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Education Opinion

A 21st Century Professional Development Proposal

By LeaderTalk Contributor — January 14, 2009 3 min read

Nothing has promised so much and has been so frustrating wasteful for teachers and leaders as the thousands of workshops and conferences that led to no significant change in practice.

-Michael Fullen-

Great teachers help create great students, agreed? In fact, research shows that an inspiring and informed teacher is the single most important school-related factor influencing student achievement. So, what helps teachers become great? What equips them in helping students reach their highest potential? The easy to say professional development,but unfortunately we have all experienced what Micheal Fullen is speaking of.

When I think of my own teaching and learning, the most influential element of my professional development comes from my personal learning network (PLN). I read blogs, track them with RSS feeds, and use a variety of social networking tools to create my PLN, I then use what I have discovered to enhance my work with students and teachers. My PLN has become daily nutrition, influence, energy, and strength for my brain and my spirit.

When I talk to schools about this, I often hear the following:


  • That’s great, but we just do not have the time
  • My teachers are not comfortable with technology
  • I have my own “network” at school, why do I need to connect with someone I my never meet
  • Why bother...the sites are blocked anyway
  • I just don’t get all that blogging and web stuff
  • RSS - what????

As leaders, you can influence all of that! One of the most powerful things you can do for students, is create a culture of learning and collaboration with your teachers. Here’s what’s possible:


And Here’s the ROI:


  • Teachers become more aware - of new research, new strategies, new educators, and new ideas that can enhance and impact their teaching and learning
  • Teachers become connected- they develop learning networks as they meet teachers with similar interests and issues
  • Teachers become empowered - as they take control and responsibility of their own professional growth.
  • Teachers become model - With first hand experience on how to operate in a 21st century learning environment, teachers become equipped to demonstrate and model learning behaviors and strategies for their students
  • Teachers become confident-Teachers feel appreciated and respected for their contributions and knowledge and become confident and more competent in their own teaching practice
  • Teachers become a connected community - teachers who share, learn, and connect become leaders inside and outside of their classrooms
  • Teachers become Learners - the most important requirement to being a 21st Century educator - don’t you think?

Are these the same results that you get after staff in-service days? If not, here are some ways you might begin to help your staff create their own PLN’s:


  1. Explore PLN as a Professional Development Tool - Check out this video from Carl Anderson as he explores setting up a PLN as a personal and professional development tool.
  2. Get your teachers reading RSS feeds! Setting it up is easy with the video from Common Craft entitled: RSS in Plain English.The RSS reader is the raw material for building a PLN.
  3. Find some Great Blogs to Read - there are lots of places to look, but this will give you a running start: Education Alltop, Top 50 Edubloggs, Edublog Award Winners 2008.
  4. Search Once and Subscribe - Once your great blogs are discovered-subscribe!. 10-20 is a good starting number.
  5. Share - Set aside time each week for teachers to meet and discuss the latest and greatest gems from the Blogosphere. These sessions can be formal at a staff meeting or more informal in small groups or grade levels.
  6. Prepare to be Amazed- When teachers take control of their professional growth and learning- there is nothing that can not be accomplished.

Creating a PLN does not replace traditional professional development. There is a time and place for In-service days and careful selection of outside expertise. But the most valuable professional development embedded in the on-going life of the school.

As you get your PLN’s up and going, here are a few additional links to enhance their power and productivity:

-PLN Yourself

-My Twitter Engagement Formula

-Building a Digital Locker

-Feed Reading Strategy: Skim, Scan & Save

Angela Maiers

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.