As high school cliques go, I was never a part of the “cool kids” group. I loitered around the exterior, occasionally granted access to view what went on behind the curtain, but knowing people who know people didn’t really make much of a difference in terms of obtaining a season pass to all things elite.
I was a somewhat lovable dork, voted most compassionate of my high school class (please read this amazing post about being nice vs. being kind, because I was far too nice in high school), content to spend time laughing with my band geek friends and the ever flexible crowd made up of people who really tried not to care what went on at the “totally awesome” parties thrown by people too important to acknowledge the existence of 92% of their graduating class.
Now, in retrospect, I was saved from many things: painful experiences that would have blown my sheltered innocence far before I could handle it, drama related to pecking order and perceived slights over social class, Gatsby-esque flaps fueled by alcohol and beautiful shirts.
These days, in the professional world, having a collaborative group that functions supportively, creatively, cohesively, also has many benefits reminiscent of those true friends from years past who helped get me through, helped raise me up, helped make me better. The teachers in my department are simply amazing, and I am lucky to have a season pass to be a part of their cool.
Across the profession, some of us meet weekly (or more often) in PLC meetings. Some of us meet in spare moments after school, chance encounters in the hallway, and Google hangout planning sessions. Some of us befriend the teacher next door and talk shop at all hours. It’s about growing as professionals, even when it’s sometimes just about what we’re all “doing tomorrow.”
However, growing as a professional, these days, can also mean connections that are far from the traditional and learning that comes from very surprising places. In these trying professional times, to be a teacher requires hits of rejuvenation whenever and wherever we can get them.
Take, for example, Shana’s post from last week on her professional development enthusiasm and the message she shared with 3TT. I listened to her message and hurriedly wrote down two ideas I wanted to try right away.
That is the magic of connecting with other professionals: learning (or reviewing) what can bring back (or sustain) the spark that every classroom teacher needs in order to weather the slings and arrows of our craft.
Those sessions where you fill up page after page of quotes, insights, lesson ideas, tips, and tricks. Where you are the cool kid, not because you’ve adjusted who you are in any way, but because you have built up who you are and what you do.
Over the course of this year, I have come to see professional development as something that is happening every surprising moment, from all possible angles.
Below, some reminders (that I myself needed this year) of how empowering learning is. If we forget about, resist, or otherwise close ourselves off to new ideas, review of what works, or even the very basics of our craft (Let me hear you : teachers must be readers and writers or we are in the business of false advertising) what unfortunate hypocrisy we make of what we purport to do each and every day.
Embracing PD Opportunities Based on Your Needs
Whether it’s to pursue an advanced degree, get continuing education credits, fulfill a district initiative, or to explore a topic of interest, professional development can be hugely invigorating to daily practice (It can also be a flop and/or downright insulting, but that’s for another post).
For example, I am typing this blog post today, because I was in need. I needed support to help make the move to workshop and to lead my department through that move. I Google searched “readers and writers workshop,” started reading the 3TT blog, emailed Amy to ask her a million questions, and then insisted to my district that 3TT needed to come for professional development in Franklin. It was some of the most authentic PD I’ve received in fourteen years of teaching.
Sometimes, it can feel like professional development gets overwhelming. We have professional development opportunities at staff meetings, during mandatory extra hours outside of the school day, and in order to fulfill countless professional expectations of record keeping, curriculum development, and reflection.
However, through professional development organized by and for teachers, we learn from those who know best and know now because they are in the trenches. Seek out professional development for yourself that speaks to the needs you feel need to be met in your classroom.
Creating a PLC with Students
Sheridan lingered after class yesterday. She’s actually the inspiration for this entire post.
Shyly, she asked if it would be alright to share an article with me. “I ran across this article yesterday while I was looking for something else and it intrigued me so much that I read it.”
With a smile on my face I said, “What were you looking for?”
She laughed, “I don’t even know. I never found it! But I think you’ll like this, so I’ll send it to you.”
What arrived was a link to a Washington Post article from a few years back. Alexis Wiggins, the daughter of Grant Wiggins (of Understanding By Design fame), is also an educator and had shadowed a student for several days. Her takeaways in this article about what students experience every day hit home with me in a big way.
Not because her insights were new or because they would change everything I do on a daily basis, but for two reasons.
The ideas were a reminder of a perspective that often falls away in the face of daily routine and that reminder was shared with me by a student of my own.
Sheridan in no way was looking to make me feel bad, but she did exactly what I tell my kids that reading, sharing, and reflecting should do : remind us of what we need to make a priority each day.
Wiggins research on students needing to feel valued, engaged, and physically and mentally present isn’t new to me, but the article was the best kind of professional development: Kid centered, kid inspired, immediately applicable to my classroom.
Look for, solicit, or otherwise beg students to share with you what is making them think. Direct them to places like Austin Kleon’s newsletter or Arts and Letters Daily, so they can study new and unique ideas, talk about those insights in class, connect them to current learning, and expand your repertoire of resources, insights, and enthusiasm.
Hanging with the Cool Kids
Expanding our definitions of professional develop can also be hugely beneficial.
You’re doing it already, you know. Reading this blog. Reading other blogs, following educational news, getting active in political topics that weigh on our schools, our kids, and our jobs.
Go even further:
- Follow the English rockstars on social media– Kittle, Gallagher, Newkirk, Morrell, Miller, Anderson, just to name a few.
- Like the Facebook pages of authors your students love – I’ve had Angie Thomas and Matthew Quick like posts my students and I wrote just in the past few weeks.
- Tag big names in your posts – Opening your insights or questions up to a wider audience.
- Jump on Twitter chats – You don’t ever even need to comment, if you don’t want to. You can just read, click on links to other great articles/insights/lessons, and remain anonymous. You can watch a chat as it’s happening, or follow a hashtag back to a conversation that’s already happened and read through what was said. Here is a link to scheduled Twitter chats that educators might find value in.
Keep learning intentionally.
Not only will you open yourself to an even wider world of resources, insights, opinions, and discussion, but sometimes, you’ll hear personally from these teaching megastars, and let this fangirl tell you, that discipleship can take you all the way back to that thrilling peek behind the curtain of the cool kids.
What professional development opportunities have you found most beneficial to your career? Whether it be attendance at a national conference or stalking a Twitter chat, we’d love to have you join the conversation in the comments below!
Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of incredible English educators at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. Her favorite pens for note taking during professional development are Paper Mate Flair pens in a variety of colors. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum