What do substitute teachers need to thrive?

If a recent West Contra Costa Unified School District professional development day is any indication, it’s: teaching resources, a chance to interact with other subs, and the space to try out new ideas.

Twelve new substitute teachers, all of whom started within the last year, came together at the invitation of WCCUSD and Substantial to learn and practice new strategies and mindsets. My colleague Cristin Quealy facilitated the event, and I helped out. As someone basically brand new to Substantial, this was my first opportunity to interact face to face with a group of subs and understand in an authentic way their needs, their personal contexts, their questions, and their desire to become better at what they do.

It was a tremendous experience! I’ve been involved in a lot of professional learning opportunities over the course of my time in education, but this was one of the most rewarding and the most unique.

First off, every participant was engaged. I realized over the course of the day that for these subs, this was the only professional development they’ve received about their craft (other than, I’m imagining, for the two retired teachers – although one said towards the end that the event was extremely helpful in allowing him to refresh his teacher toolkit). One after the other said they wished they’d gotten a chance to participate in something like this before they began working as a sub. They showed up on a day when the district was otherwise closed because they wanted to jump on any opportunity to improve.

The participants also brought their full selves to the workshop. By that, I mean, they all actively participated while also letting their guards down – even when we asked them to take part in activities like improv games to help lighten the atmosphere and to mimic the think-quick requirements of being a teacher in ever-changing circumstances. They all shared aspects of their lives beyond the classroom – a mom with a student in the district, retired teachers, aspiring educators. And they all shared their trials and tribulations.

This all led to connections made, moments of laughter, tips passed back and forth, problems uncovered, wishes left unresolved, and relief at the realization that, as one participant put it, “I’m not alone.”

There was also, of course, content. We practiced teaching strategies and strong teaching techniques, role-played scenarios, studied and revised lesson plans, and considered how substitute teachers might imbue a growth mindset into their work – both for themselves and the students they teach.

As I took it all in – or at least as much of it as I could – I realized that, as Substantial’s founder Jill Vialet is fond of saying, we all, each and every one of us, desire meaning, mastery, and community in our lives. This was made abundantly clear over the course of that day. Cristin established the framework for those three arenas to emerge and grow. And the subs themselves, in all the ways in which they threw themselves into the day’s activities, were the living embodiment of that idea.

Interested in learning more about Substantial’s approach to substitute teacher PD? Send us a note: substitute-pd@substantialclassrooms.org