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Scholastic Teacher Express

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.

SimpleK12:
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:
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!


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.