Take Ownership of Your Professional Development

When many teachers visualize “professional development” they likely envision a regularly scheduled event that shows a group of teachers being guided through the implementation of a specific initiative, strategy, or framework.

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This may also include small group meetings like PLCs where teachers are scheduled a time to collaboratively analyze data and evaluate the effectiveness of instruction in their classroom.

This type of professional development certainly has its place in schools. However, it is often criticized for not meeting the individual needs of teachers.

As educators, we recognize the importance of differentiating in our classrooms, but we also know how challenging this can be.  Consider the challenge it is for an administrative team to lead an organized professional development that addresses the needs of every staff member in its building.

While participating in building and district professional development is important, as educators, we should consider additional ways to take ownership of our own professional development to create relevant and useful learning opportunities.

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This does NOT mean a teacher should plan to spend every waking hour researching the newest strategy or looking for the latest technology app… a healthy balance of professional and personal life is very necessary. Be sure to find the balance.

I am fortunate to work in a district that gives its teachers many opportunities to pursue the learning they want or need and to develop these professional skills through conferences, books studies, and district organized courses (Read more about this: CBU allows teachers to sharpens skills).

However, there are many opportunities for teachers to seek personalized professional development that meets their needs.

Whether you can dedicate 1 hour a week or 15 minutes a day, there is a way to take ownership of your professional development.

1. Create a Personal Learning Community using Social Media 

Connecting with other educators on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or other platforms can give you an opportunity to learn from others who are faced with the same challenges as you on a daily basis. While you are catching up on the latest pictures posted by your friends and family, you might also come across a shared blog post about a great classroom management strategy. Delve into the article right then or save it for later when you have some downtime or are ready to try it! 

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Recently, I’ve really enjoyed reading articles by Edutopia on Facebook and have been finding lots of great things through #edtech and #edchat on Twitter.

2. Attend Education Conferences

Need some new ideas or inspiration? Conferences can be the best place to listen to what is working for other educators and consider ways to make it happen in your classroom! Even if your school doesn’t have a budget to send you across the country, search for local conferences on whatever interests you… technology? content? educational leadership? Conferences can be an awesome place to connect with others and get a new perspective! 

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I have had great experiences at NCTE and ISTE conferences!

3. Find a Book

Sometimes reading a new perspective (or being reminded of great ideas from the past) can be the inspiration a teacher needs to recharge. Ask your colleagues or administration for a reading suggestion and challenge yourself to take something away from the book. It can be even more powerful to read it with colleagues and collaborate on how to integrate it into your instruction. (Recently, I gained many ideas and insights from Making Thinking Visible & Guided Instruction.)

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I like to browse the ASCD Reading List to find a new resource or idea!

4. Find Free Online Training

You can find free inspiration, courses, and materials all over the internet. Follow some education blogs, search for free materials, or find some tutorials on YouTube. 

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Right now I am loving the Google for Education Training that I am working on!

Think of your professional development as a state of mind, not an event. 

 

Read more about taking ownership of your professional development:

Keep the conversation going…

  • How do you take ownership of your own professional development?
  • What hashtags do you follow to stay recharged and fresh in the classroom?
  • What challenges are there when managing your own professional development?

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment below or sharing it on Facebook or Twitter!

Giving Students Feedback with Google Apps

It is important that students receive quality feedback in a timely manner in order for it to be useful in improving their skills or understanding.

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If it takes two weeks for a student to receive feedback on an assignment… they have likely moved past the point of it being useful to them. This is not timely. 

As often as we do it, writing “Good Job!” or “Needs Work…” on an assignment does not give students specific enough information to advance their understanding or improve their skills. This is not quality. 

 

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Must be TIMELY and QUALITY

 

Students need specific feedback on things they are doing well and places where they can improve… and they need them in a time frame which allows them to make these improvements.

However, especially at the secondary level, when you see 100+ students a day, this can be difficult for teachers to manage. 

 

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So how do we manage giving timely and quality feedback to students?

 

Here are some ways to use Google Apps to give timely and quality feedback to students:

1. Email feedback to students as they give presentations

Try setting up an email template for your feedback prior to students giving their presentations– this could include a rubric that you mark or something as simple as: “Two things you did well were…” and “Something to think about for next time is…”  Then you are able to just focus on entering the individual feedback for students as you fill in the template. You can complete this as students give their presentation or as the next student is setting up. When you are finished, hit “send” and students have their feedback!

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Use an email template to be efficient with your time!

2. Use the “comment” feature -one time

While sometimes necessary, it can feel tedious to leave MANY comments all over on students’ work… it probably appears somewhat overwhelming to them as well. When possible, consider leaving one detailed and quality comment towards the top of their Google Document or Google Slides. Again you can use a template that you copy into each student’s comment and individualize it based on the student’s performance or revision needs.

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Give one comment that covers the main skills students need on the assignment.

3. Copy and paste a rubric -color code it

Try pasting your assignment rubric at the bottom of a student’s Google Document — this can also be done on Google Slides by adding a “new slide” to the end of a presentation and pasting the rubric there. You can highlight (or change the table cell color) where a student falls in the different areas of evaluation. I usually leave a spot for some specific comments or feedback as well.

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Paste in your rubric with color coding to give student specific areas to work on.

4.  Give more feedback to small groups

If you are really struggling with managing the amount of feedback you need to give, consider giving more group feedback. You can do this in any of the ways suggested previously with emails, comments, or rubrics. This way students receive feedback promptly and are able to discuss as a group ways to improve. Note that it is important to establish a classroom atmosphere where students are comfortable with one another and know how to productively work together.

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For all of these strategies, it is important that you prepare students by helping them to understand that feedback is a positive thing and that it helps them to improve.

Remind students to embrace a growth mindset by considering feedback and always striving to do better. 

Read more about giving timely and quality feedback:

Read more about using Google Apps for Education:

Keep the conversation going…

  • How do you manage giving students timely and quality feedback?
  • What strategies for giving feedback have worked or not worked you?
  • What problems do you see with giving students digital feedback?

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment below or sharing it on Facebook or Twitter!

 

Graduate School: A Rewarding Challenge

As posted on Teaching and Learning blog on November 1, 2014

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After three years of teaching at Abraham Lincoln High School in Council Bluffs, IA, I decided to accept the challenge to further my education. Last spring, I began the online Professional Educator’s Graduate Program through Morningside College. I believe I made this decision rather lightly as I did not realize the monumental challenges and rewards that would come with participating in education as a genuine learner once again.

The Challenges:

TIME: I completely underestimated the amount of time that I would need to dedicate to my work as a graduate student. This became most stressful during the school year, particularly during the current fall semester. As I tried to manage both learning and teaching, I sometimes felt like I was not able to give my highest priority to either. Additionally, with the time commitment to both teaching and learning, I struggled to incorporate the necessary time to enjoy my friends, family, and enjoyment of life.

WORKING WITH OTHERS: Other times, I struggled with specific course requirements that frustrated me. I became irritated when I had to work in groups with educators I did not know (communicating usually only via technology) to complete specific projects and assignments. As I hold myself to very high expectations, I did not like that my performance evaluation would be impacted by the work of others.

ENTERING THE UNKNOWN: Particularly this semester, I really struggled with some of the academic reading about educational issues that I had never considered before. I have spent the majority of my teaching career only considering the problems and successes of my district, my school, and primarily my classroom because these are the only educational worlds I really knew and felt I could impact. I became frustrated having to read about topics like vouchers, private schools, mandated pre-school, state mandates, etc. I would often ask myself: How can this possibly help me to become a better educator in my 12th grade English class in Council Bluffs, IA?

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The Rewards: 

TIME: While some weeks the challenge of managing the piling up of 90 papers from my 12th-grade students and the 15-page paper that I need to write on the Common Core feels impossible, I have found that somehow it all works out. More importantly, I am able to remember that students are struggling with this same type of time managing with their schoolwork, part-time jobs, activities, friends, and families. I’ve discovered though, that not only am I able to discuss my own struggles with time managing to students, but I am able to offer real strategies that I use to juggle my life with those students that are approaching adulthood themselves. I find myself often tweeting out (to my many student followers) when I am finding time and strategies to study… followed by #ILearnToo.

WORKING WITH OTHERS: While initially my frustrations and emotions were high when having to work with other educators in the program, I’ve found that so many things evolve from these relationships that I am building. I have begun forming an extended world of educators who support my ideas and have ideas of their own. I’m networking with teachers in schools all across the Midwest and hearing about how things are different and similar to what is happening in my school. I’ve been able to offer my input and get advice on things like 1:1 initiatives, the Teacher Leadership Compensation Program, and the Common Core Standards. I will shamefully admit that I originally underestimated the brilliance and input of my fellow educators… I’m excited that I now get to really enjoy these challenging conversations and collaboration projects. (Although I’ll admit the conversations are more intriguing to me than the actual project completion now.)

ENTERING THE UNKNOWN: Specifically after the last two months, while enrolled in an Issues in Education Course in my graduate program, I am starting to see the big picture. I have never been a “big picture” person… quite the opposite of many of my friends and colleagues. However, I feel that I have made monumental progress in having to stretch my mind to address and discuss big questions like:

  • How can transformation in education create greater cohesion in our society and globally?
  • How do you define an exemplary teacher and how do we ensure all teachers are performing at the highest competency levels?
  • How “democratic” are student-centered classrooms? Can an inclusive classroom be democratic?
  • How do we leverage the immense power and potential of the Internet, digital tools and social media to enable learners and teachers to connect in purposeful ways across borders and boundaries to contribute to making the world a safer, saner and more just place?

Two months ago, just reading these question made my brain feel like it was going to explode. However, the more I read about education problems, policies, and theories, the more confident I feel synthesizing this information into having plans and ideas of my own that address these big pictures.

I have really come to a very basic conclusion: If it affects education then it affects me and I need to know about it. 

While the challenges of graduate school are great, so are the rewards. I feel in the last year of participating in learning and teaching, I’ve grown in so many ways. I value time and am able to better balance my duty to my students, my duty to myself as a learner, and my duty to my colleagues. I value interacting, communicating, and collaborating with educators from all across the profession. Most importantly, I am able to see how all of these things amount to a bigger picture… improving education for my students, my colleagues’ students, and all students.

Keep learning in teaching!