A New Idea for Professional Development

Right now, I am avidly watching the 140 Character Conference which is being streamed live on UStream. I am learning a lot listening to Chris Lehmann, the principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. Honestly, his 10 minute presentation has been one of the highlights of my entire week. Here are some of the tweets I quickly wrote from his presentation as I was listening:

Chris is a passionate, powerful, and dynamic speaker. I learned more from his session and was more energized from it that most of the formal professional development sessions I’ve attended this year, some of which were greater than 7 hours straight. While I’m listening, I’m also trying to brainstorm ways I can incorporate things he has mentioned into my classes more effectively and spread the message to other teachers.

In addition, one of the recurring themes that come up in discussions with my PLN is the idea of self-directed learning and finding ways for self-directed learning. Unfortunately, professional development is not often like that.

I speak with administrators often. I very rarely hear administrators having discussions on how to empower teachers and allow them to direct their own learning (Please note, this is not to disparage all administrators. I know several in person and online who do try to do this. This is, though, a general trend that I have observed.). My district in particular requires 18 hours of professional development each year by contract. I have no problem with this at all. In fact, I think it is rather minimal.

I have logged hundreds of hours of professional development this year: literally. The difference lies in what I consider effective professional development and what many school districts consider appropriate PD.

My main method of professional development is Twitter. I have espoused this many times. I just cannot express enough how valuable is has been to connect online with so many skilled teachers who I can learn from. For example, through interactions on Twitter, I was able to discuss the relative merits of different social networks and classroom management systems to develop an online space for my kids next year. Then, when I was setting it up, I ran into a technical problem that is quite complex. The educators on Twitter helped me to solve it by sharing both ideas and code. Twitter is my main investment in terms of time for professional development. It is often the first thing I check at 4:30 in the morning and the last thing I check at midnight when I go to sleep (Is that too obsessive?).

Second, writing my blog, interacting with others through the comments, and reading blogs from other teachers allows us to explore issues in great depth. I subscribe to the blogs of about 100 great educators. I am able to explore their thoughts and determine if I want to apply them. I was reading Matt Townsley’s blog and that gave me the inspiration to completely revamp my grading system to make it much more relevant to students.

Third, I have PLC (personal/professional learning communities) where I meet with small groups of teachers and we share what works. We discuss what we’re struggling with and the group members can help each other. We discuss what is going well and we all can benefit. We can dive into great depth on topics that we, as a group, want to explore. Basically, we learn what we want to learn.

Lastly, I have about 25 hours of central office sponsored in-services. 2 days were COMP training (classroom management). It wasn’t terrible; it was fairly basic ideas that for the most part I already knew or used. The other was a 6 hour training on Alexandria, the software my school uses to automate the library. I figured out how to use the simplistic program after 5-10 minutes of playing. Unfortunately, I had to listen to an ancient lady who admitted to “hating children” drone on from a boring manual. There were a few other short in-services that I don’t even remember at the moment.

Overall, I have grown a lot as a teacher this year. My biggest issue is that the only approved “growth” can come from district sponsored activities which have held little meaning for me this year. When are districts going to recognize the inherent power in self-directed learning and give us credit for our own learning activities.

  • http://pgcummings.wordpress.com Philip Cummings

    I completely agree. I have grown more in this last year through my involvement with my PLN than I have in the previous ten years of formal professional development combined. We are beginning the process of creating PLC’s at our school next year, and it looks as if I will help spearhead the program. I’d love any suggestions or resources you have on incorporating them. (I’m loving your blog, too. What a great resource!) /PC
    .-= Philip Cummings´s last blog ..Reflections on TEDx Memphis (#tedxmem) =-.

  • http://jasontbedell.com Jason Bedell

    Thanks Philip,
    That’s why I’m so bullish on Twitter. I really have never grown nearly as much in one year as I have in this year. My school tried to do PLCs by putting people in different groups without their input (ie. Data-Driven Instruction). Find a way to group them that your teachers will appreciate, such as grade level, content area, interests like ed tech. I think the best way is to let people choose their interests and allow the group to move organically.

  • http://educationaltechnologyguy.blogspot.com David Andrade

    I agree with you – Chris Lehmann is a dynamic speaker and has a lot of great ideas (I also heard him speak at TechForum NE last year). I think we should push for him to be the Secretary of Education.

    I also agree that most of my true, effective professional development is on my own time. Twitter, reading and writing blogs, reading online articles, participating in online discussion groups, etc. These are all 100% more effective than 99% of the live professional development I’ve attended. Ineffective speakers, speakers who haven’t been in a classroom in 30 years, outdated material and topics, sessions that are way too long, etc.

    I run some professional development sessions in my district and I also talk about PLNs and PD on your own.

    I also spend hundreds of hours on my own learning. Yet, I too get no credit for this learning, which is more effective than the district sponsored PD.
    .-= David Andrade´s last blog ..Professional Development Resource =-.

  • http://jasontbedell.com Jason Bedell

    Thanks David,

    I actually gave an “in-service” on using Twitter this year. Unfortunately, the district cancelled it at the last minute. Of course we still met, but Twitter is blocked here so the teachers didn’t get any credit. Any ideas on how to move our outmoded central offices towards our way of thinking?

  • http://www.cytchromec.net/blog/ Colin Matheson

    I am a teacher who is now in charge of ed tech professional development for my district. I find that many teachers don’t have the basic tech skill to engage in a real PLN. I think we need differentiated PD (gasp). Folks who are leaders need to learn and grow through their own methods. Folks in the middle need support and guidance. Folks who are dragging their feet, need minimum requirements from admin.
    One problem (which all of education/job training has to solve soon) is how to document informal learning. How can an admin say teacher X has learned/grown via Y hours on Z network? However it is very easy to say teacher X has taken Y hours of classes. (replace teacher with student in the above sentences and you see the larger issue of measuring learning and knowledge). Glad you are part of my informal learning process.

  • http://jasontbedell.com Jason Bedell

    Thanks Colin,
    How are you structuring PD now that you’re in charge? I am finding that often we don’t practice with each other as teachers what we expect from out students. If we recognize and differentiate for the differences in our students (at least I hope we do), then why do so many administrations expect all the teachers to fit one model.
    One method that might work is having teacher X document that they learned concept Y while spending so many hours on network Z and implemented concept Y into a specific lesson. What do you think?

  • http://hoprea.wordpress.com Henrick Oprea

    Hi Jason,

    I’ve been giving it some thought as well and I must say I pretty much agree with what you, Philip, David and Colin said. There comes a time in our professional life in which we feel stranded and it feels as if we will never have a chance to learn new tricks. However, I too experienced all this growth with twitter, and just as you said, it’s my main source of new information sharing these days. I can say I’ve definitely learned a lot more than I previously expected when I first joined it. I guess what makes it so special is the fact that it’s full of people who are willing to share and grow. Does that mean all of these educators were also feeling stranded in their own little worlds due to the current educational system?
    To me, PLNs seem to be the way education is headed for. How else would we be able to exchange ideas so easily? How could we learn from different educational settings? What about having an educator from Brazil finding your blog and leaving you a comment? It was about time the era of the sage on stage came to an end, huh?!
    Thanks for all your input on Twitter and here! I learn a lot from you.

    Cheers,

    Henrick
    .-= Henrick Oprea´s last blog ..What are your bare essentials? =-.

  • http://jasontbedell.com Jason Bedell

    Thanks Henrick,

    Sometimes I do think most of us on Twitter are shouting from are own little islands at school. I am completely open in that if you want to see my lesson plans, need help, want to watch a class, etc… you are more than welcome to. However, my staff is so new that this is not universally reciprocated yet. Thankfully, everyone on Twitter seems to want to share so enthusiastically.
    It is amazing how my networking has expanded internationally and extremely humbling that I’ve had visitors from 55 countries stop by this blog (most had only 1 or 2 people).
    Jason