The Art of Professional Development

Locally professional development is viewed as a utter mess. Often the local school districts will have a few in-service events each school year that are geared towards professional development. These are often exercises in futility. The primary reason is when they occur. For example, one district is having one on Columbus Day when every other district in the state is closed. The other is the focus. Most professional development exercises are focusing on some usage of educational technology. This results in two fragmented groups: those who already know how to use the technology and those who have no interest in using the technology. I recall the one year a district tried to force all teachers to create and use a Google Sites webpage. It didn’t work well.

So how can a school district provide better professional development? Realizing that one size fits all isn’t pragmatic. Have a few options available and make them known ahead of time or even have a signup sheet for each particular group. Addressing a wide range of problems is always a good idea too. Some teachers may be struggling with HIB policies and so the same old song and dance may not be useful to them.

We all know however that our school district isn’t going to provide us with all of our professional development needs. Luckily there are a number of professional development opportunities online that I’ve found enjoyable and will share.

I might be a little bias as an ambassador for SimpleK12, but I believe they provide a strong professional development presence online. They provide PD on a wide variety of topics from classroom management to ELL. Not only do they have a constantly updated list of active webinars [where you signup in advance for the scheduled view], but they have an extensive list of on-demand webinars. There are more than enough resources with the free model to advance your career, but you could always move onto the paid yearly model and access even more. Additionally there are countless other educators on SimpleK12 just waiting to collaborate and interact with you. It is essentially a new Personal Learning Network for you!

EdWeek is likely well known for its articles about education, but they do offer professional development webinars through their website. While SimpleK12 probably has 20 live webinars scheduled at any time, EdWeek usually has 5. EdWeek also provides you access to their on-demand webinars with a PowerPoint associated with the presentation. EdWeek even provides a paid professional development toolkit in areas like classroom management and educational technology.

Simply Use Google:
You may navigate through various professional development websites and find what you’re looking for is missing. As is becoming a common phrase these days “just Google it.” Most professional development websites are looking to hit on a wide range of topics and your specific interest may not be broad enough for those involved to produce content. Googling your keyword with professional development will hopefully give you specific information helpful to your cause. For example, Adobe provides webinars on some of its products. That might be professional development to you if you are teaching a Multimedia course, but you may not know how to find this out. Google helps out here. You may even find that there are professional development websites devoted to your content area too.

There are even some local groups you can join as a school district and pay for individual teachers to attend professional development workshops, like is offered by the Southern Regional Institute and Educational Technology Training Center.

Remember some school districts will help you [including financially] in professional development pursuits, while others won’t. So understand you may be required to do the bulk of the work if you want to improve. It will be worth it!

Helping your child to make a difference!

All of us have had the experience of going to a restaurant, hotel, supermarket, bank or somewhere else and been giving less than the best customer service. Some people, regardless of what they’re getting paid, do the minimum. Their attitude is “good enough is good enough”.

On the other hand, we’ve all experienced super customer service, at hotels, banks, auto dealerships or whatever else. We can appreciate this special attention to detail, making us feel special and doing their job very well.

So what makes the difference between great customer service and average customer service. It comes from two different areas: it comes from those companies and organizations that have a philosophy of great customer service. They train their people from top to bottom to provide the best customer service possible. I believe it also comes from parents and teachers who expected the best from children and taught them to never give less than their best effort. This starts in schools with teachers and at home with parents. Many students have the attitude of “what is the minimum expected of me to get the best grade possible”. Their only concern is getting that A or B that will help them get into the college or university of their choice.

It’s not about learning….. it is more about promotion. It is sad, but too many teachers and parents allow this behavior by accepting less than the best from students. Students will copy and paste from the Internet, to do a report, not caring about why the report is important or what they can learn from it. This same attitude can be found in the home where parents can ask children to clean up their room or finish a specific chores and accepting less than the best effort from the child. For many parents it is easier to go behind the child and pick up the room or finish the chores then to fight with them over the issue. In my opinion this is a big mistake! It sets the stage for teaching children that it is okay to give less than your best.

So here’s why parents need to take charge. It’s your child, it is their future and you can make a difference with them. Don’t accept homework that is less than their best effort. When doing weekly spelling assignments often they are asked to write a sentence using the word. Many students will write the shortest possible sentence that barely meets the requirements of using the word in an effective way. Don’t accept that! Talk with your child’s teacher and explain to them that you want to be supportive and get the best from your child’s effort. This should be a goal that every teacher will embrace and support. Together you can make a difference.



ScratchJr is an introductory programming language application designed for children ages 5-7 to create interactive stories and games. Both ScratchJr and its big brother, Scratch, designed for users ages 8 and up, were created by MIT Media Lab to teach coding to children. ScratchJr is a free app for both iPad and Android tablets.

In ScratchJr, users put programming character blocks together that are interactive and move, jump, dance, and sing. Users can edit voices and sounds, including adding their own voices, and they can even insert their own pictures to make the blocks come to life. The goal of ScratchJr is to make coding fun and a part of students’ literacy education.

According to the creators of ScratchJr, “Coding (or computer programming) is a new type of literacy. Just as writing helps you organize your thinking and express your ideas, the same is true for coding. In the past, coding was seen as too difficult for most people. But we think coding should be for everyone, just like writing.”

ScratchJr has an innovative approach to literacy as the goal of ScratchJr is to encourage children to create and express themselves via coding. Writing via code allows students to “write” interactive stories, games, animations, and simulations. They begin with planning, rough drafts, editing, and finally publishing as they share content they have coded. Not only do students move through the creative process, they are also given opportunities for problem solving skills, sequencing skills, and math and language skills. Students are constructing meaning through coding, and as ScratchJr states, “children aren’t just learning to code, they are coding to learn.” This multimodal approach to literacy and learning gives students the opportunity to take learning to the next level and create such things as animation, virtual tours, simulations, PSAs, multimedia projects, interactive tutorials and stories.

ScratchJr offers four projects students can work on. However, in addition to providing projects, the app also offers manipulatives, such as printable coding blocks, an animated genres curriculum, which has three modules: Collage, Story, and Game, a playground games curriculum in which students can recreate popular playground games, and activities that reinforce the Common Core standards, including upper and lower case letters and counting.

ScratchJr provides children an interactive, multimodal approach to learning coding as well as offering practice of highly transferrable literacy and learning skills.


ScratchJr – Home. (n.d.). Retrieved September 9, 2015.

Shapiro, J. (2014, August 6). Your Five Year Old Can Learn To Code With An IPad App. Retrieved September 9, 2015.

Empathy with Students Goes a Long Way

Recently I read the story of Teddy who was struggling to find his footing in the classroom. According to the information posted he had been a great student with a number of friends, but the loss of a parent derailed his academic success to a degree. His teacher reviewed his previous teachers’ commentary on his classroom performance. Once she noticed the pattern she took a stronger interest in Teddy and the relationship continued to grow until after Teddy left her class, including Teddy returning to inform the teacher of all the important things going on in his life.

Most educators dream of these situations, where you have such an impact in a student’s life that their success is often your success, as they are so excited to inform you of the new chapters in their lives.

Your question might be “How do I show empathy for my students”?

Empathy can be shown in a number of ways with your students. The one aspect you need to understand is there can be a small line between students taking advantage of you and you showing empathy for their situations. For example, if you see provide an extension to a student once due to an incident they may expect you to do this every time. So be firm with your classroom policies.

Empathy can be a tool used to connect with your students as well. Some students, like Teddy, may require you to work harder than your normal interactions, but the pay off is well worth it. You are not friends with your students, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pull for them in the same manner that their friends do.

Some scenarios I have seen play out in the classroom include the following:

  • A student has a poor home life and does not like to go home:
  • A teacher can consider offering additional after school hours and if the student needs help with their work, use this time to help them navigate through their assignments.

  • A student may have a parent who is terminally ill:
  • A teacher may allow a student to periodically check their cell phone even if it goes against school policy or setup an alternative for reaching the student in case something happens.

  • A student has concerns that limit their concentration:
  • A teacher must not get frustrated with this type of student and instead work with the student individually to ensure they are comprehending all necessary materials. Usually if an IEP or 504 mentions such an issue there may be recommendations for the educator.

    Ultimately showing empathy for situations that come up may help you in connecting with your students and secure a stronger level of respect, as long as you establish that you aren’t a pushover, but aren’t unreasonable.

    Multimodalities in the Classroom

    Multi modalities are at the forefront of education in today’s 21st century classroom. Teaching and learning encompass many modalities: speech, gaze, gestures, body language, writing. When technology is added to the classroom, the multimodal aspects are heightened. Pre-classroom education preparation and experiences have changed for students. Most students have exposure to electronics such as computers, tablets, and video games prior to entering school. Students are now expected to come ready to learn computer literacy, or have some background knowledge of it, much like kindergarten students practice their alphabet before entering school. In the English Language Arts classroom, literacy is now multimodal and is redefined with the introduction of computers and tablets into the classroom. The introduction of technology has provided new opportunities for students to work in their preferred learning modality. This touches in both cognitive and effective domains and allows for greater individualized student growth, achievement, and more student-specific assessment. The move to a digitally influenced classroom changes the nature of education and because of this shift, multimodality in the classroom has become more necessary than ever before.

    Multimodal Literacy is evident in my English Language Arts classroom on a daily basis. As a Google school with Chromebooks, I have recreated my curriculum to pull in multimodal experiences with nearly every topic students encounter. This supports new models of student learning as students are often the expert in the classroom, integrating their technology skills and aptitudes for technology. Students share their knowledge with one another as they collaborate on classwork and projects using Google Applications for Education (GAFE). They use the Chromebooks to complete quizzes on Socrative and they play review games on Kahoot, both which allow for greater peer interactivity. Students participate in Socratic seminars via video chats with students from other school districts, which globalizes their experiential educational interactions. Multimodal literacy is changing how content is published in the ELA classroom as students create digital video PSA’s using their written persuasive essays, and they turn book talks about their required readings into movie trailers. They also take narratives, crafted from drafting to revision and create, edit, and publish multimodal narratives. These multimodal narratives use videos, graphics, music, written phrases, and take into consideration design, content, and auditory selection, in order to create a piece that reflects the mood and ideas students are trying to express.

    Multimodal experiences heighten student motivation as they insist that students invest in the learning process as they create and share their work. Lifelong learning is now more applicable than ever as the multimodal skills students hone are highly transferable to the workforce. It seems that education, with the coupling of multimodal experiences, has begun to answer the relevancy question, “When am I ever going to use this?” The answer in today’s technology based society, is every single day in the workplace, at home, with your children, in continuing education. In the new era of digitized education, schools now offer students preparation for the technological world that awaits them beyond school doors.

    My Summer with Edmodo

    For those that don’t know Edmodo is a Learning Management System (LMS) that looks like Facebook. In my opinion Edmodo is a LMS that is geared more towards a K-12 audience than a higher education audience. In a lot of aspects Edmodo seems more like a social media tool than a Learning Management System due to its interactive setup and visual appearance. Make no mistake though, Edmodo is one powerful educational tool.

    Prior to 2014 I had periodically played around with Edmodo, using it sporadically inside my classroom. Then, EdmodoCon 2014 happened and I grew more and more involved with Edmodo after hearing about all the wonderful things students and teachers can do with Edmodo.

    Then I received an e-mail earlier this year asking me to become an ambassador for Edmodo. I agreed and have been very happy with my decision. I am now actively helping my peers within the Edmodo community with any questions they may have and vice versa. I’m providing resources to my peers and offering feedback to those resources my peers post within the Spotlight section of Edmodo. My involvement with helping out on Edmodo has also made me a Luminary, which according to information at EdmodoCon 2015 will result in me receiving a cape [to show off my Super Edmodo Skills I’m sure].

    Additionally, this opportunity has allowed me to connect with even more of my peers on Edmodo through the various challenges Edmodo has for its ambassadors to complete, through its Teacher Leader Network. We can connect on Facebook, Twitter, etc. due to setting up our Edmodo accounts to link to our social media.

    I can’t wait to turn my enjoyable summer with Edmodo into continued and prolonged usage of the amazing Learning Management System and encourage you to do so as well.

    Creating a Website for the Busy Educator

    These days most educators simply don’t have the time to spend days on end setting up a personal website for their classroom or educational ventures. Some educators prefer using Google Sites because it is free, but Google Sites is limited in the content you can provide to your audience or students. Google Sites is perfectly fine for the older teacher who is about to retire, but wants to follow their school districts’ move into newer technology. Most other educators need to focus on creating a strong website that can constantly be referenced.

    My primary suggested reasons for creating your own personal website are:

  • Snapshot of your teaching – in case you end up moving on to a different district you will have a visible instrument to show a new administrative team of what you’ve done and how you’ve done it.
  • It can evolve – some educators initially start their websites as a tool for their students, but the website may eventually involve if other individuals are viewing your website. You could in theory have multiple parts of your website that are each geared towards different ventures.
  • You’re in control – if you are like me you use a bunch of worksheets in the classroom, well with a website you can store all of these worksheets on your server, which wouldn’t be possible with Google Sites or your school district’s allotted website space.
  • One tool educators use if they’re not that familiar with website design in Weebly. There are free aspects to Weebly and paid aspects too. Weebly is a lot like Wixx, another website design service for those with limited design backgrounds. It allows you to modify a template, looks okay, but is pretty basic.

    The Easiest Way to Create a Website.

    If you’re going the paid route there are some websites you should be familiar with in 1&1 and GoDaddy.

    Both of these allow you to purchase a domain, hosting and all the bells and whistles you need to run a website. I personally prefer GoDaddy, but have heard good things about 1&1. NOTE: I only purchase domains through GoDaddy and use a different hosting company.

    $8.99 .COM Domains from GoDaddy!

    Another option you can use is but haven’t used any of their products to advise one way or the other. Windows Hosting

    I then utilize Host Gator for my hosting, as it allows me to create forums, blogs, etc. with ease.

    Once my website is up and running I head over to Vista Print and get some cool advertising gear for the new website. You can too!

    NOTE: Use the tools you are most comfortable with after doing your research.

    Back to School Basics: Some Relationship Advice

    Now, I know some of my teacher friends have argued that it’s hard to date and teach, but that’s not the relationship advice I’m here to give. I’m talking about the relationships you have with your colleagues in your building.

    Do you remember the show Scrubs? It’s a favorite of mine. A running theme throughout the show is that JD, a new doctor, insists that veteran Dr. Cox is his mentor. Then Dr. Cox usually has some reason why he is unfit to be a mentor and brushes off this title. Throughout the years of the show, even as JD becomes older and more experienced, he is still seeking that mentoring relationship. He remains hungry for learning and advice, and seeks it from the person his gut tells him to follow. I can think of a few fellow teachers whom I have sought this relationship from and I can honestly say having been mentored in several different aspects of my career, I have grown exponentially.

    I’ve been reading a lot about peer coaching and teacher mentoring programs, and how it is much more effective than traditional professional development. This is someone startling and saddening to see from my perspective, given that I own an organization with the primary purpose of providing professional development. However, we are carefully looking at this research and considering ways to incorporate more follow-up and coaching aspects into our PD sessions. Why? Well, consider this chart from Models of Professional Development: A Celebration of Educators (Joyce & Calhoun, 2010, p. 79).

    While interactive, engaging professional development (which is one of our core principles) appears to have an impact in the short-term for teachers, without follow-up and further engagement the effects taper off with only 5-10% of teachers implementing what was covered in the training. However, if a peer coach is involved, the rate of implementation remained steady around 90%. That’s a big difference.

    The Microsoft Innovative Teaching and Learning Research project states: Innovative teaching practices are more likely to flourish when particular support conditions are in place. These conditions include:

    • Teacher collaboration that focuses on peer support and the sharing of teaching practices
    • Professional development that involves the active and direct engagement of teachers, particularly in practicing and researching new methods
    • A school culture that offers a common vision of innovation as well as a consistent support that encourages new types of teaching. (Microsoft, 2011, p. 12).

     Consider those points and think about your professional practice. Do you share ideas with your fellow teachers? Do you seek out engaging learning opportunities? Does your school administration support your development and learning goals?

    I am challenging you now: seek out a peer coach or a mentor in your school. Someone who can guide you, offer ideas, and support you. Even veteran teachers can benefit from this relationship. Or, perhaps, you can coach someone else. Here are some attributes to look for in a peer coach:

    • Is able to build trust with peers
    • Builds on what a teacher needs
    • Communicates well and listens to teachers
    • Is flexible
    • Provides a safe, risk-taking environment and is non-threatening, nonjudgmental, and accepting
    • Is recognized by staff as a strong / outstanding teacher (Foltos, 2013; Meyer et al. 2011).

    Whichever side of the relationship you feel ready to be on – coach or colleague, mentor or mentee – take the time to recognize the power of this bond. Both teachers will find themselves learning from each other and discovering new ways to impact their classrooms.

    Three ideas to give your child a fighting chance at career success

    The world is changing rapidly. More of our manufacturing jobs are heading overseas. We are seeing. for the first time, white-collar jobs consumed by technology and other innovative cost-saving ideas. So when your child graduates from high school or college what will they do? In 2012, 36% of the nation’s young adults ages 18 to 31—the so-called Millennial generation—were living in their parents’ home, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. Not a very exciting option for parents or for young people. Job hunting is tough and your kids better be ready to go up against the BEST and win.

    Preparation starts early and at home.

    So what can you do to give your child the best opportunity for future success in the world of work. First of all you need to know that preparation starts early and at home. Not in school, not in college but it starts right in the home with you as the teacher. You have heard this many times but it’s worth repeating: parents are the first and best teachers a child will ever have. There are many outstanding teachers who play a significant role in a child’s life….. but what you do is a parent every day can have much more impact than any teacher.

     A Simple Test

    Here’s a simple test that you can give your children to see if they are moving in the right direction to be employable in the 21st century world of work. You can administer this test as early as five years old but the lessons for work preparation start much earlier. Here we go!

    1) Watch how your children greet another adult. Do they look them in the eye? Do they shake hands with a firm but pleasant handshake? Can they respond appropriately to a question or statement from the greeting adult? For example: adult:“how are you today?” a good answer might be : ”fine thank you how are you?”. Can they talk with another person and engage with appropriate conversation ?

    2) When talking with your child do they look at you and engage you with more than a one word answer. For example: if you asked the question”what would you like to do today?” Can they answer you in a sentence of more than 10 words? This is a skill that starts early and is essential if they are going to be effective in a job interview.

    3) Attitude matters. When they are around friends and other people do they demonstrated a positive attitude about themselves and others? Skills can be taught but attitude is very difficult to change. Employers will hire someone with a good attitude and less skilled than someone who has a questionable attitude and better skills.

    So what can you do?

    Help your child to acquire the skill of greeting people with a pleasant and firm handshake. Looking at people when they talk to them is extremely important. Have them put down their PDAs when they are having a conversation with you or others. You would be surprise at the number of college graduates who cannot look at the interviewer when answering questions. Chances are they’re not going to get the job.
    Help your child work on building a strong and positive self-esteem. Talk with them about what went well in school, on the athletic field or with friends each day. Help them learn to verbalize and have a positive expression. This may not come easy but it does come with practice. Help them understand the importance of being a team player. Job candidates under estimate how much hiring managers care about interpersonal and communication skills. They will need to communicate with others and be part of the team if they are going to be successful. Hope this helps and gives you something to think about.

    I would love to hear your feedback and any ideas or suggestions you might have.

    Back to School Basics: Gooooooaaaaaaaallllllll!

    With the gusto of soccer announcer Andrés Cantor, you need to celebrate your goals. Well, maybe before we start dancing in the streets, let’s back up a second and think about your goals. Sure, you can come up with all sorts of lofty goals as to why you’re a teacher: I want to impact the future. I want to be the reason a child becomes great. I want to create lifelong learners. That fluff-stuff is for your Philosophy of Education that you have to submit with your resume to get the job. But, now you’re hired, here, and ready to start off a new school year that may include new faces or new places.

    In Teach, Reflect, Learn, Hall and Simeral (2015, ASCD) argue, “With so many professional responsibilities determined for us in education […], it is essential to our continued growth – not to mention our sanity – to have some semblance of ownership over our own development.” Do you even know what you want to do beyond pure survival? Setting goals outside of curriculum maps and mastery levels can keep you focused on your mission to, as Ghandi so eloquently put it, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” or whatever quote you pulled into your philosophy statement back in college.

    Set one attainable goal in each of these areas outside of academics: student social-emotional well-being, professional practice, and personal balance. Here are some reflection questions to get you through goal setting:

    Student Social-Emotional Well-Being

    • How will I make time to get to know my students?
    • How will I establish my room as a safe place for students both physically and emotionally?
    • What can I do to show students that I care?
    • What normative beliefs can I promote for respect, integrity, and kindness?
    • Research shows that one caring adult makes a big difference in the success of a child. How will I be that adult for a child who needs me?

    Professional Practice

    • What topics do I want to attend training on?
    • Do I want to further my education and seek another degree or certification?
    • What new skill do I want to try? How will I learn the skill, observe the skill, or try the skill?
    • What professional books do I want to read?
    • Can I access a peer coach, instructional partner, or mentoring teacher?
    • What Professional Learning Communities do I have access to within my school or district?
    • How can I connect with other education professionals on social media?

    Personal Balance

    • What projects around the house do I want to complete?
    • Do I have any fitness goals that I can work towards?
    • Is there a vacation that I am longing for?
    • How will I make time for my family and friends?
    • What limits will I set to not overwhelm myself with work while I am at home?

    Remember, set goals that you can reach. They can small goals, such as, “Paint the bathroom over Fall Break” or tall goals, “Enroll in a Master’s program at a local university.”  Either way, you have to have a plan for reaching them. You can download many goal templates (I’m a fan of the SMART plan: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound) or simply write your goal on a sticky note. Choose what you are working for, and then go out there and get it. Pick a reward that you will celebrate with – even if it’s just jumping up and down in your classroom and screaming at the top of your lungs, “GOOOOOoooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllllll!!!!!!!!!!”