Thursday, January 15, 2015

Creating a Professional Learning Playlist

It started in High School. I made my first mix tape by recording songs from the radio. That tape had every song I liked on one cassette and it was all me, and all mine. I later recorded my favorite TV shows on a VHS tape. It was amazing! I could watch my favorite TV show over and over again, whenever I wanted. As technology evolved so did my personalization, I had over 100 CD's of legally download music from... Napster. Each CD had an inspirational name based on the reason I grouped those songs together including: "Dirty Old Man", "Snowball", and "Best Songs I, II and III".

The fact that I made these tapes, videos, and playlists is not unique. I know many friends and colleagues that have made mixed tapes in the past and now have playlists on their devices. The unique part is the reasoning for grouping certain songs together... it could be to ease a long commute, enjoy a long run, or even soothe a crying baby. Each playlist is created with a purpose and a desired outcome.... now what if professional learning was developed with the similar idea?

There are so many ways for educators to learn and grow as professionals. Examples include: Edcamps, twitter chats, MOOCs, book studies, lesson studies, curriculum writing, webinars, etc.

Imagine this: An educator knows that her students are struggling with "explaining addition and subtraction solutions". This educator then participates in #mathchat on Twitter, participates in a Math MOOC, and then discusses with her colleagues these new ideas. As a team, they implement new strategies to improve math explanation skills. This educator made a playlist of professional learning opportunities based on her student needs in the classroom. It was not a mandatory workshop based on the needs of the majority of a population, it was what was needed in her classroom at that specific time. 

This kind of professional learning occurs daily with educators across the world (if you doubt this.. check out these links #edcamp and #edchat). The problem is these opportunities are not always recognized as professional learning because they are not structure or hours based. As Kyle Pace, Steve Anderson, and Tom Murray discuss in their Webinar:Personalized Professional Learning in a Digital Age, "today's professional development is calculated by seat time". For example, if an educator sits through 15 hours of PD they will receive "credit" and thus be professional developed even though this may or may not meet their specific need to grow professionally.

Educators will participate in non-traditional professional learning regardless if it counts toward their professional development requirements. I believe if educators are doing the work, growing personally and seeing student growth then these non-traditional methods should be recognized. Educators should be able to make their own "playlist" based on what they need and like to do as professionals.

There are places where this is happening.....

In Maryland, some schools are creating a new model to support the idea of educators making their own choices when it comes to professional learning. Patapsco High School in Baltimore County developed "Patapsco University". Through this portal, educators can chose their own professional learning activity, provide a reflection, and receive "credits" to fulfill a professional growth need. Liberty High School has a similar model with "Liberty Professional Learning Portal". Through this portal, educators are expected to take ownership of their professional learning. Halstead Academy in Baltimore County has developed "Halstead 2.0" at the elementary level. By looking at data, educators at Halstead develop a problem/questions then through action research and professional learning a solution is published.

These schools are not only on the cutting edge of personalizing professional learning for educators but they are taking it to the next level and allowing non-traditional methods of professional learning to count instead of "seat hours".

Recognition at the State-Level

Maryland State Department of Education is ready to start their own program that will recognize  Professional Learning choices for educators across the state. The Maryland Professional Learning Program, allows educators to choose from a list of professional learning activities with different point values.

When an educator has reached a set number of points, an email is sent to their principal/supervisor to approve the activities. If approved, educators receive a "Level Up" and certificate. This initiative will allow Maryland Educators to manage their own professional learning by choosing activities based upon their professional needs. It should be a regular part of the conversation with the principal or supervisor regarding an educator's professional learning plan.

I believe this is the future of professional learning. As the pilot starts and we move forward in Maryland, we hope to be a model for other schools, districts, and states that want to provide choice for educators for both formal and informal professional learning.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Pirate Passion

Through the many suggestions of my PLN, I have decided to read the book, "Teach Like a Pirate". I have read the first chapter and so far it is very engaging. However, it is a different perspective to read the book through the lens of a state specialist and not a classroom teacher. It is a little difficult to use that lens but I still consider myself a teacher just with a different role. In chapter 1 the author, David Burgess, discusses passion. He suggested answering three questions about passion before reading any further. Here are my answers to the questions:

Content Passion: Within your subject matter, what are you passionate about teaching?

As a professional learning specialist at the state-level, I work with adults and I do not have a curriculum or a standard timeline for what I have to accomplish. I am given tasks and a timeline for each and I am expected to complete each task. Do not get me wrong, this basic analysis of what I do, becomes so much more in depth with each task I need to complete.I enjoy my job very much.The subject matter that I am most passionate about teaching is professional learning designs, models, and strategies. I love learning about how schools are teaching teachers and in turn I love providing models to other teachers for how they can improve professional learning. I love seeing how the Learning Forward Standards of professional learning work together to improve educator effectiveness and in turn improve student growth.

Professional Passion: Within your profession, but no specific to your subject matter, what are you passionate about?

In my profession but specific to professional learning, I am passionate about inspiring educators, collaborating, and connecting. When I was in the classroom, my favorite year of teaching was when I taught 5th grade. As a class, we had a culture and way of doing things that was unmatched. The students worked together and trusted me. I in turn trusted them. I was inspired by them and I think they enjoy me as their teacher. I often reflect on that year as a teacher and try to think what I did different that made that group so special. I do not have the answer of why/how that classroom was so "magical" but I continue to chase that feeling in my current position. I  love the idea of walking into my place of work and knowing that something great is going to happen today because of the people I work with and for. I love going to other schools around the state to learn how teachers are inspiring students then in turn, sharing those strategies with other teachers. I enjoy discussion around the best practices in education, especially if they challenge my set schema. I love learning about new research and application. I wish I could read three things at one time and absorb them all. 

Personal Passion: Completely outside of your profession, what are you passionate about?

Complete outside of my profession, I am completely and wholly passionate about my family. I have two incredible daughters and a selfless husband. If I could spend every moment with them and travel around the world my life would be complete. My daughters are 4 and 6, their views of the world and opinions tickle my heart. They help me see things in a different light and they are so eager to learn. Being a mother is an incredible experience and one I wish I could do full time. I also mentioned traveling. I have been to several counties and although it can be scary being in a different culture, it is so exciting to learn. Travel is wonderful and something I wish I could do more. Finally, I think I can call my obsession with sci-fi, fantasy, and cos-play a certain type of passion. Ever since high school, I have loved Sailor Moon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and witches. These topics have always interested me and only grew with me as an adult. I read Harry Potter, watch Vampire Dairies, lurked around Baltimore Comic Con (never actually gotten tickets), X-Men, Marvel, Vampire Academy... you probably get the idea. It is like going to a different world when I engage in these topics.

This exercise was truly reflective and I enjoyed it very much. It also was a positive writing experience. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the book. 

Group Building Ideas

I work with some incredible people and sometimes when we get together to plan events, the ideas just flow. Here are some of those ideas:

  • Team Resume: Have people in your team create a resume that included everyone's experience. 15 many degrees, 87 years in the classroom, etc.
  • Give One, Get One: Have a listing of ideas, facts, and general characteristics on index cards in a bag. Everyone receives a bag with the characteristics and tries to find a person who matches the index card.
  • What resources do I bring? Have a share-out of what each person brings to the table to contribute to the group.
  • Garage Sale: For this activity, the participants must categorize their "garage sale" items into the following categories:
    • For Sale or Barter
    • Not For Sale 
    • Recycled
    • Repair Shop
    • Garbage
    • Toxic Waste 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Learning Forward in 2015

I recently attended the Learning Forward National Conference in Nashville, TN. It was a fantastic experience from sightseeing to learning and connecting with other educators passionate about professional learning. I went to several sessions about technology, telling my story through writing, and I even presented a session on webinars. While those experiences were great, my biggest take away was self-reflection I did during the conference.

I realized that working in an office setting has made me rely too much on PowerPoint. I used it for meetings, workshops, and presentation of any kind. My colleague to went to a workshop that was presented by the author of "Sit and Get Won't Grow Dendrites". From what she told me about the workshop it was very interactive and demonstrated how you can present without Powerpoint. Based on her insight, I decided to read the book. It had a lot of great ideas and reinforced the fact that I used Powerpoint entirely too much. My first professional resolution for the New Year is to use less Powerpoint. I need to think outside the presentation box. To quote another colleague of mine, "Powerpoint is a great tool when you are planning something last minute. However, if you are planning a head of time and not waiting till last minute, the presentation techniques are endless."

I also reflected on my "PLN". In 2014, I participated in the Maryland Edchat on several occasions, attended my first edCamp, and made more connections online than in previous years. However, I still feel I need to connect more. I need to put forth more effort to connect with other educators in Maryland. I really want to connect with professional learning specialist in other states and build a network. I plan to continue to participate with Maryland Edchat but I want to start a weekly #pdchat. I am not exactly sure how they will happen but I have vision.

Finally, I want to dive into what Personalized Professional Learning looks like and we can further support the idea in Maryland.

Those are my resolutions for 2015, less Powerpoint and more connecting.