We teachers are always looking for ways to improve our practice. We scour the Internet for new methodologies, we dig our way through the latest books, we take countless seminars. Yet we might be missing one of our greatest resources: our colleagues.

I like to tell new teachers that I regularly “steal” ideas from other teachers. My style is a patchwork of many of the excellent strategies employed by people I’ve worked with over the years. I have stolen concepts, tactics, and full-blown lessons, and I encourage others to do the same, whether they are rookies or 10-year veterans. Where to start? Here are a few strategies for finding new ideas right next door!


Just Ask

Are you looking for a more effective way to grab your students’ attention or improve your read-aloud takeaway? Find someone you feel comfortable with and ask her to share her strategies. If that person doesn’t have an idea that fits, maybe she’ll know someone who does. Remember: Requesting assistance does not show weakness—it simply indicates you are growing, changing, and looking to improve. So ask away!

Sit In

Approach a colleague and say you’d like to sit in the back and watch a lesson. It is pure flattery. Bring your lunch or use 15 minutes of a break. Or put your phone on a tripod or bookshelf and videotape the lesson. Then, review it and follow up with questions. If you do sit in, tell your fellow teacher what you’ve learned. She’ll appreciate it. 

Remember, isolation kills innovation. Even if you don’t have a problem to solve, taking a prep period to observe another teacher can send you back to your own classroom brimming with new ideas and insights.

Look Up, and Look Down

One of the mistakes I made as a new teacher was to look for new ideas only from teachers in my grade level. But those who teach the grades above and below yours may be doing something you could use. When I was teaching fourth grade, I learned a helpful homework routine by visiting a friend who taught seventh grade. And when I taught first grade, I stole a great idea on managing math manipulatives from a friend teaching fifth graders.

Turn to Your Principal

Great principals spend a lot of time watching teachers in their classrooms. So who better to ask to find a superstar on staff who is doing something you want to learn? Approach your administrator and say, “I want to improve my [fill in the blank]. I was wondering if you could recommend someone I should speak with or observe.” Your principal will be thrilled you’re taking the initiative to improve your methods, and may even provide you with the time to do so.

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Illustration: John W. Tomac