Start Somewhere

I am attending FETC in Orlando this week. If you have never been I’d encourage you to give it a go if your school/district can send you. Bring a team if you can. Get your district leadership to attend. There’s lots of great learning and many great people to connect with. However, this post isn’t just about why you should attend a conference.

From now all the way through summer is when the in-person conference opportunities really ramp up. We’re hearing more and more about personalizing learning, creating innovative learning opportunities, devices, coding, 3d printing, makerspaces, and the list can certainly go on and on. Many of you will be at these events. My question is, however, “Are the right people attending?”.

When anyone attends an event like FETC, ISTE, etc., there’s going to be an over-abundance of information coming at you. What’s important to do though, even before sitting through one session, is to identify one particular area that you want to begin with to change teaching and learning in your classroom or school. If you intake all this information (don’t get me wrong these events give you lots of great information) without a plan of what you’re going to do after the event is over, you’re not only doing yourself a disservice, but you’re doing kids a disservice too. Create your plan of where to start before the learning even begins.

bob marley quote image

3 Steps to Creating Empowered Leadership in Your School

This post was also a guest post for McGraw-Hill Education.

All too often in education – whether that be at a conference, in a professional learning workshop, or even at a faculty meeting, we have become used to one person in the room being the “expert”, or the “Oz” around a particular topic. While these leaders are certainly needed to help us shift our thinking and culture around teaching and learning, they should not stay the only authority on a topic for long. As educational
leaders; superintendents, assistant superintendents, directors, principals, and assistant principals – are we investing the time to build leadership capacity in others? It is my belief that the best leaders create more leaders. We should all strive to be a 
“multiplier”, someone who wishes to increase leadership capacity in others.

So, how do we do this? I would like to offer a few suggestions.

  1. Help others realize their influence potential.

In my experience as a leader in the world of educational technology, I have watched many teachers over and over again not give themselves enough credit in terms of their ability to influence their colleagues. This usually starts with a fair amount of fear followed by self-doubt of their ability to offer anything substantial to their fellow teachers. We have to diligently keep encouraging educators to try moving forward with one thing at a time. More often than not, teachers attend some type of professional learning event and come back to their classroom not knowing where to begin; feeling overwhelmed and therefore not doing anything. This is the worse possible post-event outcome I can think of. Pick one thing, get really good at it and boom! You’re now in a position to influence others; whether that be in a face to face setting, writing a blog post about it, or just sending out an email to colleagues for some healthy “Hey check out this awesome thing I tried!”.  In being a connected educator for just over 8 years now, this is such a rewarding thing to witness for me personally, to see other teachers have success, and be excited to share it with others.

2. Create opportunities for others to spread their genius.

Are you making time for others to share their stories? During that next professional learning workshop, faculty meeting, or even in that next electronic newsletter, is time being devoted/given for your own people to share the great things they’re doing? If no, then why not? As someone who leads presents conference sessions and workshops quite often, one of my upfront disclaimers is always something to the effect of, “By all means, please not only stop me with questions, but please also stop me to share your own story about how (insert topic here) has changed teaching and learning for the better in your classroom.”. Make a commitment to give a teacher 5-10 minutes of your next staff meeting to share something awesome they did. You’re not only creating the opportunity here for a teacher to spread their genius, you’re creating a tremendous sense of empowered leadership in them too!

Have you looked at digital options for people to share? What about creating a professional learning blog for your school or district and having a guest author each month? Just like our students, some teachers feel way more comfortable expressing themselves electronically than they would if you ask them to speak face to face to their peers. Create a district hashtag for sharing professional learning (our district’s is #GVEaglePD) and get teaches sharing their learning out loud on Twitter. It not only gives a voice for others to share the great things they’re doing, but it also creates an online learning community within your school or district that can be a source of learning for others.

3. Commit to a plan of sustainability

The bottom line here, is that this can’t be a “flash in the pan” thing. None of what I’m sharing with you in this blog post is meant to be a “one and done” event. It must be ongoing, and become the norm; an everyday component of how we grow as educators to be the best we can be for our students. We’re at the verge of 2017 and we still are talking about “21st-century skills” or creating “21st-century teaching and learning environments”. How about it all just becomes “teaching and learning”? Don’t we owe it to our teachers and our students to see the importance of learning from each other on a regular basis?

Have you ever thought about creating edcamp style professional learning opportunities for teachers? The chances are really high that at least one person in your school or district has been to an edcamp before. Creating your own edcamp learning event is a prime way to get people sharing the great things they’re doing. I promise you that after you do this once, teachers will be wanting it again and again so just plan on doing this at least a couple times a year. I have seen this offered in the summer before the start of a new school year, and also as part of a district professional learning day when students are not at school. It’s awesome!

We have so many teachers doing great things in our schools. That knowledge and expertise can’t remain contained within the 4 walls of their classrooms. To keep it that way is a professional disservice to our colleagues and a learning disservice to our students. It’s not about finding the time, it’s about making the time.

leader-quote

What matters in teacher professional development?

Cross posted at the SMARTBlog on Education.

What’s been your most valuable PD experience? Come on, there’s got to be one! I want you to think about what made it meaningful for you. The time where you left feeling excited to try something new and jump in feet first. You felt like you were ready to conquer the world and couldn’t hardly wait to impart this new practice/knowledge to your students.

Was it one thing? A combination of things? Was it the facilitator? Another attendee you connected with?

While I haven’t been facilitating PD for teachers for very long (coming up on 9 years), I believe there are some factors that make professional development work well and help teachers leave feeling successful. I’ve encapsulated them within three things, in no particular order.

Choice

Everybody likes choices right? Aren’t we keeping to a pretty narrow-minded view of learning if it’s only presented in a “one means to an end” fashion? Teachers need choices about what they’re interested in, passionate about, and what matches their readiness level.

These choices can be given as a traditional model of professional development, in which teachers attend a class/workshop on a specified date and time and have to physically be in attendance, or choices could be given in the form of online learning via screencasts, live webinars, or social media. The point is to offer choice and in turn allow whatever choice teachers make to be credited as a viable means of professional development.

Value

What types of learning illicit value? Fill in this blank: Learning is valuable to me when _____.  If teachers are going to invest time in professional learning, whether it be face to face or online, voluntary or involuntary, we all want to finish feeling it was valuable. When I facilitate PD, do I have a set agenda and plan in place? Of course I do. Do I ever intentionally or unintentionally deviate from the plan? Always. I am sure to let teachers know that this is their learning and I want them to feel our time together was valuable. If that means detours are taken and even some things are repeated so be it. We should want all students, regardless of age, to feel the value in what they’re learning.

Sometimes discovering the value in our learning experiences can lead to taking a self-directed deeper dive into a topic as well. Do you remember the last time that happened?

My response to the fill in the blank above? Learning is valuable to me when I understand the ‘why’ before the ‘how’.

Support

We’ve offered choices, come to understand the value, and are ready to accept the charge laid before us. Or are we? What if something doesn’t go according to plan (this never happens with technology)? If I’m in need of help where do I turn?

Teachers need multiple lifelines of support. This is a critical component of teacher professional development. Let’s say it’s the end of your face to face workshop. We need to make sure our teachers are aware of whom to contact, where to look, what to Google, etc. before they leave us. It can be an email address, the link to a backchannel, a Google Group, an Edmodo group, etc. Sure, teachers in my district know how to contact me, but I still remind them to please contact me whatever outlet I choose to provide. It can be a one way communication to you or a tweet on a hashtag. It can be both. Learn about the teachers you serve, just like we learn about the students we serve. We all need to know that support is there if we need it.

Are these the only components to making teacher professional development have meaning? No, but I think they’re three of the most important. What matters to you in making your professional development worthwhile? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!

“You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives. ~Clay P. Bedford