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Three Ways Teachers Can Strengthen Their Content Area Expertise

Monday, August 31, 2015 by Brian Collier, Ph.D.


The new school year is upon us in most parts of the country and my former students are now returning to schools across this country. A friend recently asked if I had three pieces of advice for teachers as they start up a new (or another) year of teaching. The Professor in me responded gleefully because we love to be asked for advice so below is the advice I gave:

  1. Go to your professional conference this year! I know that it’s often hard to get to these conferences, but go! These conferences are a great opportunity to re-engage with the profession, particularly your content area.  Going to these conferences can be what sustains us and energizes us as educators. We can get new ideas, new tricks, and hear from others who are passionate professionals. Make sure to go to your professional conference – be it your regional conference, your state conference or even your national conference – make sure to go once a year and connect with the profession.  

    While you’re at the conference make sure to talk with veterans and new teachers alike, both have great ideas. Make sure to let others know where you teach and that you’re a proud teacher – if you’re a Catholic school teacher don’t be shy but announce yourself – if you’re a homeschool teacher share your success stories and favorite methods – if you’re a public school teacher share freely what is working in your community system. Be bold and share widely our colleagues are our colleagues regardless of where they teach – we all teach children and that’s what is important.

  2. Focus on inquiry! All content areas really can connect through inquiry if they’re being taught well. A really great teacher I know has really pushed his students to do inquiry based learning and has had great success. Make sure that students leave your class knowing that they should look at the whole world around them and be asking, “why is that there?” or “why does that work in that way?” or “what is going on when that Gospel was written?” They should be filled with the ability to ask questions and then a confidence that they can, through work, figure out answers to really just about anything.

  3. Read some books! Model for your students that you’re continuing to learn. I know there isn’t a lot of time during the year for reading, but showing that you’re an expert in a field by talking about what you’re reading is so very important. It also lets students know that the expectation for successful adults is that they be reading some things. If you really don't have time for a book how about pointing them to other things you’re reading for instance I’m currently reading national newspapers that I could share with students, but also always reading America Magazine, Notre Dame Magazine, Social Education (the Social Studies Journal) and The Western Historical Quarterly. I regularly throw in things in class that I learned from reading these articles or from the books that I’m reading or even from the podcasts that I regularly listen to such as This American Life or Reply All, or even Serial when it is in session.

For me all of these podcasts, journals / magazines, and a myriad of books make up my intellectual life and are part of who I am. I want my students to know that my thinking and decisions are ever-evolving and I want them to showcase that kind of thinking and evolution of the mind too, so we as the adults in their lives have a responsibility to read and then to talk about it with students when the moments are right.

I’m wishing all of my friends returning to classrooms in the K-20 world a successful start to a new academic year. I hope you’re able to find time to hone your expertise through connecting with colleagues, focusing on inquiry, and modeling that you’re a citizen of the mind.


Brian S Collier, Ph.D. teaches with the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) at the University of Notre Dame.  He is @collier_brian on twitter and can be found at: www.brianscollier.com

About the Author

Brian Collier, Ph.D.

Brian Collier, Ph.D.

Brian S Collier is currently Director of the American Indian Catholic Schools Network (AICSN) and Faculty for the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) at the University of Notre Dame. Prior to coming to work for ACE Collier was an Assistant Professor of History at Northern Arizona University. Collier's academic work focuses on Native Education, an interest that started when he was a teacher and dorm parent at St. Catherine Indian School in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Collier currently has a manuscript on Catholic Native education under review at the University of Nebraska Press. Collier has published on American Indian Running (including a piece about Steve Gachupin and Jemez Pueblo), Native people at Notre Dame, American history, and the Harlem Globetrotters. He is also a founding member and long-time former chair of the Committee on Teaching and Public Education for the Western History Association

Collier holds degrees from Loyola University Chicago (B.A. History with an emphasis in Women's studies, Philosophy, and Theology), Colorado State University (M.A. History with an emphasis in literature of the American West and Environmental History), and Arizona State University (Ph.D. with an emphasis in American Indian History, the American West, Gender History, and Education). Collier regularly teaches undergraduate courses on the History of Education in America, American Indian History, American Indian Education, and a new course entitled: God, Country, and Notre Dame - The Story of America told through one Catholic University. Collier teaches graduate courses with the Alliance for Catholic Education that include: Curriculum and Instruction, Active Teaching Methods, Assessment, Educational Psychology, and a History of Education course that is inclusive of race, class, and gender dynamics in schools.