Teachers who wish to hone their teaching skills have a variety of development options to choose from, ranging from day-long professional development seminars to enrolling in a master’s (such as Master of Education, or MEd) or doctoral (such as Doctor of Education, or EdD) program.
Regardless of the path, becoming a master teacher requires focused attention and expertise in a broad range of pedagogical skills and content development. Carrie Fruin, program manager and educational consultant at Capella University, shares six areas of focus needed to become a master teacher.
Curriculum is, of course, a critical component to any education degree. “In the case of the MEd, teachers should look for a program that has both theoretical and practical components,” says Fruin. “A good program will look at curriculum design from many angles and allow for flexibility, intuition, and teacher choice. It should also always have cultural sensitivity as part of its framework.”
An important component to becoming a master teacher is instruction in educational technology and how it will help teachers accelerate learning in the classroom. “Any solid program will provide a thorough review of instructional technology and help teachers determine how technology, and which kinds, will enable them to educate their own students more successfully,” says Fruin.
It will also help teachers understand how they can personalize that technology for individual students to assist in closing educational gaps within the classroom by focusing on current best practices in problem-based learning and collaborative classrooms
In the area of assessment, teachers at the master’s level explore the best ways to assess student learning. By examining the questions, “What do the students know?” and “How will I know if they know it?,” teachers become better equipped to determine if it’s the teacher’s instruction style, context, or student’s learning style that is causing a setback.
A deep dive into formative assessments will allow teachers to intervene immediately if a student is struggling and potentially get them back on track before it’s too late.
4. Learning Science
A master teacher needs to be current on ever-evolving research on brain development and education. Students in Capella’s MEd program explore how the brain processes education; beyond that, they also study other factors in educational success, such as growth mindset. Because this is an area that changes so frequently, master’s level coursework should change as new research continues to be completed.
Hands-on, practical research is an essential component in a master teacher’s toolkit. In some MEd programs, students conduct action research to assess their own classrooms using what they’ve learned through the coursework, and identify a problem that needs addressing. “It’s great if teachers can come to view their classrooms as an iterative, evolving lab,” says Fruin.
6. Cultural Competency
Due to the increasing diversity of learners in the U.S. school system, this area of focus is a must have for all educators, no matter their experience level. Coursework should look at the needs of diverse students to help teachers develop answers to several questions, including, “How do I recognize different cultures in my curriculum?” and “How do I ensure that diverse voices are incorporated into our reading materials and discussions?”
Fruin notes that while there are foundational courses all MEd students usually need to take, and that each teacher has different students and different needs, “With these six focus areas under their belt, master teachers are unstoppable.”