Blog-A-Month Challenge – APRIL’s TOPIC: Professional Development
As April comes to a close, I’m left pondering the topic of Professional Development. The prompts for the month suggest:
- For PD to be effective it must have the following 3 characteristics…
- The conference/book/activity that delivered the most meaningful PD experience I have had was…
- My most powerful source of ongoing PD is…
- Blogging is essential to my own PD because…
To begin, I feel that to be an educator one must really be an impassioned learner for education is not only about expertise, it is about being confident enough to make yourself vulnerable to a constancy of change and uncertainty; we are explorers, sometimes with a map, sometimes without, but we are always learning something new on each voyage, and constantly depending on our wits to respond and react to the unforeseen.
Professional Development should be the keystone to provide us with the skills and knowledge necessary to navigate the vacillating waters – of pedagogies, teaching assignments, leadership, technology, time, and especially the students – with greater success for each expedition we take. A student once said, “each day I get up trying to be better than I was the day before” (Arsh), and this was one of those moments when you could hear a choir of angels sing, this was the “aha” for all of us blessed to be in the class that day, and so this is what I too strive for both personally and professionally!
Professional development is something I depend on to fuel my growth, and I admit I’m a bit of a PD junkie; I don’t just depend on my administrative leaders to arrange what professional development I need to do to be better and grow; although, yes, as part of a community that is necessary too. But that is like saying “okay – I will eat healthy and exercise on these specifically designated days a year, and that will be enough fuel to motivate my improvement.” We all know that is ridiculous, so why would a professional teacher think their entire professional growth should be motivated by only the school’s designated PD. We grow and learn by our own intrinsic desire to improve, and our own established inquiry and PLNs (Professional Learning Networks). So in the quest of Professional Development, we need to work with our school community’s PD goals and plans, our department’s PD goals and plans, but we must also seek out the PD we know we need “to be better than [we were] the day before.”
I think that our organization at FFCA has worked hard to offer Professional Development time to help foster and tweek teachers’ growth and excellence to meet our Guiding Principles . We’ve seen PD in classroom management (CHAMPS, ACHIEVE, STOIC), in our FFCA Direct Instruction Framework, Character Education, Inclusive Education, English Language Learning, Educational Technology, etc…. I believe that teachers – me included – are one of the hardest bunch of learners in any PD session, but it can offer an opportunity to the workshop organizers to really model excellent “designed instruction” in the planning and teaching to engage these tired teachers; the greatest model of a talented teacher engaging an audience of tired teachers was when our school arranged PD with Marcia Tate’s on brain-based learning. Phenomenal!
One of the other great opportunities I have had for learning and development was through our AISI work (Alberta Initiative of School Improvement – a now dissolved Alberta Ed funding opportunity) with Critical Thinking. The training and learning that I received in developing a critical thinking classroom through Garfield Gini-Newman, the Critical Thinking Consortium, and The Critical Thinking Community was transformative in educating me in how to train myself and students to be more critically mindful! The work we did with Gini-Newman lay a foundation to help meld the ideals of Direct Instruction with Critical Thinking into a Synergistic Reality (as can be seen here in the article written by John Picard and Garfield Gini-Newman).
I’ve also been so inspired by the PD I experienced from being on our Learning Commons committee – this is an endeavour that marries so many of our school’s initiatives while providing the foresight and navigation for 21st century learning and the future redesign of eduction in Alberta. Yet, at the present time – like Columbus’ misunderstood quixotic ambitions – schools lack the funding from Alberta Education to support this transformative work. Someday I dream of evolving into a Learning Commons Leader for our school where I can help create a place to work with all students, all educators, and all curriculums in both physical and virtual settings of learning.
Finally, in our community of Calgary, I also find valuable PD from our local Calgary Regional Consortium whose mandate is to create PD opportunities for our local teachers. Through all of the various opportunities I’ve experienced at my campus, my school, and my community, I believe leaders need to mindfully craft and design PD to maximize teacher engagement, learning, and take-aways, and I am ever so grateful that our organization prioritizes PD towards helping us improve and grow.
This is also where I have come to appreciate our school’s expectation that we create and reflect on Professional Growth Plans (PGP) yearly. When working with teachers and administrators I think it is relevant to know the best PD that the teacher or administrator has ever experienced and why? How did the PD invigorate or change his or her paradigms, for we need administrators and teachers who are learners and know how to direct their own PD and accountability. It is through PD that our paradigms of education are rooted and honed towards excellence! We need great PD, we need great PLNs (Professional Learning Networks), and we need visionaries who know how to help us excel and even change, especially in a world where 21st Century Learning and Innovation in education is essential.
I also believe that the reading habits of all teachers matter – whether the educator teaches English, science, math, physical education, or is an administrator. In his book What is Stephen Harper is Reading? Yann Martel has said that the reading habits of politicians matter because “in what they choose to read will be found in what they think and what they will do”:
As long as someone has no power over me, I don’t care what they read, or if they read at all. It’s not for me to judge how people should live their lives … Once someone has power over me, … it’s in my interest to know the nature and quality of his imagination, because his dreams may become my nightmares. (Martel, p 10)
So, in regards to Professional Development, teachers and administrators should be accountable to answer:
1) What are they reading right now?
2) What professional development book would they recommend to the organization or their curricular team, perhaps as a staff book read?
3) What is their favourite book of all time – from any genre?
The answers to these questions, I believe, are the true secrets to the character and mind of the educator. There is much to be understood and inferred by these answers, and much credibility to our work with students. It can also build a synergy, community, and culture amongst staff who have common reading interests and pursuits. Would I want a doctor who did not read and stay current in his or her practice? The same needs to be said and expected of educators.
Back in 1997-98 when I was in the Teacher Education program at Nipissing University I had a great professor named Terry McEachern who taught us about the need for Professional Development through professional networking and professional journals. This was in the day when the internet wasn’t readily available at our fingertips, so I came to be enlightened through the reading of journals. Today these are a couple of journals that I continue to read for my monthly PD “aha”:
To find any journals that might interest you, see a full listing at Genamics Journal Seek. But there is also great PD through readings of:
- The Atlantic
- The English Companion Ning – this online network of professional English teachers was established by Jim Burke. On it I found countless lessons, constant inspiration, and answers to my many ponderings from wonderful educators who share their resources and experience! On this site I found one of the greatest of all people in my Professional Learning Network – the humble and talented Carol Mayne – an educator in Canmore, Alberta who has guided me through the many landmines of teaching Diploma courses in Alberta.
- The New Yorker
- Newspapers such as The Globe and Mail and The Calgary Herald.
- Blogs from great educators – like in this Blog-A-Month Challenge
- Twitter – all the links and “aha’s” of the twitter stream offer heaps of reading and PD – once you learn to navigate the busyness of these waters.
In recent years I have turned to professional literature to read and re-read and re-read – here are a few, among many, must read favourites (feel free to add your suggestions in the comments below), and here is a LINK to my GOODREADS page of PD reading I’ve been doing this year:
Of course, the true soul mate of all my Professional Development has come through the Annual Conference for the National Council of Teachers of English. I first attended in Chicago 2011 (which inspired this blog), was able to take my entire team of ELA teachers to Las Vegas 2012, and finally was offered the opportunity to be a speaker in Boston 2013 – and fingers crossed will be accepted to speak in Washington 2014 about Blogging and Storytelling. The learning and paradigm shifting that happens through these conferences has been nothing short of mind-blowing! It truly meets my PD criteria of being highly engaging, transformative learning, and have immediately applicable take-aways that improve my teaching the next day when I re-enter my classroom. I hope that I continue to afford this opportunity that re-invigorates my spirit each fall! It has made me a much happier and better teacher today, and I’m grateful!
Clearly, Professional Development is something I feel a passionate zeal for pursuing in my life. It keeps me motivated, inspired and hopeful to be the best educator that I can be for my students; it helps keep me skilled to captain my ship, for my students in these constantly changing waters. This “leave of absence” from my school for a semester, so that I could sail away abroad to sunny Argentina has been a total respite, but has also provided me the elusive TIME that I have yearned for in life. Time to find my ZEN life (as I wrote about in my other blog), but also time to invest in my professional development through reflections, reading, and writing – this blogging is a power
ful reflective tool that really helps me make sense of my values, learning, and perspectives. Many chastise me for working on “vaca”, but I argue that I’m not on “vaca”, I’m on “living”, and because I love my work too, and must return to it in the fall, I am loving the opportunity to further my learning and my growth without any pressure, so that I will return in peace with calmer waters because I am reinvigorated!