Sunday, May 29, 2016

Taking Control Of Your Professional Development

Recently I was talking to a teacher friend of mine. He is what I would consider a very good teacher. He is engaging in the classroom, works very hard to meet the needs of all his students and regularly reflects on his teaching to understand his strengths and weaknesses. It's through that reflection that he is figuring out how to be better.

He told me about an email he got from his district. Over the summer teachers were going to go to some professional development in their content area. The district had looked over where the majority of teachers were weak and were going to provide them some learning in those areas. When he looked at what this PD was going to consist of he was dumbfounded. This wasn't at all the areas he was weak in. In fact he was one of the highest performing teachers in those areas.

And now he was being forced to sit through PD that was meaningless to him.

The fact is my friend is not alone.

This happens to educators more often that we can count. Many schools and districts are trying to do the right thing by meeting the needs of as many educators as possible when it comes to professional learning. But the reality is most schools and districts are not equipped to personalize the professional development of every educator.

Often we talk about the need for more personalized learning for students. There are countless books, webinars and other resources dedicated to the topic. Yet when it comes to the personalization of professional development there is a barely a slow moment by educational leaders to move in that direction. Time, money and personnel are just a few of barriers they face.

The fact of the matter is educators, no matter their position, can no longer rely on their schools and districts to provide the targeted professional development every educator needs and deserves. 

So, if we come to that realization, the next inevitable question is, what do we do about it?

Lucky for all of us we live in an age where all known knowledge is at our fingertips. The digital age has ushered in a new era where anyone can learning anything anytime anywhere. And the type of professional learning we need is readily available if we know where to find it.

Blogs-I've written many, many times about the benefits of blogging for both kids and educators. This open reflection of what we are doing, learning, sharing and thinking about can have very positive effects on our learning. Reading blogs as well can have a great impact on our learning. There are so many wonderful and thoughtful educators who are sharing various resources, ideas and thoughts for the classroom and beyond you'll easily find many to read and grow from. Start with the Teach 100 list. This is a ranked list that, while I think the rankings don't mean much, it's full of great educator blogs to explore. You can also visit the list of the Top 50  Must Read Edtech blogs and take a look at the Edublogs Awards Nominated blogs. Lots of great blogs in all these places.

Webinars-Virtual learning is nothing new. From correspondence courses to videotapes you could buy, watch and learn new skills, we now can learn virtually, in real time, anywhere in the world. There are so many places to take in a good webinar. Many of your favorite tools and products you use have thought-leadership programs that offer all sorts of webinar experiences. is one of my favorite places to catch a webinar because not only is it easy and free to join, the topics are endless and there are archives of everything. The folks over at ASCD regularly have the authors you read for webinars on their books and various other topics. #Edchat Interactive is redefining what a webinar means. The traditional webinar is passive; sit and get. The webinars at #Edchat Interactive allow you to be on video with the other participants and the presenter, like you are all in a physical place together.

Twitter Chats-Like blogging I've written about the benefits of hashtags and Twitter chats many times. Something simple like spending an hour engaging with other educators can open your mind to new ways of thinking or finding resources you didn't know existed. The Educational Twitter Chats calendar is a great place to start to find a specific chat for a topic you are interested in or even more simply a hashtag to follow to see what others are sharing.

In-Person Events-There are countless in-person events that take place year 'round so there's always somewhere to go. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Annual Conference for example is the largest education conference with nearly 20,000 attendees takes place the end of June every year. There are other smaller, regional conferences that take place throughout the year as well. Check with your local education agency or state department of education to learn more. The problem some (like myself) have with these conferences is they are expensive to attend and they don't exactly have sessions to meet your learning needs. Edcamps can help fill that void. These are free events, generally on a Saturday, put on for educators by educators. The sessions are decided in the morning and everyone is an expert. You can read more about Edcamps and check out the Edcamp calendar to learn when one is taking place near you.

Taking control of your own professional development doesn't have to cost any money or require you to invest a great deal of time or energy. It's a matter of using the resources you are already familiar with and combining those with non-traditional sources like Twitter chats and Edcamps and you can put together a very powerful personalized learning plan for yourself. 

photo credit: New Academic Year in the Renovated Atrium via photopin (license)
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