Thursday, January 30, 2014

3 Things We Need To Remember For Every Professional Development

I remember my first professional development as a teacher...

I was fresh out of college. 

The PD centered around how to use clickers in the classroom. I saw great potential there. The idea that I could get realtime information back on my students, I saw as a great help to me. The PD itself was boring and useless. The presenter leading did little to engage us. At the end of the first day I went home, learned everything I could. Then in the morning I went back and asked if I could lead a small group to talk about formative assessments and how we could use the clickers for that. 

He was not amused. 

I've carried that experience with me throughout my time delivering PD and organizing PD for others. 

There are lots of ideas out there as to why teachers don't want to engage in PD. Many times the PD, when it is required, isn't meaningful. When I was in the classroom I was part of a team that helped to decide the direction our PD at the school level would take. That was always a lot of fun and we always had positive experiences because the teachers had a voice and role in what we would be doing. 

On the flip side, at the district level, teachers rarely got to choose the direction of the PD. Now, I understand, working at the district level there are just some things that we need to do PD on for one reason or another. But what has seemed to work well for us are buffet offerings. Several of our divisions like Title I, Social Studies and others have taken whole days and run them like a mini conference. There are sessions to choose from and the only requirement is that you attend a minimum amount of sessions for the day. Even better, teachers are the ones in charge of decided what will be presented and there are some really great offerings. 

Edcamps too, while not brand new, have offered teachers and other educational professionals the opportunity to craft PD that is meaningful to them and really take back their own learning. And now we are beginning to see that style of PD (allowing participants to decide the session topics) trickling down to state and local PD. 
Time or being too busy is always a classic complaint. As a person who conducts a lot of PD for teachers I hear this one more than I like. There never seems to be a good time. Mornings, before school are bad. After school is bad. Saturdays are bad. (This post from Dean Shareski sums it up for me.)

Ideally the solution is on-demand, anytime PD. Great! There is a solution for that. Social Media. Look at #edchat. Teachers come together for an hour and talk about various topics, get ideas, take them back to the classroom, reflect and many blog about their experiences and learn from others. Perfect PD! Or look at the Reform Symposium. This summer there were dozens of sessions, several keynotes and tons of great learning. Everyone who was there, didn't have to be there. They wanted to be there. They attended the sessions they wanted to and spent their own time doing it. The problem is, if the vast majority of educators tried to turn in that time for credits or renewals on their teaching licenses, they would be denied. But why? With the right steps in place (like opportunities for reflection and practice) on-demand, real-time PD could take a huge time and budget burden off of districts. 

However, one theme that came up again and again was maybe too much blame was being placed on teachers and district administrators. Maybe "bad" or "ineffective" PD is the result of poor design. What can those that design PD do? 

K.I.S.S. Keep it simple..well you know the rest. Often, especially in technology professional development those that do the training try to cram in every little thing into a session. I can't tell you the number of sessions I have sat in on various products where the trainer tried to explain any and all details about some tool or program. Now, I love technology. I live, eat, and breathe this stuff. But most teachers are completely different. Most are content specialists. They know what they teach backwards and forwards but when it comes to learning technology they really have to take their time. And we try to pump too much information into their brains all at once the likelihood of them shutting down and not using what we are teaching is very high. If possible we have to focus on one thing at a time. I am always an advocate of looking at one thing for 3-6 months to a school year. We can really dive in, spend lots of time talking about the ins and outs of the tool or resource. Of course there might be people that don't need that much time but you probably know who that is by now anyway. But taking lots of time on very specific topics leads me to my next suggestion.

Reflect. Reflect. Reflect. By taking it slow and spending lots of time on one specific tool or resource we provide times for all involved to do some reflection. As a trainer what I do is never perfect. There is always room for improvement. One of the tenets of instructional design is taking time to reflect on what works and what does not. By taking it slow we get the opportunity to take a step back every now and then and see what is going well. What is working? What isn't? What do we need to cover again? What would I do differently the next time? Is there someone who needs some extra help? I never would have been able to help my teacher with her webpage had it not been for the simple reflection I did after the first training. And the reflection is important for the teachers as well. They get to really think about how this new tool or learned skill fits in to their classroom and with their kids. They also need time to soak it all in. Even if what we think we are presenting is as easy as copying and pasting there has to be some time for reflection. And reflection leads to play.

Play. Everyone needs some time to let loose and play. The fact is, often, in PD there is not enough time for play. Time isn't taken for play. There is usually some time to mimic but not really play. Teachers who are learning new tech skills as part of PD desire more time to just get in and play. Not during the actual PD but afterwards. Teachers need to have time to go back to their classrooms and get their hands dirty. But they need that support of the trainer. We have to be available and offer follow-ups and 1-on-1's. We can't send our teachers back to the classroom with some new skill and not check on them or simply follow-up. Would we do that to our kids? Doubt it. Why do that with teachers?

So the time to play leads to reflection. And we would have neither had we not taken it slow and kept it simple.

There is no doubt that teachers need PD. And there is no doubt there is meaningless PD out there. But we can begin to make it better and have a greater impact on our teaching and learning.

What do you think? What was the most meaningful PD to you? Why was it that way? If you design PD how do you make sure it is effective? Leave some comments below.

Now get out there and learn something!

photo credit: Kalexanderson via photopin cc

Monday, January 6, 2014

Showing How Awesome You Are-Building Your Brand

Back when I started this blog in February of  2009 I was trying to create a space to share resources with my teachers in my district. Web 2.0 tools were gaining in popularity so I wanted to capitalize on that, hence the name. The same with my Twitter account. I wanted the two places to be tied together.

I wasn't thinking about branding.

Fast forward 5 years and @web20classroom and this blog are who I am.

They are my personal brand.

But why is personal branding important? And how do you even start?

First the importance.

There is no doubt we live in a digital world. We are able to do tremendous things and accomplish so much because of our ability to live in this digital world. Your story and how you tell your story is becoming increasingly important. Employers are beginning to look at the digital habits of prospective employees to see what they are saying, doing and thinking. For kids, colleges are doing the same. And parents too, looking at the digital spaces their classrooms, teachers and schools create.

It is important for all of us as individuals to create spaces where we can show off the good things about us. These spaces can house our digital portfolios and give insight on what we say, do and think to anyone who comes looking.

Sounds complicated but it actually is pretty easy to start. And I bet you are already doing some of this.

There are 4 easy things you can do.

Create A Landing Page-A what? A landing page is a simple place that has some basic information about you. Similar to a bio page, this can be a place to highlight what makes you awesome. And there are about a bazzillion ways to do this. For me, the easiest and most effective way was to use It is a free service that creates a simple an elegant page that is all about you.

On mine you can see a picture of me, a short bio and, most importantly, an easy way to get in touch with without revealing my email address. So, someone can send me a short message and I can choose to reply with my email or with my address. Oh and you can link to all your social media accounts too. It's a great way to highlight lots of information about you but you only have to use one address. There are other services that do this too like Vizify that can work well.

Create a Blog or Portfolio Site-You are pretty amazing. You do pretty amazing work. You need a place to show off all that awesome. A blog or portfolio site can be a great way to share presentations you do, exemplary lessons you create or projects you've worked on. Google sites are free and dead simple to use. I like using my blog for that work because it gives the added benefit of a space for my personal reflection as well. Wordpress has some great features for portfolios and blogs but Blogger could work too.

Create A Social Media Profile- Here is where some would disagree with me but I think it is important to have profiles across social media channels. Having profiles in Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Facebook or others doesn't mean you are constantly updating those spaces or spending massive amounts of time on those sites. But you are there. And you do have stuff there. It's another way for you to post your information and another way for others to find that important information about you.

I am in all of those social media spaces but I use each one very differently. I primarily use Twitter for my information gathering and sharing but post my blog posts to Google+. I have a Pinterest account and follow several boards and you can find me on Facebook (but only the information I want you to see.) The point is you are in several different places, posting, following and liking stuff that will build who you are.

Figure Out What You Are Going To Go By And Stick To It-Crazy to think about your name but its an important step. And this might take some thought. The last thing you want to do is change up the name of your blog, portfolio or Twitter account all the time. It makes it much more difficult for others to find you. Do a little research. Does someone have a similar name to you (like me)? Maybe you add your middle initial like I did. Or maybe you have a nickname that you use. Whatever you decide, give it lots of thought, do some searching to see what is already out there and once you settle on something stick to it.

But what about if you are a school or a district thinking about branding?

The same steps apply. And are important for showing off the great things kids in your classroom or building are doing. (And if you are a Principal or Teacher it's easy to be a one person PR Machine!)

The point of all this is that you want to highlight and share with the world what you are doing. And it doesn't have to be complex. With just a little bit of effort you can create a brand that truly shows the awesomeness that is you!

photo credit: tonyhall via photopin cc