by Dawn Casey-Rowe, Social Studies Teacher & Learnist Evangelist
See parts 1-4 in this series, PD Sucks. Is Edcamp the Solution?, Pairing Teachers for Better Professional Development, Hacking Your Classroom and Moving The Conversation From Bullying To Climate
I got together with a friend yesterday. I knew I would have fun. It’s always good to sit with a friend, and there was coffee, so either way it was destined to be good, but I left feeling such rejuvenation. My friend is a teacher as well.
Usually, when I get together with my teacher friends, there is venting. I always speak well of students–that’s the part of the job I love–looking into the eyes of a kid and knowing he or she can be great.
Sometimes I’ll confess, the system gets me down. My husband joins in on these chats, then later says “Why are you all in education? You can’t change the system.” It must sound awful to a non-educator. Many people feel powerless. The only cure for powerlessness is inspiration.
Yesterday, my friend came over, and we talked about education and life. We compared notes, talked strategy, and discussed success and admitted to disasters. I high-fived myself for having an excellent unannounced evaluation. I call them “drive-bys.” She told me about her not-so excellent one. She had invited her evaluator into the one class that gives her trouble because, she said, “I really wanted coaching and professional development.” I buried my head in my hand.
My inner satire took over.
“Evaluations are to make us look good–they affect or rating and certification. Coaching and development–should be done among friends.” Now, of course that’s terrible advice–it’s not the intent of evaluations at all. Regardless of whether we have that coaching and inspiration support in place at school, the responsibility to help, coach, and inspire each other lies within each and every one of us. We are each other’s best inspiration and finest support structure. We must put in the time to make that happen.
I shared my #GeniusHour successes and what I thought might be my areas of opportunity with the project. She gave me some ideas. She told me about her team teaching experience and how wonderful it had been to team teach with someone with whom she worked so well. We each left with things to think about, even though it was “only coffee with a friend” who happened to be a teacher. We left rejuvenated. The word “rejuvenated” came up about five times. I am still feeling positive and inspired to act on those ideas.
It occurred to me–This is professional development. In the purest sense of the word, this is the true essence of professional development. Sometimes we think of formalized PD–our meetings, gatherings, PD days, seminars, and presentations. We often think about self-directed PD–our Twitter chats, our EdCamps, and our reading and research. However, true professional development is much simpler. It is anything that makes me better, more efficient, more skilled…and more inspired.
This week’s Better PD series is about inspiration, the most organic form of PD. Whether it’s a science lesson inspired by a flower, or a beautiful sunset bringing to mind some poetry that can be used in class, inspiration is at the heart of passion. When we have inspiration and passion, we seek to do more, better. Inspiration can often be found in others, in friendships, and in learning from the best.
Please read, follow, and contribute to this Learnist board, “Find Your Own Inspiration” on the subject of inspired teaching. How can we remember to take time for inspiration, and be inspired by others? This is PD we can do across school boundaries and even in day-to-day living.
1. Use social media
There are so many places to find inspiration, both in teaching sites and in hobbies and passions. In addition to having written a best selling book that caused a national phenomena in the inspiration department. Teach Like a Pirate author Dave Burgess insists on time to pursue hobbies. This helps us build ourselves back up and gives us ideas for our classes at the same time.
2. Find opportunities to share your teaching
I’d love to have more people in to watch my class, but if the people I want to share with aren’t in my school, perhaps I can still share? I’m going to start videotaping segments and meeting to discuss how I could improve a lesson or tweak a system. There are so many things we can make better by sharing. I’d love to have entire collaborative Learnist boards of lessons on subjects including best practices.
You might consider pooling Google Docs and collaborating cross departments as well. Looking at things from different lenses always inspires me.
3. Create your own partnership and agree to meet once or twice a month
Have a coffee club on the subject of inspiring things. Commit to discussing the positive, or working on one great thing each meeting. Share out one or two ideas that truly inspired you each meeting.
If nothing else, connect with a nurturing PL online.
4. Design a system of shoutouts
Nothing spreads inspiration like being around inspiring people. Create a newsletter of inspiring things and good practices. Make up awards. Do unexpected positive things.
No matter what you decide, seek out inspiration, then pass it on to someone else. Inspiration is, in fact, contagious. If you need a bit more, it’s easy to find, and when you do, it multiples. There will be plenty to share.
5. Focus on the students
The students are probably why you became a teacher. If you listen closely to them, instead of always telling them, you might learn something. Every interaction with a student is a chance for inspiration.
Adults will let you down far more often than students.
6. Keep a portfolio of the best work
Collect a portfolio just for you–not for “vertical alignment,” passing on to the next grade, scoring, or ranking. Just a folder, digital space, classroom wall, or some other constant visual reminder of the best work students have been inspired to in your classroom.
And make it “elegant.” Well-designed. Visual. Interesting. Stimulating. It deserves it!
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