Sunday, September 29, 2013

Developing the Professional #SAVMP

I was probably in my third year of teaching before I experienced any formal professional development that was both meaningful and relevant. Every year I sat through numerous sessions that involved someone at the district level reading a PowerPoint to a group of teachers, usually in a cramped and ridiculously uncomfortable classroom.  I remember early in my career sitting on a radiator (there were no seats left in the room) in a classroom that was 100 degrees, watching cockroaches run in and out of the slats upon which I was sitting.

Needless to say, I didn't gain much from these sessions. I realized quickly that if I wanted to develop as a teacher I would have to make connections and find outside resources. I had a tight group of English teachers in my first-year cohort and we shared ideas and lessons regularly. I also began to "steal" from teachers that shared their lessons online and had class websites. It was like hitting gold when I could get a glimpse into someone else's classroom.

It wasn't until my fourth year of teaching that I began working at a school that tapped into the talents of its own staff. My current school, Patterson Park Public Charter School, ran almost 100% of our PD's in-house, meaning staff got choices and were empowered to facilitate sessions they felt would be meaningful. We also dedicate one afternoon each week to PD. Students leave early on this day and the staff engage in a wide range of development experiences.

In helping my school think through what professional development could be, and working over the summer with An Estuary, a professional development startup based in Baltimore, I have grown to believe that teachers should be in charge of developing themselves as professionals. In the words of Shelly Blake-Plock, "Teachers should control their development because teachers actually matter." Shelly and his team really started to change my views on what PD could be if we just connected teachers and enabled them to take charge of their own learning in meaningful ways.

The greatest form of development I have found as a professional has been through the connections I have made with other teachers and administrators. Through Twitter, I have been fortunate enough to be exposed to so many different ideas and people, all of which have shaped my own teaching practices. I have learned more from being connected to these people than I have from any class or PD session I have attended. I am exposed to articles, studies, videos, chats, and blogs that serve as the most powerful form of personal and professional development. 

These experiences, and my Professional Learning Network, has changed my teaching, and my overall attitude towards the profession, in powerful ways. Building these relationships allows me to share what I am doing with people that care about me and my students. They cheer us on, help us when we fall, and push our thinking so we can be better tomorrow. 

Recently, I also started playing around with an app called Sanderling. This is an amazing tool for someone like me, a teacher that is constantly doing development activities outside of my school and classroom. I tweet about this stuff, talk to staff, and blog about it, but I have never actually tracked my progress. This tool enables me to create projects and log my activities in a field journal. I can connect with others that are interested in working on the same projects, create lists, and reflect on activities I engage in along the way.

We all benefit, we all learn, and we all grow.

What this really comes down to is the power we all have to develop each other. Our voices are important. Our experiences offer change and hope. Our failures guide us into success when we share with others. Teaching can be lonely and isolating. Sharing opens our doors and breaks down the walls. What we do each day is important and we need to show the world. Teaching together yields better results than teaching alone. On a personal note, it has also helped me build some of the most amazing friendships with people that truly care about me and my students, and that I deeply care about in return. 

Does it get much better than that?

Whose voices do you listen to when crafting development experiences? Are you giving teachers and staff what they need, or are you forcing square pegs into round holes? When designing PD for teachers, are you tapping into the talents of your staff, thus empowering them to share something special about their own work with others? Do you treat your staff as professionals that are smart and talented enough to have autonomy and develop their own professional needs?

When thinking about developing the professionals around you, listen to what they need, both individually and collectively. Empower your staff to share with one another and the world outside of their classrooms. Encourage them to disseminate their own talents and knowledge, as it will lift them up and help them grow.

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