connected learning

Tired of Your District Not Offering More PD?

Are you tired of your district not offering the PD that YOU want?

Are you tired of going to the same sessions year after year, and wondering “What’s in this for me?”

Have you just had enough of it all?

Then this is the post for you! Yes, we’ve all been down that road before. The district doesn’t offer the PD you want, or it offers hardly anything related to PD. They tell you there’s not enough money to send you to that coveted training or workshop, and you’re running low on funds to send yourself. Yes, these things are all certainly the pits.

However, educators have found ways around this tired cycle, and they are happily taking control of their own learning. After reading this post, you can, too! That’s amazing. Imagine no longer have to wait for anyone to give you the PD you want. In fact, you’ll wonder how you made it this far without it!

In this day and age, there is no need to wait for your district to offer you PD. A culture of open sharing and connecting in education has changed the bygone days of being isolated and alone. Educators are finding communities online where they can share and take resources and ideas for implementation in their classroom. They talk, they discuss, they read, and they write. They wait for no one, and they take what they want.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? You can be a part of this crowd, too! There are many ways to do so, but one of the easiest is by using Twitter and Tweetdeck in combination. Now before you brush Twitter aside as something celebrities use to insert foot into mouth, stop and think. Twitter itself is not the game changer. The educators that are there are the game changers. They start the discussions and share thoughts and ideas. How do you know if an educator is connected online? Look around their classroom and see if you can spot trends that seem outside of what the district has introduced. That’s your first sign.

Here’s how to get started:

  • Create a Twitter account
  • Log into Tweetdeck with your Twitter account
  • Search for hashtags in your area or interest
  • Tweetdeck will create columns for each hashtag
  • Use Twitter or Tweetdeck to create lists of folks in similar categories (STEAM, Edtech, etc)
  • Google your favorite educators to see if they have a Twitter handle to follow
  • Leave Tweetdeck running in the background and check when you can
  • Retweet what stands out to you

That’s all you have to do. You don’t even have to share at first. Granted, the list above doesn’t go into details, but you can easily Google instructions or watch YouTube videos. If that fails, ask a colleague for help! We are not so expert that we don’t need help every now and again. There are many folks willing to help you out if you only reach out to them.

Want other ways to get started? Here are just some of many:

  • Find a book that you want to read and go for it
    • Look for book study groups online, or start your own
    • Don’t want to write? Try using Voxer to document learning
    • Read, Reflect, Try, and Reflect again!
  • Look for Facebook groups of teachers to connect with.
  • Find online communities for your organizations
  • Seek webinars on the topic of your choice. Some cost, but not all

When we take control of our learning, then there is nothing that can stand in our way. Instead of saying “I can’t get the PD I want because my district doesn’t offer it”, say “What are some ways I can learn about Topic X on my own?” Reframe the way you look at the challenge, and you’ll find it’s just a little bit easier to learn what you want to learn.

Want help getting started? This friendly ITRT is at your service. I would be happy to work with you to get you started on your journey. Just comment below!

#IMMOOC: Final Thoughts

Tonight I finished the last chapter of The Innovator’s Mindset. I was sad to see it end, but I have learned so much from reading it. I have spent time blogging about the chapters, posting thoughts on Twitter, and even meeting George Couros in between.

I have found myself inspired to take my ideas and go forward with them. I have found inspiration to push forward with my new ideas for professional development. I’ve mentioned FlucoTECH throughout my blogging on this book, and I know I can make it be something. I need to face the adversity and take the challenge head on. I need to keep looking at my plan and make it better. I need to get the feedback and input from my colleagues and make it better. We cannot stick to the path of traditional PD, but instead we must forge something new.

I’ve also been encouraged to really share my story on my social media, and in turn it has motivated me to keep pushing for school branding in my district. I’m not done. I need to get the teachers on board and I need them to see what a difference it can make when we share the things happening in our schools and our classrooms. This is another bit of adversity, but I need to overcome it.

I’m done being quiet. I’m ready to be loud and to stand up and say “This isn’t okay!” I’ve noticed this trend in my social media and writing since attending Copenhaver Institute. There is no reason and no excuse not to learn and try something new. You are not too old. You are not too slow. You are not alone. You have help and you can do it, if only you change your mindset to tackle the challenge in front of you. No amount of me discussing ideas with someone will do a bit of good unless they listen with an open mind and consider how things might be different. It’s all about the mindset.

If you’re ready for a change…If you’re ready to make a change and begin by changing the way you think, then read The Innovator’s Mindset. If you believe there is much more to academics than grades and test scores, then read The Innovator’s Mindset. If you’re ready to change, go read The Innovator’s Mindset.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m ready to begin my next reading journey- The Art of Coaching by Elena Aguilar!

#IMMOOC: Are We There Yet?

The short answer? Nope. We are never there. There is no set point of arrival. There are only checkpoints. These checkpoints update and change often so that once you pass a checkpoint, another is just down the road.

Educators are never finished learning. Some may think they are, but they are not. There’s nothing that says once you’ve been in education “X” number of years that you can stop. You can’t stop. Oh, you did stop? Get out of education then. You can’t expect to prepare children for any kind of future if you’re stuck in the past and refusing to learn new things. Educators need to continue learning and growing. They need to model that same learning and growth for their students as well so that students see that learning doesn’t just apply to school assignments.

In Chapter 13 of The Innovator’s Mindset, George introduces readers to a chart and asks for their answers based on what they currently experience in their district. I replicated the chart in Docs and then added in my own answers:

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As you can see, there is still a long way to go for Fluvanna County. There needs to be a shift in mindset, and that first has to come from the top down level, as administration often determines how the professional development is delivered at each school. I also need to get to know the teachers that I serve better so that I can assist them and provide useful professional development to them. I am hoping to make changes with FlucoTECH, but I won’t know how well that works until I’ve had a chance to try it.

A big portion of this chapter focused on open sharing and building a digital portfolio, which I went into in my last entry. We need to move away from simply waiting for the “right” PD to happen and fall into our laps. Rarely will it ever occur. Whether you scour Twitter, read blogs, or read educational books you take PD into your own hands. You have the power to create your learning. Yes, it’s fun to meet up with others who share your passions or attend a workshop, but why wait? We don’t expect our students to wait when we want them to learn something new. You don’t know it? Jump in and test the waters. You’re afraid, and it’s time to put that fear to rest!

Your learning is never done. There’s always something to improve upon, some new technique or tool to pick up, some new mindset that provokes your curiosity and sets your motivation on fire. Embrace this and keep learning. Track your learning with a digital portfolio. Share your growth and show your successes and failures. We must continue the learning cycle, and make sure our students do as well.

Set your desire to learn on fire, and you’ll kindle theirs, too!

#IMMOOC: 8 Things to Look for in Today’s PD

In his book, the Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros takes the “8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom” and tweaks it to align with professional development instead.

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Words by George Couros, illustrations by Sylvia Duckworth

I’m sure we can think of classrooms that are working toward infusing these ideas, and classrooms where these ideas are the furthest thoughts away from the teachers. Professional development is the same way, and there needs to be a shift in how it is given to staff members.

In my own district, I am of the minority when it comes to learning and expanding my knowledge as needed, especially when I start using Twitter. In fact, I recently received notifications from my administration alerting me to the professional development they would like to have provided to staff members for the upcoming beginning days sessions. I will work with another ITRT to present on these topics. The change in how PD was being provided at the beginning of the year was decided on by administration after we ITRTs had left for summer obligations, so we had no say.

What is wrong with this kind of PD? Easy. It is often a one time thing. The beginning of the year professional development is required so the staff must attend. Even if we offer follow up sessions throughout the year (which we do), they are not well attended. The staff that like the initial PD will use it, the rest will ignore it, especially if it’s not watched for by administration. Since the PD is mandatory, it’s made to be a one-size-fits-all session. This whole setup is a setup for failure, and one I don’t like because it wastes my time, and it wastes the staff time.

So how might this type of PD change in my district in the future? That’s where the 8 things comes into play. See a problem, find a solution to the problem, right? Here’s how I see the 8 things being used to change professional development in Fluvanna County:

  1. Voice- Educators want students to own their learning. The same should be expected of them at PD sessions. Just because the presenter is at the front of the room does not mean that they are the only expert in the room. Share thoughts and ideas. Use tools that can get others involved throughout the sessions.If you’ve ever been to an edcamp, you know that sessions are led by everyone in the room. If someone has something to share, they speak up and share. It’s a gathering of ideas, resources, and stories. There is no one leader. There is no one expert. Everyone has a voice and everyone has a say. Lecture has its place in the world, but it shouldn’t be at every PD session ever held.
  2. Choice- When is the last time that you had a say in your professional development? Never? Typically, there are two reasons why- You only let your district provide your PD options OR your district doesn’t count your own learning methods as PD.If you are the first reason, then it’s time for you to take control of your learning. Not every district is ready for choice just yet, though this is not a conversation we should be having in this day and age. If you want something, ask! From my own viewpoint, I love when teachers ask me for professional development. I am willing and able to make it fit their needs and wants. I believe I need to make that even clearer this year though. Last year was my learning year…this year there’s not an excuse.

    If you find yourself falling into reason number 2, it’s time to reevaluate your feelings on professional development. Are you only doing it to earn recertification points, or are you doing it to better yourself and your students? If you want the points, it’s time to turn that extrinsic motivation into intrinsic motivation. Yes, we cannot be motivated by every PD session we attend, but do we need someone dangling a reward in our faces? If that’s the case, then why do we act baffled when students do the same? “Is this a grade?” is to students on an assignment what “How many points will I get?” is to educators on professional development. We don’t like our students doing this, so why is it okay for us as educators to do the same?

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  3. Time for Reflection-  This ties in heavily with self-assessment later, but how many times does a professional development session allow for reflection on knowledge learned? Do you find this is often on an evaluation sheet about the session itself? “Gee, let me just BS this answer here so I can be done and out the door.” We’ve all been there before. This kind of reflection helps no one.Instead, PD can and should provide times throughout the session to reflect and connect with others, and not just through written word. Use pictures and video to shake things up a bit. Give attendees time to think and then let them respond. A good video tool for this process would be Flipgrid. Twitter can be used, and so can Padlet. Want to have a back channel chat running? Then TodaysMeet might be more your style. Each tool lets users reflect beyond traditional responses.
  4. Opportunities for Innovation- Teachers cannot learn everything there is to know about a product, tool, or method in one PD session. It doesn’t matter how long the session is, or how many interesting tips are shared, we are not sponges that automatically absorb everything. These beginning sessions only help us scratch the surface of what we can do with the tool.Instead, teachers need time to come together and create. They need time to work with the information given to them to see how it can be adapted to their own classrooms and needs. This time should not be provided during the initial session itself. Teachers are just starting to absorb the information. They have not had time to reflect and think about the learning that took place. However, time given in a few weeks to create and come together would be more beneficial. During this time, educators can create and share their work with their colleagues so that more ideas and creativity can be sparked.
  5. Critical Thinkers- Time and time again, we tell our students to critically think and evaluate information. They have 24 hour access (for many) and must be able to evaluate on the fly. Educators must be able to do the same. They need to feel that they have a space to push the boundaries of thinking, and to suggest new ideas. They need a space to question and challenge others, and where others can do the same to them.Educators should be able to challenge the way things “have always been done”. It doesn’t have to be that way, and it doesn’t have to be only administration who tries to change the status quo. Of course, to be able to do this requires a good relationship between administration and staff, and the willingness to look beyond titles and rank for the good of the school community.
  6. Problem Solvers/Finders- One of the marks of an innovator is the ability to find problems and find solutions to them. Ever been in the teacher’s lounge during lunch? It’s a nightmare to those who are above the negativity. I have dealt with this because my office at the high school is tied to the teacher lunch area. The negativity is overwhelming, and so I often escape to the library to get away from it. Those folks can certainly FIND problems, but they have no interest in solving them. Thus, the cycle continues daily.Instead of simply complaining, recognize there is a problem and then begin working on ways to solve it. This can be done through PD, though it may not be traditional to many. Research. Find literature and books that can help with new methods. We can create a better environment for our students, if we are willing to try to solve the issues that arise in front of us. Ask questions, learn new knowledge, try new solutions, reflection, and keep trying. You can improve the opportunities for students if only you are willing to try.
  7. Self-Assessment- Do you only rely evaluations from your superior or administration to tell you how you’re doing? Stop that! I get one evaluation per year. Just 1! Truly that could make or break me (thankfully I do well typically).Relying on only that one or few times a year evaluation doesn’t provide a full snap-shot of who one is as an educator. Think about the year state exams we put students through. We don’t let that define our students, so why define ourselves that way.

    Professional development should allow time for attendees to reflect. This reflection doesn’t have to occur right away, but it should occur shortly after the presentation. An easy way to do this is by keeping a digital portfolio. There are many ways to do this. One can use a Twitter account to share snippets or short videos. Over time, these snippets build up, and give a better look at any educator than an evaluation could. Another way is through blogging. A blog could host longer videos, resources, ideas, etc. The posts don’t have to be long, but they showcase the sharing and reflection process the educator goes through while learning.

  8. Connected Learning- Learning alone is fun, but learning together with others can have an even bigger impact. Twitter is an amazing way to connect with other educators on the topics and ideas one is most passionate about. Resources are shared, ideas gathered and discussed, and learning reflected upon. It may be hard to get into the habit at first, but in time, it pays off. Teachers can share ideas they’ve learned at PD sessions and get feedback from others who may not have been there at all. Discussions can be prompted by the simplest of ideas on Twitter.Got a question to ask Google? Ask it on your Twitter feed as well, and use tags to get input from certain groups of people. Share snapshots of things you are doing. Use it to take notes at a conference that get shared with the world (These are great to refer back to later on). It may seem like you are small and have very few connections at first, but if you work hard to give and share ideas, your network slowly grows. I’ve been dedicated to growing mine for about 3 years now, and it has paid off.

How would your district stack up? What are some of the things you would change about PD where you are?