"Program improvement" is currently a huge focus in U.S. public schools. According to School Wise Press, program improvement is "a multistep plan to improve the performance of students in schools that did not make adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind for two years in a row."

Schools face implications if they do not meet the certain criteria to make adequate yearly progress (AYP). Program improvement is the result of a school not meeting the AYP requirements.

Just as schools might need to make program improvement, TESOL educators can make improvements in their professional practices. Each educator holds the key to his or her development and growth. One must take personalized responsibility to make continued personal improvement to succeed in his or her instructional craft.

Improvement here is not characterized by failing scores or teacher evaluations. It is simply the notion that no one is ever perfect and, in that respect, there is always room to grow. Personalized improvement therefore is the continued growth or "lifelong learning" taken by the individual, not enforced by an institution.

The belief is that continued lifelong learning is vital to staying current in knowledge and scope for teaching and learning. The key to personalized improvement is to acquire knowledge and skills that are actually relevant to one's craft.

Earning continued development points and credits for institutional purposes are important for job requirements. However, personal recognition of areas of growth and improvement will propel the individual further by achieving and surpassing his or her professional needs and goals.

Personalized improvement

Personalized improvement can be achieved by the following areas.

1. Stretch oneself beyond comfort levels and past the personalized norm. The purpose of stretching oneself is to do something that seems scary and challenging, but is still within the overall skills abilities of the person. This helps teachers improve their craft because it requires them to do something that is not usual or comfortable to them.

This may include practicing skills such as:

  • Learning how to use technology tools or further one's abilities with tools
  • Taking on leadership responsibilities or positions to further knowledge and skills
  • Taking on instructional tasks and positions for which one is qualified for but has not done much of in the past
  • Learning new skills within an educational discipline that enhances one's instructional toolkit

2. Understand the need for personal learning networks (PLN), set one up and take personalized action to learn. The individual should research and determine what network works best for him or her.

Knowledge gained from personal learning networks can include:

  • Networking with content-area teachers and other educational specialists to further learn about teaching limited English proficient (LEP) students in these academic disciplines
  • Collaborating with professionals in other fields to learn skills to enhance ones one field
  • Learning leadership skills through networking with others in leadership
  • Connecting with and collaborating with others in areas of TESOL to share, learn and grow
  • Learning about existing educational products, news items and resources that one can use for professional growth or for instructional purposes
  • Engaging in powerful discussions that challenge the individual and mind

3. Learning to display discipline and resolve under pressure. This comes naturally for some but requires practice and continued development for others. One cannot develop discipline and resolve without setting personal goals.

This can be attained by listing out character traits that are needed for reaching these goals, then additionally coming up with a plan to practice and implement these traits. Through time, one's discipline and resolve will grow.

This can be accomplished through:

  • Balancing and prioritizing workload
  • Improving communication skills
  • Practice and developing areas of weakness, including personality
  • Managing one's work and life balance through setting priorities

4. Learn a new skill or tool by yourself. Some might be afraid to do this, but often skills development comes through individual practice.

One can determine a skill he or she would like to learn and take a class on it, read about it and/or practice it by oneself. This can be achieved online, through face-to-face interactions (conferences), or through volunteering. It can also be through finding a mentor or other interactions with peers.

5. Learn through expanding one’s world view. Kate Taylor says, "Different points of view mean new techniques and knowledge you did not realize you were missing out on, making you more versatile when you’re looking for jobs." This can be developed through learning new interactions in communication, collaboration and problem-solving.

The importance of character in personalized improvement

Expressing character attributes is essential to personalized improvement. One can implement character through the following.

    1. Understand the importance of practicing patience. Without patience an individual cannot succeed.

    2. Understand that growth is a trial-and-error process. New skills do not develop overnight, but they take continued practice. One must understand that new skills development is a time investment, but the benefits of professional growth outweigh the drawback of the time investment. This practice takes discipline.

    3. Discipline, determination, motivation and perseverance are important character attributes to personalized improvement because the individual must take responsibility and action for his or her growth. If one does not take responsibility, he or she will not make personalized professional growth. One can do this by creating a personalized vision and mission statement with reachable goals that can be markers to meeting the vision and mission.

    4. Display confidence at all times, even when nervous or scared. No one knows everything, and everyone knows this. Using confidence at all times shows character and control. It shows professional actions and choices to restrain oneself for the better good of a task or situation.

    5. Be authentic to one's personality, beliefs, abilities and goals. If one is not authentic to these areas, then it becomes evident to those around. Authenticity speaks volumes to others because it is portrayed through facial expressions, hand gestures, body actions, words and vocal tone.

    6. Care about the present while also keeping one's eyes and mind on the future. The present is important because it is about addressing current job-related needs and practice. However, continued personalized development is based on the belief in possibility. All things within an individual are possible if one believes they are. Personalized growth must have a foundation, and the foundation comes from belief.

    7. Demonstrate empathy, kindness and genuine respect for others. Personalized development can often come from networking and collaborating with peers. Building these relationships is contingent on displaying personality traits of collaborative interactions and teamwork.

    8. Practice personal reflection to identify areas of success and areas that need continued improvement. Taking responsibility for personal refection is important for continued personal improvement because the individual understands that he or she will always have room to grow.

Through personalized improvement, educators will improve their craft more than through mandated institutionalized professional development. Although professional development through institutions is still important for job-related needs, personalized professional development enables the individual to identify areas of need and goals. And by doing so, he or she can take create a plan and take action to reach them.

Just as an educator tries to instill academic learning and responsibility in his or her students, the educator takes action and responsibility for his or her own learning. Educators can practice what they preach to their students.

In the long scope, students will benefit much further from educators who understand and practice individualized learning. This is especially true in the field of TESOL because LEP students do not always understand how to take responsibility for their own academic growth. They learn through example and practice which is taught and modeled by the educator.

What steps are you taking for personalized improvement?