Ed Tech

10 unique ideas to make your professional learning sizzle

10 unique ideas to make your professional learning sizzle

Improving as an educator should be like breakfast — nutritious and delicious. Here are 10 ways to put some pizzazz in your professional development. (Flickr / dan4th)

Professional learning should be like breakfast, don’t you think?

It should be nutritious, good for you. You should come away from it better than before.

It should taste good, too. Make you want to come back for more.

In my culinary opinion, professional learning should be like an omelet. It has eggs, veggies and some lean meat for protein. But it also has some sizzle. A good omelet tastes great and you’re wish there was more when you’re done because it was that good.

These days, there is good professional learning (like the western omelet I described) and there is bad professional learning (like bland oatmeal … unless you’re into that kind of thing). With all of the phenomenal educators out there creating learning opportunities for us, thankfully there’s a wide array of options.

Here are 10 ideas to help yourself improve as an educator with a mouth full of flavor:

1. Don’t wait for professional development to come to you. In this digital age, professional development doesn’t mean a series of meetings you’re forced to have after school. You are your own best professional development. If there’s something interesting out there that others are doing — or that you’ve never seen but want to try — there are probably great resources out there to help you. Jump in and find them.

2. There’s a video — or a podcast — for that. One of the best ways to learn about a new digital tool, teaching method or technique is to watch (or listen to) someone doing it or explaining it. YouTube (and other such video sites) is a treasure trove of video tutorials and explanations of new ideas. Standards-based grading has caught my attention, and I could listen to Rick Wormeli’s video manifestos on it all day. ISTE has also uploaded a ton of presentations from its great technology conferences on YouTube as well.

3. Embrace discomfort. If you’ve been teaching the same way for years, discomfort isn’t probably something you’re familiar with. We tend to avoid it, but there’s no meaningful way to grow without stepping outside our comfort zones. Find something that makes you a little uneasy (in a safe, non-dangerous way) but also a little excited. Learn about it and then give it a shot, even if you don’t have it all figured out. For me, this was incorporating Skype in my classroom this semester. My students have done Mystery Skypes with other classes and the early results have been great.

4. Ask your students. Not sure what to learn next? Ask your students, or if you don’t have students in your role, find some to ask. Figure out what interests them, what learning works best for them, what they’d be excited to do. Then turn that into your next big thing in your classroom or career — even if it makes you uncomfortable (see No. 3).

5. Check the blogosphere. The place that gets the gears turning in brain the most is other educators’ blogs. So many outstanding teachers, principals and technology leaders share what they’re learning and doing online. All we have to do is look around. Take a quick look around the #edchat hashtag on Twitter or any number of educational Twitter chats or hashtags to find blog posts worth reading. (Or, of course, you can just subscribe to this one if you haven’t already!)

6. Get connected and listen. Thousands of educators are sharing their learning and inspirations through social networks. There are plenty of options:

  • Twitter (short 140-character messages … it’s probably the busiest education community out there right now)
  • Google Plus (longer messages and more connected conversations … the community that is probably growing the fastest)
  • Sanderling (a brand new network created by educators for educators that is growing too)
  • Pinterest (a very visual option where tons of educational resources are shared)

Choose one (or more!) that fit you best and connect with some great educators there. Then really listen to what they have to say and be brave enough to apply it.

7. Crowdsource your learning. Once you get connected to some other educators through social networks, ask them for ideas about what to learn next. You might be surprised at what they suggest. The saying goes, “The smartest person in the room is the room.” So ask the room!

8. Make it up. Your best ideas might come from analyzing your own situation. Take a good hard look at your own students, what motivates them, what gets them excited. (OK, you’ve probably done that before.) Then let your creativity flow and make up some connections to your classroom, even if — no, especially if! — you’ve never seen it done before. There’s a good chance some of those ideas will fall flat on their face. That’s OK. Change is difficult. Plus, your student will thank you for trying out new ideas.

9. Let someone rub you the wrong way. As you get familiar with online education communities, you’ll find that many of them ooze with positivity. In many ways, that’s a good thing. But if you’re not connected to some voices that challenge you, that espouse some opinions and ideas that go against what you believe, you run the risk of stagnating as a professional. People that are brave enough to challenge others in a professional, productive way are a true asset. Find some, and grow with them.

10. Create and share. The reason we have students do peer instruction applies to educators, too. We learn the most when we teach others. As you learn something new, share it. Create a free blog at Blogger or WordPress and write about it. Share it on a social network (see No. 6). Make a YouTube video about it. Because if you keep your learning to yourself, you’re being selfish.

How else can you make your professional learning sizzle? What are your favorite resources for honing your craft? Share them in a comment below!

(For notifications of new Ditch That Textbook content and helpful links, “like” Ditch That Textbook on Facebook and follow @jmattmiller on Twitter!)

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