A Year Without Professional Development

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a dry season (personal photo)

Wow! This is looking like a dry season for me in the area of professional development this year. For me, this creates a feeling of sadness deep within my soul. Why? Because I LOVE TO LEARN!!!

I suppose I should define the “dry season” that lies ahead.

  • I finished COETAIL courses in May. This means no regular assigned readings, no required blog posts, and no tuition bills to pay.
  • I already have a Master’s degree. A PhD is a next logical step…or is it?
  • I finished my two-year stint as my school’s NESA representative, which included attendance at the NESA Spring Educator’s Conference.
  • I’m not up for school-sponsored PD this year. Our PD budget is essentially for the constant training, maintenance, and upkeep of our IB programmes (PYP, MYP, and DP). I am not a classroom teacher, so I totally accept that training classroom teachers is priority. (But, darnit!, there’s a great opportunity in February focused on aligning the Common Core with IB programmes.)
  • I have no problem financing my own PD. In fact, I often do. However, I have nothing currently in the works.

So, where does this leave me? I think it leaves me in charge of an opportunity to redefine what professional development means for me. If I’m honest, this year without professional development has, thus far, been full of professional development. I’m just finding myself on the other side, doing far more giving of PD rather than receiving.

  • Coaching. After attending a phenomenal 5-day Critical Friends Group coaching workshop at the NESA SEC, I am motivated to become a facilitator. The first step includes establishing a CFG of teachers in my school and working with them over the course of the school year (and beyond, I presume). This is currently underway.
  • Leading and Seeking. This year in particular, I am frequently at the forefront of divisional meetings and professional development initiatives at my school. In this capacity, I use CFG protocols in order to promote collaborative conversations around practices that directly impact student achievement. Being in front can be an enormous learning experience! To ensure growth, I do ask for feedback. Below is the basic survey form that I have used a few times. I’ve fallen behind on asking for feedback, so this is a good reminder to get back on track.
  • Collaborating. The majority of this professional development leading involves a lot of collaborative planning with administrators and other teacher leaders.
  • Presenting. I create a fair amount of visual presentations. In a recent in-house PD session by Jeff Layman on presentation design, I was reminded of those amazing teachings from COETAIL course 3 on visual literacy. Jeff and his reminders helped me to move outside of my thinking about presenting text to an audience. There is a way. So, I will be focusing on continuing to grow my visual presentation skills.
  • Researching. I am often in research mode. Due to the nature of a five-year curriculum review cycle (and just needing to know stuff about curriculum-related topics) there is always a curriculum to be reviewed. I find myself with numerous tabs open in my browser that contain information about curriculum development, curriculum implementation, trends in literacy, math instruction, best practices in [fill in the blank], etc. There are also the plethora links to recorded webinars piling up in my inbox and iTunes U to further explore. Then it’s all about making sense of the research and its implications.
  • Accepting. Perhaps this is a year when I will be less of a consumer of professional development and more a producer. <Gulp!> The good news here is that by producing I can still develop professionally. How can I not? As long as I have a clear plan, seek/receive regular feedback, and reflect, I should end up more professionally developed in June 2014 than I am today. 🙂

 For it is in giving that we receive.
― St. Francis of Assisi


lush oasis (personal photo)

So, ultimately I am activating COETAIL, Part Deux. My goals are emerging based on this blog post. I certainly have some areas that will be my focal points. My year without professional development is looking to be less like a dry desert and more like a lush, fertile oasis.




Demonstrate. Collaborate. Communicate. Model.

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I have collaboration on the brain. It is also on the brains of other educators and curriculum coordinators, as evidenced by my Tweep, Stacy, in her recent blog post. I love to collaborate. Some of my fondest teaching memories are those brainstorming, planning, developing, moderating, and creating with numerous colleagues over the past couple of decades. However, in a new position that finds me in an office all alone, well, my opportunities to collaborate are not quite as numerous as they once were. Perhaps they could be more plentiful, but collaboration doesn’t feel as easy as it was back in the days of planning as part of a grade-level or subject-specific team.

When lists of 21st century skills are compiled, collaboration is one skill in particular that is a constant. When considering the National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers (NETS-T) developed by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), it is clear that the collaborative process is key to meeting many outcomes successfully, thus strongly implying that a collaborative process be in place. The NETS-T document puts forth

The standards for evaluating the skills and knowledge educators need to teach, work, and learn in an increasingly connected global and digital society

The third standard addresses “model[ing] digitial age work and learning.” Through this standard “teachers exhibit knowledge, skills, and work processes representative of an innovative professional in a global and digital society.” In order to successfully meet this standard, teachers in the digital age should be able to:

Demonstrate fluency in technology systems and the transfer of current knowledge to new technologies and situations

For me, this is perhaps the easiest of the four outcomes. I live and breathe this particular outcome. Through demonstration, those around me have observed my comfort level with and ability to use technology, both personally and professionally. I used to disregard the comments and compliments from my colleagues, but I have gradually grown to accept that I really have achieved a level of technological fluency that is certainly not possessed by the masses. So, I forge ahead learning new apps, reading articles, reflecting, blogging, and growing through a program like COETAIL.

Collaborate with students, peers, parents, and community members using digital tools and resources to support student success and innovation

Teaching in a classroom allows for collaborating with the student population. However, the thought of moving out into the next layers of the school community provokes a feeling of overwhelming futility. This may be a slightly extreme reaction, but the thought of transferring my knowledge of technology to my peers feels like an enormous task.

Firstly, there are about 180 teachers on staff. One hundred and eighty! To accomplish the feat of just working with the sheer volume of bodies would require a small army. This is where a support team of technology coaches would be useful. These coaches would ideally be full-time positions with no other job responsibility than working to support teachers. However, even a handful of teachers willing to take on small tasks with teaching teams would be helpful.

Secondly, like students in a heterogeneously grouped classroom, my 180 peers possess such a wide range of  comfort levels, background knowledge, skills, and motivation that a one-size-fits-all approach seems destined to fail. In this situation a differentiated approach to professional development would be the only way to go.

Thirdly, addressing the needs and varying levels of interest and abilities of an entire staff requires a vision, support, and time. In order to reach for the NETS-T a clear plan of action is required.

Communicate relevant information and ideas effectively to students, parents, and peers using a variety of digital age media and formats

Communicating information and ideas effectively is certainly simplified through blogs, newsletters, Twitter, Facebook, and email. These tools for communication allow for the wide dissemination of information in a timely manner. As a direct result of familiarizing myself with the NETS-T document, I realized that the communication piece might be an area to address in order to foster an increase in meaningful collaborations. This week I began the Curriculum Weekly blog.  My intention is that this blog will help to facilitate the sharing of some basic information about 21st learning that will reach a significant percentage of my 180 peers on staff. If I am really lucky, this blog will serve to nurture a collaboration or two for myself, as well as many others.

Model and facilitate effective use of current and emerging digital tools to locate, analyze, evaluate, and use information resources to support research and learning

This is about “sharpening of the saw” as referenced by Stephen Covey. It is through “balanc[ing] and renew[ing] resources, energy,” and knowledge that we develop our skills and remain effective. For me, this is where my social network plays a role in helping me to achieve this standard. It is through following all of those links shared by friends and strangers on Facebook and Twitter, watching TED talk videos, reading the Mashable blog, and ‘messing around’ with new media that we develop proficiency in “model[ing] and facilitat[ing] effective use of current and emerging digital tools.” It also takes courage to blaze the trail to show others how it’s done!

The four verbs that introduce each of these outcomes hold the key to the 21st century skill of collaboration. Each action is connected to, and can lead to, the establishment of a collaborative environment. Through demonstrating our technological fluency, we present ourselves as capable to assist and lead. Through collaboration with various stakeholders, we learn from each other as we build relationships and make connections. Through communicating our knowledge and experiences, we open ourselves to new possibilities. Through modeling our learning about, and use of, emerging digital tools, we position ourselves to be ready to grow ideas within a collaborative situation.