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Professional Development | Viewpoint

3 Simple Steps to Do-it-yourself Professional Development

Today, every teacher needs to be in charge of his or her own professional development, if for no other reason than district budgets require everyone to be so much more creative. However, there needs to be a balance between the formal and informal.

Formal professional development would be workshops, conferences, and college classes. Informal learning could be attending an un-conference; following a back channel from a live professional development event like a conference; or watching videos on YouTube, Teacher Tube, or School Tube. Informal learning also might be as easy as sharing with colleagues in the hallway. To get started, here are three ways to take charge of your own professional development.

Watch and learn...everyday
Attending a conference or a workshop outside the district is a great way to broaden your exposure to new theories and methods as well as to network with other people but, in most cases, there is a cost associated with formal learning opportunities, as well as a need to miss a day of instruction with students.

Between the formal professional development sessions, each professional educator needs to seek professional development each day. This professional development should be archived to document what you have been learning informally.

YouTube is a great place to start. With an average of 72 hours of video added each minute of the day, there is a great deal of educational content updated daily. My collection of videos grows with every group I work with, and everything is posted to my YouTube channel. Here you will find content videos created by teachers, funny assessment videos, and screencasts on various web 2.0 tools.

Take it to the back channel
You can take professional development to the next level by creating a back channel for an event you attend and encouraging ongoing conversation while the speaker is doing the actual presentation. A few years ago this was considered rude, but today most conferences planners invite teams of social media folks to attend the conference as members of the press to start the back channel to fuel the conversation throughout the conference.

The conference publishes the hashtag for the entire conference and many presenters will create session-specific hashtags for Twitter or establish an Edmodo group to capture the essential learning from the session.

I define the back channel as the conversation behind the back of the presenter, recorded using a social networking platform. It is behind the back of the presenter, but also out in the open for everyone globally. At first this was a scary concept for me, but as a professional it encouraged me to really bring my A game to each presentation, offering new and fresh content each time I present.

Some of the social networking platforms available are Twitter, Facebook, Plurk, Today’s Meet, chat rooms, discussions, Edmodo, and uStream. Attendees are using their phones, iPads, tablets, and laptops to add to the stream of information that flows from the session. People who cannot attend the conference or a specific session can follow along, creating a just-in-time professional development opportunity delivered via a social networking platform.

I look at the back channel as group-structured note taking and an ongoing conversation that is more polite than whispering to your neighbor during a session. As the presenter, this information is like gold. Following the hashtag I created for the session, when I look at it later I can really see what resonated with the audience and, most importantly, what points did not make it to the back channel. It helps me in pacing and reorganizing my topics for future presentations. The back channel is so much richer than the standard evaluation, which ends up being more about the temperature of the room or the lack of refreshments.

I encourage back channeling in almost every session I lead, especially if people have technology tools in front of them. Once people understand the concept of a back channel, it allows them to explore a platform they could use back at school with teachers, staff, and students.

Share something new
One final idea: Start each day by sharing something new that you learned through your various networks and encourage your students to do the same. Model how the information came to you and what you did to learn more about the tool or web site. Archive these daily discoveries on your blog, web site, wiki, social bookmarking site, or on Twitter.

After a few years of doing this a little bit each day, you will have a large collection of resources in your digital filing cabinet. This collection you have curated also demonstrates that you are actively working to seek personal professional development each day. If every staff member did this each day, you can imagine how quickly the building-based resource collection could grow.

Share the resources, don't just file them away. Your discovery might help another staff member in the building or someone across the globe. If you are using social bookmarking sites like Delicious or Diggo, make sure your settings are set to public so other people can learn from you on your journey.

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