How I Took Control Over My Own Professional Development

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How I Took Control Over My Own Professional Development

or ‘The Real World Masters In Education’

by John Otterstedt

Every so often, someone would tell me that I should get another degree. The reason was always the same – I would  move up the salary guide.

I wanted to move up the salary guide, yet at the same time, I wasn’t going to waste a year or two of my life in pursuit of a few extra bucks. If I was going back to school, it would be for two reasons:

  • to be inspired
  • to be a better teacher

When I glanced over the degree programs offered by my local university, my eyes glazed over. I imagined it was the same glazed-over feeling kids get when the teacher shares a daily plan of “reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.” Been there, done that.

I wanted something that would excite me – something that would take me out of my comfort zone. I wanted to be pushed in new directions. Something epic.  That is when I stumbled across a blog post by Tim Ferriss entitled: “How to Create Your Own Real World MBA.” I wasn’t interested in an MBA, but the “create your own” aspect sucked me in.  

Like me, Ferriss was uninspired by the thought of graduate school. Rather than spend tens of thousands of dollars on tuition, he decided to learn about investing by becoming an investor. He took the money that would have gone to graduate school and created an angel investment firm. Needless to say, Tim was happy with the results.

I decided to go for it.

As I sketched out my plan for my “real world masters in education,” I realized that I couldn’t do it in a bubble. I needed to bring others along for the ride. My program would have three main components:

  1. DISCOVER: I wanted to soak up ideas that would nurture, inspire, and transform me.  
  2. CREATE: I would create new units of study, as well as new learning spaces in my classroom.
  3. SHARE: I would step into the world of social media, share my learning, and make friends along the way.

I decided that the core of my “real world masters in education” would be a podcast, cultivatinggreatness.org. Although I would read books, I wanted real human interaction. Inspired by Tim Ferriss’ podcast, I decided to contact the most interesting people I could find and ask them the questions that I always wanted to ask. I found a mix of educators, humanitarians and entrepreneurs, and I tried to see what I could learn from each. I went into the project with the belief that anyone’s life experience and insights could help inform my classroom instruction – and I was right.

At the same time, I started a Twitter account (@johnotterstedt) and proceeded to familiarize myself with the platform. I spent some time lurking, but eventually became a more active contributor. As I followed more accounts, something started happening that I hadn’t anticipated. I began uncovering articles and blogs on a wide array of topics that I hadn’t given much thought to previously. I became deeply inspired by the content I found, as well as by the people who posted it. With each passing week, it became easier and easier to find guests for my podcast because Twitter was overflowing with bright, articulate, and thought-provoking people.

Thanks to Twitter, my learning expanded beyond the computer screen. After seeing countless references to #edcamp, I decided to attend their event in New Jersey on a whim. I didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out to be a transformational experience. The teacher-led staff development day inspired me to ask my principal if we could integrate components of it in our monthly faculty meetings. He agreed, and thus ignited yet another unintended victory for the “real world masters in education” program.

In the 3 months since I embarked on this journey, my classroom has undergone a significant change. My teacher desk was removed to make way for a small TV studio. Beside the studio is our new makerspace. Our first “maker” project was the creation of a PVC sound effects cube, which is a structure adorned with functioning instruments that a child can enter and use to bring a story to life.  We even included a hanging spray bottle so that a quick spray can bring a rainy day story to life! If you continue your journey around the room, you will meet the tables we covered with whiteboards. And there are more plans on the horizon!

The classroom renovations gave way to another idea, trickedoutclassrooms.com. It is a fun little site where I post pictures of unique classrooms. I hope that the photos and stories will inspire other teachers to take a long look at how they are using their classroom space.

All of this has occurred in a 90 day window. I can honestly say that I have learned more and reached a level of inspiration that I couldn’t have achieved had I opted for graduate school. I admit that I have spent more money on things to fuel my obsession (domain names, server space, tech equipment) than I had anticipated, but the expenses have been minor in the grand scheme of things.

If you feel uninspired or stagnant in your growth as a teacher, consider creating your own “real world masters in education” program. Platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Voxer will give you access to countless people who share your interests, and the best news is that most will be excited to collaborate. Sites like TeachThought and Edutopia will push your thinking in new directions, while you will have a multitude of blogging and podcast options should you choose to share your knowledge in those formats.

It’s all there waiting for you.

Adapted image attribution flickr user usdepartmentofeducation; How I Took Control Over My Own Professional Development

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