Changing Professional Development from the Inside Out

Changing Professional Development from the Inside Out

By Whitney Crews

I'm sure most of you have stories of ways you have spent your last dime, your last minute of free time, your last shred of sanity to meet a need for a student. We know what our students need and what it takes to provide the best learning opportunities for them.

Why is it, then, that when teachers become the learners, they are the worst students?

I have attended and presented well over 1000 hours of professional development in my career, not including the district back-to-school days, and I know it’s true. And so do you.

How often during PD do teachers arrive late, leave early, talk above the speaker, scroll through Facebook, answer emails, and mindlessly doodle—anything to resist engagement? Many even exhibit overtly negative responses: eye-rolling, sighing, arm crossing, and flat out refusing requests by the presenter to participate. So often in professional development, it seems like no one is happy, no one is engaged, no one is learning.

I am not teacher bashing here. We all see ourselves in those pitiful descriptions--myself included. So let’s be real and honest; let's be clear about where we are and create a path for where we want to go. The question I’d like to explore is not why are we teachers the worst students, but how can we as a profession turn PD around? Perhaps if teachers had more timely, relevant and joyful professional learning options, we would embrace our own learning instead of dreading or rejecting it.

Here are some examples of professional learning I’ve recently participated in that built my knowledge and skills and renewed my passion for teaching.

An EdCamp at the Department of Education in Washington, DC, fell into my lap this year. If you have not participated in an official EdCamp or an unconference-style PD, find one NOW! https://www.edcamp.org/  For those who are unfamiliar with these terms, the premise is simple: have conversations that will help you to be a better educator.

Ever get a great idea during a conversation with another teacher?  Do you scour Pinterest or sites that pop up on Facebook for inspiration? Then you would love an EdCamp. I have gained valuable insight and ideas through discussions about topics ranging from flexible seating to communication with parents, as well as specific ways to integrate technology and how to facilitate Twitter chats. This type of PD has become increasingly popular because it not only gives teachers a voice, but also control over their own learning.  EdCamp and unconference schedules are generated the day of through the suggestions of those in attendance.  What better way to encourage personal growth than to allow it to actually be personal?

The week after EdCamp I attended the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) conference. While the name of the organization might deter you from looking into it, the teachers and staff in the organization are very welcoming and desire to reach all educators who wish to make connections, transform their own learning and that of their students, as well as elevate teacher leadership and the profession. Being an NNSTOY member and participating in the annual conference allows me not only to show my district administrators that I am committed to teacher leadership, but also connects me with other like-minded educators who are passionate about improving what they do in the classroom.

Just a few days later, DENSI began. This was my second year to attend the Discovery Education Network Summer Institute and I am so thankful to have been selected for this competitive event. Sessions included topics ranging from coding to makerspaces, Twitter to Snapchat, green screens to Breakout Edu. However, the focus was on JOY--with our students, co-workers, families, in our profession, even in professional development. That’s right…joyful PD! Because of my experience at DENSI, words cannot begin to describe the impact the conference has had on my teaching, and through it, my students. The opportunity to be surrounded by people who are so enthusiastic truly energizes me for a new school year. Plus, being part of the DENI and NNSTOY means I have a network of hundreds of people to reach out to throughout the year to get suggestions, motivation, and encouragement within moments.

The bottom line is that if teachers want better PD, we must ask for it. We have to seek it out and sometimes even show we deserve it, because we do. We deserve PD that is not a chore or a necessary evil. We are professionals who need real and meaningful growth experiences with other educators.

If we want to be seen as professionals and treated as such, then we educators need get rid of our negative let’s-get-this-over-with attitude. Instead we will seek out  professional learning experiences that work for us and help our students to learn. Where none exist, we will craft them ourselves. Anything less is a disservice to us and our students.

If your district is still in the PD dark ages, you are going to have to shine the light. Present your own PD to colleagues. Call up some teacher friends and carpool to an EdCamp or sit in the comfort of your home and join in on few webinars—they are FREE! Dive into virtual learning and chats on Twitter. (I like #edchat, #tlap, and #satchat.) Connecting with people from around the world and expanding your network with like-minded educators from different fields, schools, locations, grade levels, talents, ideas, expertise, and backgrounds can reenergize and inspire you beyond what you thought possible.

Let’s be part of the professional development revolution.  Our students deserve it and so do we.


Whitney Crews is the 2015 Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY). She teaches science and social studies to sixth graders at E.J. Moss Intermediate School in Lindale, Texas.

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