Tag Archives: Professional Development

Five Summer Reads For Teachers

1 Jul

Classes may have ended three days ago but to my “fantasy mind” summer vacation still hasn’t started. The first “official” day of summer vacation is tomorrow when, after a long weekend, THE REST OF THE WORLD resumes regular life and I don’t.

This is the most precious moment of the summer vacation, when it’s all about to happen, full of potential. In my first couple of summers as a teacher I learned that July and August can disappear faster than a kiddie cone at the beach. At the start of summer vacation I pause and appreciate the ten weeks stretching out before me and ask “What will I do? How will I use this gift?”

I’m also aware of how quickly the lessons of the previous year fade. In the blink of an eye I’ll be thinking and planning for next year, not considering what did and didn’t work last year. That’s why, in early July, I also try to think about what I need to know more about to make learning in my classroom better. How can I improve my knowledge and understanding of teaching and learning?

This year I’ve compiled a list of five books I’d like to read to help make the 2013-14 school year as good as possible. Here they are:

  1. Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life by Ken Robinson & Lou Aronica. This is the follow-up book to Sir Ken Robinson’s book The Element about the importance of finding your passion. Finding Your Element contains strategies to help people find their passion. I’m hoping I can use some of those strategies with students so that when we discuss topics they’d like to learn about I’m met with fewer blank stares and more enthusiastically raised hands.
  2. Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined by Scott Barry Kaufman. Kaufman, a cognitive psychologist who was “relegated to special education as a child” uses the latest research to question our traditional notions of intelligence and suggests that what we consider exceptionalities or learning difficulties are really different forms of intelligence. I’d like to learn more about this. I think our current ideas about what makes someone ‘smart’ are much too narrow.
  3. Teaching with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen. The subtitle of this book “What Being Poor Does to Kids’ Brains and What Schools Can Do About It” is intriguing. Society and schools greatly underestimate the effect of poverty on children’s learning. Comparing student achievement without taking these effects into consideration is both unfair and damaging to student learning. I’m especially interested in what I can do as a teacher to offset the impact poverty has on my students.
  4. Visible Learners by Ben Mardell, Mara Krechevsky, Melissa Rivard, and Daniel Wilson. I’ve long been a fan of the Reggio Emilia approach to teaching and learning but am unsure how to apply those principles in a “mainstream” classroom. This book provides “…practical ways to enhance learning by increasing collaboration and critical thinking across grade levels and subject matter”. There are also strategies to improve educators’ ability to observe learning effectively with minimal impact on the learning, something I want to improve at.
  5. Teaching: It’s Harder Than It Looks by Gerry Dee. Dee is a stand-up comedian and star of the CBC comedy Mr. D about Gerry Duncan: an under-qualified high school social studies teacher. Before becoming an entertainer Dee was a physical education teacher and hockey coach at De La Salle College (Toronto)“Oaklands”, a private co-ed high school in Toronto. This book is a collection of his funniest anecdotes about teaching and, according to a couple of colleagues who’ve read it, it’s pretty funny. I hope so. Summer shouldn’t just be about serious learning for teachers or students. It should also be a time to recharge and reenergize  Reading this will, hopefully, put a spring back in my teaching step so that, come September, I’m excited to again jump ‘once more into the breach’ with a smile on my face.

How about you? Any summer books for teachers you’d like to recommend? Suggestions in the comments please.

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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!

Why “PD Days” are Neither Professional nor Developing

22 Sep

How we think about and approach teacher Professional Development (PD) is  almost entirely wrong. Especially externally mandated PD Days and PD activities imposed on teachers by education administrators (by “admin” I’m not referring to principals but the multiple layers of education bureaucracy. I think Principals are just as frustrated and disengaged with our current PD system as teachers).

Here’s the evidence:

  1. PD Days Don’t Matter: PD Days were cut back to save money. A teacher’s federation and the Ministry of Education decided that PD Days, the opportunity to improve the skills of teachers and a cornerstone of recent improvements in our education system,  were unimportant and could be cancelled to save money and get a deal. This has since been imposed on all Ontario public school teachers. The message: PD days are a frill, and unimportant.
  2. PD Days That Don’t Improve Teaching: This week I will attend a PD session that will not improve my teaching, nor is it intended to. My school is part of the control group for a math research project. My role is to deliver my regular math program so that researchers can compare it with the impact of a new math program. Someone decided that it isn’t fair to give the test group teachers PD time and not give the control group teachers any. So next week I will attend a PD session to help me to deliver the same math program I am currently delivering.
  3. Alphabet Soup That Always Tastes The Same: The school I teach at will be part of another board/ministry mandated PD program to help raise school EQAO scores (we do this every year). The program sounds exactly the same as the program we were part of last year, but has a different acronym. The program requires that I will be absent from the classroom for ten times throughout the school year. That means ten sets of plans I must prepare, ten days that learning conditions will be less than optimal for my students and ten occasions I’ll have to take take time to help the class recover and catch up.
  4. PD as a Perk or a Rest: A former principal treated PD opportunities as perks for teachers who did things in the school. I coached a team and got sent to a workshop on report cards. I guess she thought I deserved a break? She’s not alone in the view that PD opportunities are really just a chance to rest and recuperate from the daily grind of the classroom and nothing more.

How can “experts” claim to know so much about learning but not apply it to PD? Engagement is essential to learning and allowing choice and control over learning enhances engagement. I’m encouraged to use Differentiated Instruction with students, but often, when I show up to a PD session I am required to sit, listen and do what I am told while someone reads slides to me. There is little opportunity to learn in any method other than those mandated by the instructor.

This situation drives me crazy. It’s insulting. As professionals, teachers should be able to use our judgement to determine what we want or need to develop and in what direction. This is the respect given to students as they enter high school and increased as they progress. In university, students get lots of choices. Other professionals get to control their personal growth. Why, when it comes to teachers, do we force everyone to learn the same stuff in the same way?

Our current PD system ignores that I am the resident expert in my teaching situation. I know what resources I have at my disposal, what strategies I can use successfully with the particular blend of students I have at that moment and what I might need to make my program better. Why would somebody whose never seen me teach or met my students be better positioned to decide what I need to do?

This happens because PD days or mandated PD workshops aren’t really “PD”. They are efforts by administrators to control teachers and make them accountable. PD has become a tool for educrats to reach into classrooms and force teachers to do things as they prescribe, because they think they know best.

This ignores the reality that teachers know but is rarely publicly expressed. The only person who really knows what goes on in a classroom is the teacher. My colleagues who teach in adjacent classrooms might suspect what my weaknesses are, but only I really know if things went as I intended. Teachers are the only ones who can affect student learning and so the only ones who can guide their professional development. The sooner the education system accepts this the better.

We need a PD system that respects teachers as professionals and allows them to get the learning and support they really need. Anything less is insulting to teachers and by extension the students and families they serve.