Hacking Your Professional Development

23 Apr

Hacking (verb) [hak-ing]– Creative problem solving. Finding an unconventional solution to a difficult problem.

There is no shortage of contentious issues in education. You can debate instructional methods, how to arrange a classroom, enthusiasm vs experience, the value of whole language strategies and so on. But educators agree that traditional professional development (PD) doesn’t work very well.

Nothing gets a faster eye-roll from a teacher than being told that there’s a PD session you must attend. Teachers would rather stay in the classroom teaching than be forced to do a round of ice-breakers before listening to a consultant reading Powerpoint slides. This should concern anyone involved in education. Advancements and new ideas are announced daily and more than ever educators need to be armed with the latest research and methods.

Increasingly, educators are solving this problem by hacking their professional learning. Teachers have always stayed ‘current’ with professional journals, an occasional conference or a course in the summer but hacked PD is different. Hacked PD puts teachers in charge, is immediate, immersive and leverages the power of social media to create Personal Learning Networks (PLNs). It’s a change that’s attractive to many educators.

Last week’s Google in Education Summit in Waterloo, Ontario sold out early, forcing hundreds of others to ‘attend’ from home over the internet. On May 4th hundreds more will attend EdCamp in Hamilton, Ontario. On the same day there will be EdCamps in Boston, Birmingham, Detroit, Fort Wayne and North Carolina, and that’s the case on most weekends. There’s no requirement or incentive for educators to attend these events. They do so to become better teachers and to help others do the same.

Want more useful, meaningful, self-directed and convenient professional learning? Here’s how to “Hack Your PD”

  1. Begin With Twitter: The most accessible way to take charge of your professional learning is by using twitter. Fifteen minutes a day reading tweets will introduce you to more useful ideas than you can shake a stick at. The problem isn’t finding new ideas, it’s figuring out how to manage all the new ideas you have.

  2. Follow Your Passion: Whatever you love about teaching, find others who love that too and follow them. Established tweeters regularly share amazing resources and their own thoughts and questions about teaching. They’ll tweets things that make you think and reflect, which helps you grow. You’ll encounter ideas from outside traditional education channels. Experts, parents and passionate citizens have useful and helpful ideas and different perspectives.

  3. Share: Once you feel more comfortable you’ll want to share. It may be as simple as a tough day you had or something amazing that happened in class. From there it grows. You begin to share your thoughts, opinions and ideas. You find something cool and want to share it with others who freely shared with you. You’re now a member of a fully functioning Professional Learning Network (PLN).

  4. Attend An EdCamp: EdCamps are locally organized gatherings of people who want to share and learn about education. Many attendees come to just listen and learn. There’s usually no cost and the only expectation is that you participate as best as you can and share what you’ve learned (back to your PLN). The topics discussed are often determined by what participants are interested in on the day. It’s a fun, relaxed atmosphere unlike a traditional education conference. If a session you’re in doesn’t engage you, you’re encouraged to move on and find something that does.

  5. Attend A Workshop or Conference: Every weekend this month there are conferences and workshops I want to attend. There’s no shortage of opportunities to learn, and once you look you realize that the problem isn’t where to go, but what to miss. Going to workshops on something you’re passionate about is more engaging than a mandatory PD session. It’s also a great opportunity to meet those you’ve been sharing with on twitter. Face to face is always better than virtual and it helps cement your PLN. If you can’t make it to a conference participating via a twitter “backchannel” is the next best thing. Many at the conference will be madly tweeting via the hashtag, allowing you to think and discuss from home.

  6. Present: Presenting is a wonderful way to further your personal learning. It gives you feedback on your thoughts and ideas and helps to refine them. The motivation presenting to your peers provides is like a fire that purifies your thoughts. You learn which ideas are useful and which you need to rethink. Conference presenters are often given free entry, so you also learn from other sessions.

  7. Repeat: After each step return to twitter and share. Share your thoughts, opinions, questions and ideas with your PLN.  Feed it back and give to those who helped you along the way.

There are thousands of educators on twitter, hundreds of edcamps (all over the world), hundreds of conferences and workshops and more being added all the time. The potential of hacking PD to transform teaching and education is unlimited.

Aside from the personal benefits the most important reason to hack your PD sits in front of you every school day. Your students deserve the best and latest teaching methods and ideas you can find.

Teachers are the only ones who REALLY know what they and their students need. You should be the one in charge of your professional learning. Get hacking!

14 Responses to “Hacking Your Professional Development”

  1. bgrasley April 23, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    Love this – exactly right. As teachers we need to take control of our learning!

  2. dougpete April 23, 2013 at 3:44 pm #

    That’s a nice summary that respects the professionalism that should be our goal. It’s hard to believe that it’s not the status quo. In a world where we talk about differentiation for students, you paint a PD picture of lemmings which is all too true.

    Putting on my #ecoo13 hat for a moment, I hope that you take the opportunity to read the section “What Can You Expect?” on the bringittogether.ca website. We’re going to try some new things to allow folks to “hack” the ECOO Conference.

    #ecoo13 hat off now – Many of the ideas that you list cost school districts nothing. It amazes that there isn’t more uptake on that. You even have to buy your own muffin!

    • ballacheybears April 23, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

      I chatted with Cyndie about a month ago and she shared some of the new things with ECOO. Exciting & thanks.

      In some ways the boards are hampered by accountability. They have to prove to the ministry that they’ve done certain things in certain ways. If they would just trust teachers and let them figure out and pursue what they need it would work much more effectively. The ‘best practices’ approach isn’t a very good one.

      Thanks for the comment.

  3. Lorraine April 23, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

    Joining Twitter and developing a PLN has been the most exciting and transformative thing I have ever done for my teaching practice! I couldn’t agree with you more!

  4. lisamnoble April 24, 2013 at 6:22 am #

    I wanted to stand up and cheer after I read this. I am such a flag-waver for this kind of PD, because it has made such a difference to me in my practice. I’m finding, though, that the weekend PD is a struggle when your world includes younger kids (yes, I’m planning to bring them to ECOO as a holiday), and wonder how we start to work around that reality (I have a partner who works weekends). Looking hugely forward to #ontsm this weekend.

    • ballacheybears April 24, 2013 at 6:51 am #

      Thanks Lisa. I think that more and more technology will help integrate the OD into your lives. I presented at EduCon and every session was livestreamed and recorded so it can be accessed at any time. I know that’s not the same as being there, but it’s better than nothing. I think we’re probably pretty close to a system where you can watch and interact in a conference session from home. Now if you can just get those kids to be quiet 🙂

      • lisamnoble April 24, 2013 at 1:29 pm #

        sometimes, that’s part of the challenge, too – had to put headphones on for a google hangout last night, because I was keeping one of mine awake.:) My kids are totally on board with my learning, I just have to make sure I keep the balancing act going, so that they get their share of mommy time!

  5. Fred Galang (@NomadCreatives) April 25, 2013 at 7:14 am #

    I’m not cynical of PD days. I think they’re valuable and super-important in the growth of teacher. I have a problem with 99.9% of it’s delivery howver. Have the staff stare at poorly constructed Powerpoints with speaker after speaker is simply boring. Much of my PD days happen on Twitter and WordPress. I actually almost have PD before I got to bed with a number of my late-night Tweeps (ed-related chats popping up in my time-line). Yes, some of our edchats finish before midnight. That’s PD in 2013 and beyond. Why can’t we practice alternative methods such as these and focus on more hands-on, active learning stuff on the days that we have to be physically present in school? Why are schools so averse to this?

    • lisamnoble April 25, 2013 at 7:57 am #

      Love this – I think my staff really misses the hands-on p.d., as opposed to data mining, which is what most pd is about right now where I am. Part of my challenge is convincing people to think about self-directed pd, as the trade-off.

    • bgrasley April 25, 2013 at 9:01 am #

      I’m not sure it’s always schools that are averse to “alternative” approaches to professional learning (that has a bit of stigma; “better” is likely more accurate!), but boards are often trying to use the few PD Days they have available to (a) satisfy Ministry requirements; (b) try to meet broad system needs; (c) allow schools the flexibility to meet local needs. It’s a pretty tough order, so the broad PD brush is often applied.

      Maybe we can have some kind of hybrid? Provide teachers with a topic (Ministry requirement), but allow the freedom to choose their learning approach. Some will use social media, blogs, and other sources for their research and learning; some will choose to attend a presentation by a colleague. Can’t we have both?

      I’m “presenting” tomorrow for an hour about Twitter use by teachers and in classrooms. I’m thinking hard about how to make sure it’s what people need, allowing them the flexibility to learn in their most effective, efficient way… Tips welcome 🙂

      • Lisa Noble April 26, 2013 at 10:57 am #

        sometimes I think twitter is one of the hardest sells, because people don’t see why following a bunch of celebrities is going to make them better teachers. :). small groups? show them the favourite thing you found today/this week? show them what @dougpete tweets, and defy them to not find it useful, then let them play.

        I love the idea of “pick your learning approach” – how do you want to learn about this and show your learning? that would be lovely.


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