it is your job to identify an area of your practice that you would like to improve. You can do this by reflecting on your practice, talking to your students, as well as other teachers. For example, you might begin by asking your head teacher to observe a lesson or read through your programs and suggest some areas for improvement. From these suggestions you would then identify 1 or 2 to work on and then identify the best ways for you to improve this aspect.
Another example here, If I chose to develop my classroom management skills I might go and observe 5 lessons from various expert teachers and then discuss their lessons with them in relation to how they manage their classroom. I would then take notes based on these discussions as well as do some research to see what else I could find on this area. I might even post a question into a Facebook group or on Twitter asking for best books on the topic and advice other teachers have for me. From here I would chose a few tactics to apply and monitor my classroom closely to try and identify improvements in behaviour and time spent on learning activities in my classroom. At this point, videoing your class can prove very helpful. I would then have teachers observe my class and provide feedback on this area of my practice, reflect myself and revise my goals.
Hopefully it is obvious that you can apply deliberate practice to any area of your work, but I must say that I believe some aspects of your teaching will benefit more from a deliberate practice approach than others. For example, you could choose to improve your communication with parents. And you will probably find plenty to help you in this area. Although, you can definitely improve in this area, it will not have the same impact on your teaching as say curriculum development, or developing your knowledge and application of how students learn. I also want to point out that this practice needs to be repeated frequently in order to improve as much as you can. If you are repeating parent communication on mass in order to improve your skill, you are also likely to have parents get frustrated with your emails and put them into their spam folder.
Ensure your focus is on improvement
One of the temptations that we will have as teachers , and is the same temptation that our students have, is to seek to further develop our skills in areas in which we are already very good. We tend to do this because we enjoy it and find it fun to learn about. This is okay at times and if you have already chosen to become an expert in a particular area then this is warranted. But, if you are looking to simply be the best teacher for your students, then this is not the approach you want.
Instead, you need to do the hard things. Find the areas where you struggle, the skills that you dislike or find difficult to apply and develop these. Teaching, like coaching and training, has many facets to it and to get better at it you need to ensure that you are improving in all areas, but we cannot do them all at once. If you ensure that you are developing something different each time then you will over time find that everything you do has improved, including the areas you love.
Regardless of whether you are developing an area you hope to specialise in, such as wellbeing, or looking to become a fantastic classroom teacher you must ensure that you are stretching yourself just beyond what is possible already. This could be trying new tactics in your classroom, such as Project-Based Learning or simply ensuring that learning intentions are clear and understood by your students.
The next few articles are going to look at some ways that I have applied deliberate practice to my own teaching practices. One of these is to ensure that I spend lots of time in “deep work”. I cannot wait to tell you more about this because I think it is possibly the strategy that has had the most impact for me.