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Virginia Journal of Education

‘Perfect practice makes perfect’

Teachers, as life-long learners, should strive to learn something new every day.

By David Schick

If you’re like most teachers, at this point in the school year you’ve likely settled into a daily routine and are beginning to feel like you’re hitting your stride with students. Something else will likely happen around now, too: You’ll get an email about attending a conference for “professional development,” if you haven’t already.

Some of you will feel your eyes begin to roll at the mere mention of professional development. I get it. They’re not usually the most exciting conferences to attend. And, more times than not, they’re inconveniently scheduled during one of your coveted breaks.

But those conferences, and professional development in general, represent an important principle in the educator’s philosophy: a desire never to stop learning, to be a life-long learner.

Could a professional development activity, even if it doesn’t appear to at first, undergird and enlighten future lesson plans by bringing "real world" relevancy to your lessons? Imagine a journalism teacher who spent time regularly pursuing his or her passion by writing for a local newspaper. How do you think that type of consistent, hands-on experience would change the manner in which you prepare students for their futures? Imagine if educators could continue to practice and refine their understanding of the topic they’ve come to enjoy teaching.

This would be an ideal type of teaching environment for a life-long learner. “Most observers agree that there are two broad elements that characterize teacher quality: (1) teacher preparation and qualifications and (2) teaching practices,” says the National Center for Education Statistics, which describes this as a combination of “preservice learning—such as postsecondary education and certification—and continued learning—such as professional development and collaboration with colleagues.”

Professional development doesn’t have to exist in a vacuum. It can be garnered through daily experiences while practicing (reading, thinking, writing, doing) your area of expertise.

“Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect,” was the mantra my mother, who spent 20 years as an educator, consistently repeated in countless classrooms. Perfect practice makes perfect. What does that mean?

An apt analogy would be to apply this concept to what it’s like when you first start lifting weights. When you’re starting out, you shouldn’t be concerned with how much weight you can lift. You need to first focus on your form. You train your muscle memory to hold proper lifting posture. You focus on your breathing to make sure you’re inhaling and exhaling at the proper moments.

Once you’ve got your form down, you can work on increasing the weight. Doing so, in turn, leads back to working on your form with that weight class. It takes this type of perfect practice, or constant learning, to be an effective teacher.

I didn’t begin to understand how important it was to train myself to learn every day until I was standing in my classroom, on the first day, thinking to myself, “What do I know about teaching computer science?” I found out that I knew quite a bit. A good chunk of my knowledge came from my 10-year-old-self’s obsession with computers (an obsession which spawned a life-long interest in learning about technology). I also found out that a lot has changed and some of my students knew more than me.

When I started, I had not even heard of Scratch or Minecraft. If you haven’t either, check them out. They’re worth the Google search. Both of those programs have demonstrated a capability to be used across multiple topics for projects and/or presentations and help solidify students’ retention of information because it’s a platform they enjoy using.

I came to the conclusion that to be a teacher, you can’t stop learning. And that approach goes beyond factors like where the conference is being held. The trip there, as well as the trip back, can also be a learning experience. Wherever you go, remain open to the possibility that something can be brought back to your classroom.

Last year, I attended the Future of Education Technology conference in Orlando. It was great: I learned so much about technology in teaching, and teaching in technology. Utilizing technology in education is no doubt a hot topic, and because I was also my school’s technology coordinator, I came back from the conference with a lot of ideas to implement.

From my perspective, we come up short in taking full advantage of all the new technology available to the classroom—and chances are good that you don’t feel like you’re doing enough. Or, for those who have been unsuccessful attempting to use a new device or program, experience has taught you that it’s not worth your time.

As someone who had a head start in most things technology, I know it can seem like learning new classroom technology is an overwhelming endeavor. And when you try new things, you sometimes find these “solutions” end up being more trouble than they’re worth. Sometimes it’s a glitch with the device or program, but experience has taught me that it’s more likely to be the result of user inexperience or error than anything else.

A colleague once told me, “People don’t have problems; they have learning opportunities.” I challenge you to apply this to any apprehension you may have with technology in the classroom. Properly applied technology skills in the classroom will increase efficacy, as well as efficiency, with instruction.

The next time your new gadget or software seems to have a mind of its own, try finding an analog set-up that can accomplish your pedagogical goals. Not versed in all the latest and greatest tech trends? There are lists of open source (read “free”) tools for educators, like this one: And reach out to the technologically-inclined teachers you know.

Don’t give up because your new “cure-all” technology doesn’t work the way you expected it to. You would give up ice cream just because you didn’t like one flavor, would you?

Before my trip to the ed-tech conference, I’d recently purchased a GoPro. I took a time-lapse of my trip there, and of my trip back, because I thought it would be something cool to share with my students. I hadn’t considered all the questions I would get about the time-lapse.

But when one student asked, “How does that work?”, it opened up the opportunity to teach a lesson in photography, technology and math. One device I bought to satisfy my own hobby, became a tool in which I could teach to three different topics.

It may be true that principles in math have been the same since math began, but the way you present problems and find solutions can be different. Technology can boost student engagement, and so can other changes in the way you teach. Combine that with the 1,300 studies that claim teachers who receive substantial professional development can boost students’ achievement by about 21 percent points, and you’ve got a real recipe for student success.

As a teacher, it’s essential that you’re constantly learning. This is important for your students because they deserve to be presented with all relevant information related to your topic, and they deserve to be presented with the information in a format they’re likely to engage with. Your demonstrative learning will also set an example for your students as well as your colleagues—it shows you’re committed to teaching no matter the venue.

Or as a veteran educator, my mother, would put it, “The cessation of life-long learning can be likened to intellectual atrophy, which leads to emotional apathy. A passion for life-long learning stimulates a personal pursuit…in which we grow in ways that cannot be diminished by age or physical infirmity. The practice of life-long learning finds its perfection in the journey and never truly ends.”

As such, I’m calling on all teachers to learn something new, every day. Even if you might think the content of your subject hasn’t changed in forever, the way it is taught has changed. Read an article, or two, about what other teachers are trying in the classroom. Ask your school’s computer whiz what they think about a new gadget or software. Don’t let your routine prevent you from spending time immersing yourself in the newest technologies to find out what they might offer your classroom.

And don’t pay attention to price tags, either. It’s OK if your school can’t afford what you want yet. It helps to make a wish list and spend time searching for cheaper or open source alternatives. And lots of businesses that deal in education-specific tech tools are usually more than willing to give you a free trial period.

As an additional challenge for those who want to go above and beyond the call to learn something new about technology everyday: try out a tech tool, that’s new to you, in your classroom once a week. Or once a month.

With all that said, don’t let this call to learn something new every day overwhelm you. I know we’ve all got more to do than we have time to do it. But remember that passion—to do “all the things”—is what likely got us into teaching in the first place.

Schick is a former education journalist and educator currently traveling the country on a sabbatical.


Association Offers Professional Development

VEA is a ready-and-waiting partner in your professional growth. The Association has over 50 workshops available for local Associations, schools and school divisions, and will bring them to you. Some of the topics available:

• bullying prevention
• time management
• integrating technology into instruction
• understanding teacher evaluation
• classroom management
• autism spectrum disorder
• conflict resolution
• diversity and cultural competence
• effective communication skills
• team building

To learn more, or to schedule a workshop in your area, visit the VEA website at


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