Making Professional Development A Habit

making-pd-a-habit-miamafitnesstvMaking Professional Development A Habit

by Dawn Casey-Rowe, Social Studies Teacher & Learnist Evangelist

The final post in a 6 part, “Better PD” series. See parts 1-5: PD Sucks. Is Edcamp the Solution?Pairing Teachers for Better Professional DevelopmentHacking Your Classroom, Moving The Conversation From Bullying To Climate, and 6 Tips For Finding Inspiration In Your Teaching

We will be wrapping up the Better PD series with a theme designed to make us continue to think about PD.

Make PD a habit.

Learning is lifelong, continual. In order to have true professional development, participants have to get together and commit to continue sharing the learning.

Too often it’s easy to make a list of books on the Kindle, think about planning the next conference, and put off professional coffee with a friend. We can justify putting off our own personal PD for many reasons–and they’ll all be good ones. There are students to help, papers to correct, and we absolutely must spend time with our families. These things are true, but the following is also true–we can either have excuses or results.

Professional development must stay in the rotation on a permanent basis. It must be calendared in as we would an important appointment–it’s an appointment with ourselves. In a way, it’s a lot like physical fitness. Many people fail to reach physical fitness goals because they do not have the right approach. By committing to work out regularly, doing a favorite activity, and maintaining positive consistency, you will see improvements in all areas–not just physical. Professional development is the same thing.

We reach goals by setting them, and doing a little each day. Perhaps it is meeting with a group once  a week or connecting with someone on a helpful subject. It might be attending one conference a year or choosing to read two or three books on a particular topic. This can lead down the path of finding a niche or area of passion. That’s the key–unlocking and developing passions. Then, consider doing something with those passions, and eventually, those passions become new skills.

By channeling our own desire to be lifelong learners, and learning things about which we are passionate, the fire does not go out.

To end this PD journey…or really to begin it, this Learnist future will look at professional development in the larger picture of life-as part of a habit of balance including lifelong learning. PD is one aspect of balance, because it keeps us mentally sharp and happy in our career. Without professional development, we stagnate. Suffer burnout.

Unplug from our craft.

That is why professional development has to be purpose-driven or self-led and continual. It cannot be useless CPU credits earned on a yearly basis to satisfy some requirement. Sure, many of us have to do this, but how great would it be for these meaningless requirements fade into the sunset as educators take charge of our own learning. Eventually this systemic love for learning could roll downhill to students taking charge of theirs.

From Need To Fun To Habit

I do many things in the lifelong learning department. I love to learn languages, for example, and new DIY experiences and crafts catch my eye. I cook and garden sustainably, and enjoy learning new physical activities. In the education world, I’ve been learning anything tech I can get my hands on–it started because I had serious needs and no budget for my classroom. Now, it’s progressed from need to fun to habit.

And vision.

That’s usually the case when it comes to learning. It starts out as one thing and morphs into something else entirely.

Lifelong learning is important whether you are four or 40. It is an example to set for our own students. If we continue to learn, it validates learning for them, too. Please enjoy this final board in the Better PD Series: Lifelong Learning.

Add thoughts and learnings about how you best keep up with your learning interests and how you manage to fit them into your busy life.

Image attribution flickr user miamifitnesstv; Making Professional Development A Habit


Teaching Culture Blind: Diversity In Professional Development

teaching-culture-blindTeaching Culture Blind: Diversity In Professional Development

by Dawn Casey-Rowe, Social Studies Teacher & Learnist Evangelist

Related Learnist Resource: Consider Diversity.

It was one of my first experiences teaching.

I overheard a conversation. I try not to eavesdrop, but sometimes my brain just joins in.

“Miss?” said the student. “My name is Mrs. X!” came the stern reply from another teacher. Culture clash.

I explained to my colleague that the student was being respectful. He was Hispanic. In the student’s culture, “Senor, Seniorita or Senora,” is the most polite form of address for a teacher. Directly translated, that’s “Miss, Mrs., or Mister.”

To the Caucasian teacher, however, omitting the last name was impolite. Learning the subtle aspects of cultural awareness can be critical to establishing and maintaining successful relationships in diverse schools. I’ve experienced this. A Chinese friend once got angry at me because I didn’t put my shoes in the right place.

This is not a big deal for an American, but for Chinese, it has the potential to be highly offensive. I hear complaints about behaviors from specific groups on occasion. One is about “cheating.” Digging deeper, the line between what Americans consider cheating and other cultures consider “helping” or “collaboration” is not so clear.

Years ago, when I was working with Eastern European refugees, this line was even more blurred–people spotted each other over the testing chin-up bar because in their culture failure was simply not an option. It had dire consequences.

My husband and I used to teach martial arts together. I gave a status report to a father, telling him his children were progressing well. The father thanked me, then immediately turned to my husband and said, “So, how’s my son doing?” I saw my husband’s eyes open wide. He wanted to say, “Didn’t you just hear my wife?”

I motioned secretly that he should not say this, explaining later he was dealing with a male-dominant culture where a woman wouldn’t have the authority to provide such an official report on a man’s son. No matter how much this father liked and respected me–we’d had many intellectual conversations and had an excellent relationship–my husband had to be the final word.

Sometimes I’ll hear educators say “these parents don’t care.” That upsets me. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Perceptions of a parent’s role in the education process vary widely from culture to culture. In America, teachers are, sadly, used to being second-guessed and often get defensive. In other cultures, teachers are highly, highly respected. A parent who doesn’t may be withholding that kind of interaction because they recognize the teacher as the professional.

For many, teachers are respected the way we respect doctors. A parent wouldn’t dream of telling us how to do our job. In short, that is their compliment to us.

And this kind of thinking isn’t always easy to internalize on the spot without experience and professional development.

Push pins on a white background.PD Sucks, So Let’s Do Better: Diversity Training

Diversity training is something that we don’t do enough. In this case, professional development would help save a lot of hurt feelings over cultural misunderstanding. We can learn from and about other cultures. It’s important to include PD on every aspect of diversity and culture. This week’s Learnist Better PD Series focuses on diversity.

Please visit this Learnist board, “Consider Diversity.” The board looks at subgroups you might consider in planning staff training, as well as ideas for some helpful PD. Comment both here and directly on the board, then add your learnings (resources you think others might find useful to better understand this idea) about diversity.

If you have ways to better educate staff, families, and students about this issue or success stories on the topic of multiculturalism, diversity, or professional development at your school or community organization, please share on Facebook and Twitter, and tag @LearnistTweets so we can all benefit.

See parts 1-3 in this series, PD Sucks. Is Edcamp the Solution?Pairing Teachers for Better Professional Development Hacking Your Classroom, and Moving The Conversation From Bullying To Climate; Teaching Culture Blind: Diversity In Professional Development


Better Teacher Professional Development: Pairing Teachers

annabelfarleyphotographyBetter Teacher Professional Development: Pairing Teachers

by Dawn Casey-Rowe, Social Studies Teacher & Learnist Evangelist

See part 1 in this series: PD Sucks. Is Edcamp the Solution?

Professional development isn’t something that many teachers look forward to. This PD series seeks to change all that. By thinking about activities that engage teachers and bring motivation back into professional learning, schools make leaps and bounds into building a community that uses its own expertise to become stronger and closer. These strides translate not only in professional development, but academic results, and and an improved school climate.

All too often professional development follows the following format: Schools pay expensive consultants, and people are forced to listen. Maybe the session is helpful for a few people, but it might not be what others need. Money is something that is in short supply these days, and our own talent is something we underutilize. Most schools have hidden treasures that never get tapped–their people.

Here’s a faculty development option that might just kill two birds with one stone–encouraging all faculty members to develop skills they want to develop while at the same time saving money from the bottom line.

Match people up.

Have people offer to help others in their areas of expertise, and have people ask for the help they need from their colleagues.

Making It Work

There are several ways to do this. One way is to have “Hello” tags at the doorway at your next faculty meeting. Have two colored tags or markers representing “I need,” and “I can help with.” Teachers fill out tags and wear them during the activity, which is best organized as a mixer or snack session. People roam freely and enjoy some down time chatting, with the objective of connecting with at least one or two people that they can assist and one or two that have a talent or skillset they’d like to learn. They can arrange to connect at convenient times, or even  spend time during that meeting or during the next professional development session.

A professional development idea like this does two things–it helps people find the resources they need while the school saves much-needed funds, but also helps to improve the climate of the school. In order to accomplish appropriate matching at the highest levels of productivity, people need to look forward to working with colleagues they might not have worked with before, and be given the opportunity to do so. I notice I don’t often get to see colleagues who are more than two or three doors down from me. I teach six classes straight and never get that far away from “my zone.”

We’ve all worked in grade-level or department groups, but we need to have a reason to form different circles as well. If the skill I want is classroom systems or classroom leadership, and the person offering to help me is outside my normal circles, that is a good thing. It widens my base of collaboration, and helps me connect more deeply with new people. By including other members of the school community in these circles, such as support staff and administration, the positive influence and chance to share gifts widens further still.

The Big Idea

There are so many skills from which we might benefit, that matching people up gives us new ideas about the possibilities for excellence in our schools–ideas we might not consider until we see what people are offering to give. This creates openness, a sense of adventure, and an all-around better school climate.

Creating a school climate is something that is not done easily. It’s something that takes trust, collaboration, and a healthy dose of down time to spend with others. “Down time” shouldn’t be considered nonproductive, however. The greatest companies in the world, like Google, give employees down time to create great ideas. Google allows employees time to work on projects of personal interest that could possibly benefit google. Many of the features we use and love have been born from that “20% time.”

Even though Google is setting some rules around this recently, the concept is a paradigm that works. An activity that matches people up organically for the purpose of professional development and bettering the school sets the stage for people to open up, utilize their many talents, and reach for the stars.

This Learnist board is an introduction to a PD activity for matching people up, showing some of the reasons that this is a fantastic form of professional development.

As always, thoughts and comments below!

Image attribution flickr user annabelfarleyphotography; Better Teacher Professional Development: Pairing Teachers


PD Sucks. Is EdCamp The Solution?

G9 Professional Development and Awards - US Army - 092111PD Sucks. Is EdCamp The Solution?

by Dawn Casey-Rowe, Social Studies Teacher & Learnist Evangelist

Related Learnist Resource: Make Your Own EdCamp

Professional Development is about to undergo a revolution of sorts. People all across the nation are taking PD into their own hands. They are tired of professional development gone wrong, of “three device days,” where life rafts of survival are constructed of hidden Dilbert cartoons and fully-charged iPhones.

The root word of the term “professional development” is “to develop.” According to Macmillan, professional development means “the process of obtaining the skills, qualifications, and experience that allow you to make progress in your career.” This is something that is often missing from teacher professional development days. Sometimes, the offerings make no sense, and other times they border on absurd. Who hasn’t heard the jokes about the PD “lecture in differentiated instruction?”

I’d like to do a short series examining a specific, helpful, or innovative type of professional development, digging in to see if we can make PD a better place. Ideally, we’d like to see PD be organic, worthwhile, energizing–something that we look forward to between sessions. Professional development should be individual, differentiated, and geared toward the interests and intentions of the learner. Sure, sometimes there is some PD that everyone must experience together, but when that occurs, it shouldn’t be a substitute for Ambien or Lunesta or mistaken for a meditation session. The sessions should model the way we want our classes to be taught–they should be engaging and motivating. We can’t talk about good teaching if we don’t model it for our own learning.

The EdCamp: Professional Development’s Holy Grail

EdCamp is the Holy Grail of differentiated professional development. In EdCamp, there is no agenda. There is a blank board at the beginning of the day with time slots and corresponding locations. Participants gather around the board and post sticky notes as to what what they’d like to discuss, present, or learn about on the board. People with similar ideas place their note in overlapping time slots, and often people can be seen rearranging their slots because “it’s the same time as that one, and I want to go to that one…”

Then, when the board is filled, people snap pictures and write down the titles of the sessions and attend the ones they want. Sometimes I overhear groans of disappointment, “I really want to go to both of those but they’re at the same time,” followed by collaborative solutions, “Hey, you go to that one and I’ll do this one, and we can tweet about them.”

EdCamp is the essence of collaboration–melding and sharing of ideas in the spirit of excitement. How many school professional development days have seen faculty disappointed that there wasn’t enough slots to do all the interesting professional development?

Now, imagine this. Imagine that your faculty meeting had no agenda. Imagine that there was simply a grid in the front of the room with a certain amount of empty spaces with corresponding rooms and participants could put “I’m going to present this!” Some rooms might have Common Core Standards, others might have co-teaching, still others could have “physical fitness and student/teacher wellness.” It could be anything. People vote with their feet–the sessions that were the most helpful for people would be the ones that fill up. It might be that there were a couple of mandatory sessions. It might be the entire day could be up to the participants.  But to really do it right, you’d have a nice table full of coffee and treats, and just let the day flow.

Consider having one EdCamp-style PD event at your school and getting your rock star faculty to take ownership of the subject material. You’ll save money, give respect to your on-staff experts, and have a day full of community building and interesting collaboration. Set up a twitter board and tweet between sessions. I give a guarantee this will be a PD format you’ll want to continue.

This Learnist board is an introduction to EdCamp-style learning: “Make Your Own EdCamp.” Try these very simple ideas, and your PD will be revolutionized, guaranteed. Please add pictures and successes to this board for others to try, too. EdCamp is about collaboration, and Learnist is, too.

Image attribution flickr user familymwr; PD Sucks. Is EdCamp The Solution?