by Mike Fisher, The Digigogy Collaborative
I used to sit in workshops that were peripherally, if at all, related to my professional practice. I’d spend hours in a physical face-to-face workshop and leave with maybe one or two ideas that mattered to me. I may or may not have acted on those ideas dependent on how stressed the workshop left me, knowing that I had classroom responsibilities that superseded what some suit was telling me about what should matter.
It was a broken but ensconced system for growing professionally that ignored the fact that there were things that personally mattered to me and the students I taught. I wasn’t asked if the PD interested me; I was just told to go. I received my initial teaching certificate in 1998, a time when I was well aware of the information the internet had to offer. As I started following educators across the myriad social networks I participated in (first with listservs and physical chat rooms), I learned quickly that scheduled and barely relevant PD was too long of a wait to get vital, transformational information.
Unlike traditional and months-in-advance-planned face-to-face professional development, being a connected educator has afforded me “just in time” learning opportunities 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This was even before the popular social networks were entrenched in the fabric of today’s PD landscape. I’ve known for more than a decade the value of socio-technological engagement. No workshop I can attend now is more valuable or offers me more perspective than my online digital professional learning network (DPLN).
I’d like to clarify that what I’m writing about is not necessarily about technologies per se, but about what we’re doing with the technology that matters. I am laser-focused on my objective: How can I grow professionally with a cadre of peers that “gets” what I’m seeking to master?
With initiatives like Connected Educator Month in October, it has become easier than ever to connect with motivated peers who want to find and share resources. And with participation from organizations like ASCD, who are leading the Educator Professional Development & Learning theme, the amount and accessibility of expert-created, high-quality content continues to increase.
So, why is Connected PD important? Why do we need to ask questions about professional practice? Why does it matter that I share success with fellow educators? To start, here are three things every educator needs to consider when deciding to participate in “just in time” learning using social and online tools and applications:
3 Reasons It’s Time For A Digital Professional Learning Network
1. Get what you need at the moment you need it.
With today’s platforms, you can always find useful materials and immediately share what you’ve discovered. Need a quick idea for differentiating instruction? Tweet to a friend! Created an innovative way to teach Plate Tectonics? Blog about it! Want to converse about the impact of race and culture in today’s classrooms? Create a Facebook page or start a discussion on the ASCD EDge social network for educators! 24/7 availability! (And save any of these online with Diigo or LiveBinders or Pinterest so you’re not printing any of it!)
All you have to do is plug into these already created social networks and receive the benefit of always available resources that are relevant to your professional inquiries and your right now needs.
2. If Collaboration and Communication are two important 21st Century Skills, then educators should be the model for the way it works.
At P21.org, you can learn about the 21st Century Skills that matter, including collaboration and communication. Teachers (and administrators) are used to being silos–working alone and seeing their content as real estate to be protected–and could benefit from networking with others that are teaching the same content or grade level. There’s a great website from Harvard’s Project Zero that details different ways to engage thinking strategies around what we are learning.
Everybody already knows Think-Pair-Share, but there are six other strategies on Project Zero’s website that would be worth thinking about when we decide, as professionals, how we can enhance our professional practice through group thinking with others who care about the same things we care about. These thinking strategies are not just for kids. I use them in PD right now to assist adults in thinking about how the PD will improve their professional practice.
You have the opportunity to grow so much when you leverage a network of like-minded peers to help you navigate the modern landscape that our students live in.
3. Preparing kids for right now skills with right now applications is an imperative in education, not a choice.
We don’t have any more time to analyze and plan. We need to act. Our classrooms still look so much like they did when we (the readers of this blog post) were in school; maybe even when our parents were in school. The children we are preparing to enter the world are not entering at a 1985 ideal–they are entering at 2025. What are we doing with our content that is preparing them for the world they live in (or the world they will graduate into?)?
It’s not okay to value the system for the sake of comfort anymore. It’s not okay that “the way we’ve always done it” is still a reason to continue doing it. It’s not okay that educators don’t move beyond their own comfort zones to seek out innovation and 21st Century mindsets and web tools that might aid in the demonstration of learning. Your network can help you prepare for these right now skills, right now.
Teaching is still a valued field. While it might not seem like it in the current landscape of new standards, teacher evaluations, new assessments, and a magnified lens of impact; teachers are still incredibly important. That said, teachers are way more effective in their intentions when they work together to affect change and improve their professional practice.
Regardless of role or method, educators need to connect to one another. They need to see the value in sharing their differing versions of expertise and perspective and how even simple conversation can change the course of their instruction, their professional practices, and their identities as teachers of contemporary students.
Michael Fisher is a former teacher who is now a full-time author, consultant, and instructional coach. Michael is the author of Digital Learning Strategies: How do I assign and assess 21st Century Work? and the co-author of Upgrade Your Curriculum: Practical Ways to Transform Units and Engage Students, both published by ASCD. His latest e-book is Exploring the Close Reading Standard: Ideas and Observations; Why It’s Time For A Digital Professional Learning Network; Why Connected Professional Development Is Now An Imperative; adapted image attribution flickr user usarmycorpofengineerssavannahdistrict