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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Professional Development Opinion

How to Build Your Own Professional Development

By Larry Ferlazzo — June 02, 2022 9 min read
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Katie Toppel, Tan Huynh, and Carol Salva agreed to answer a few questions about their book, DIY PD: a Guide to Self-Directed Learning for Educators of Multilingual Learners.

Carol Salva (@MsSalvaC) is a Seidlitz Education consultant, a former classroom teacher, and the co-author of Boosting Achievement: Reaching Students with Interrupted or Minimal Education.

Katie Toppel (@KatieToppel) is a K-5 English-language-development specialist serving multilingual learners through co-teaching and a co-founder of #MLLChat_BkClub.

Tan Huynh (@TanKHuynh) is a secondary-language specialist who also maintains a blog, podcast, and online courses for teachers of multilingual learners. .

Editor’s Note: I liked this book so much that I co-authored a forward for it.

LF: You use an intriguing model for professional development and divide it into three categories: interpretative, expressive, and interactive. Can you explain each one and give some examples?

Katie Toppel:

In our field, the four language domains (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) have traditionally been categorized into two groups: receptive communication and expressive communication. Receptive communication (as we learned in the process of writing our book) is now called interpretive communication and encompasses listening, reading, and viewing. Expressive communication encompasses speaking, writing, and representing.

When we started to map out the contents of our book, we thought these categories would be a great way to begin framing our discussion of professional learning opportunities. Just like there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all with curriculum and instruction, there is no one-size-fits-all that works for professional learning, either.

Educators have preferred ways to learn, preferred formats for learning, and different topics of interest they want to learn about. Our goal was to encourage educators to be reflective about different kinds of professional learning experiences in order to create a unique path for themselves that focuses on their distinct interests and needs.

In addition to including interpretive and expressive learning, we added interactive learning and extending learning in order to showcase some of the most meaningful and beneficial professional learning experiences we have had. We were intentional in selecting three action verbs for each chapter to highlight what educators can do within each of our four learning modes. We provide examples of professional learning activities for each action verb.

In our chapter on interpretive professional learning, we suggest that educators can READ, LISTEN, and WATCH with specific suggestions for terrific resources for serving multilingual learners. Our discussion centers around how these activities provide educators opportunities to acquire, and reflect on, new information, and they can be a wonderful foundation when taking learning in a new direction.

Our chapter on expressive professional learning encourages teachers to WRITE, CREATE, and PRESENT. These actions are not simply ways to showcase learning that has already happened but as avenues to deepen and refine knowledge or generate new learning. Expressive professional learning can remain personal where educators write or create but don’t share their work with others. Or the products of expressive learning (i.e., blog posts, infographics) can be shared with colleagues or on a much wider scale to enhance the professional learning of others.

Our appreciation for social media as a platform for professional learning stems from how much we view interacting with others as an essential element of professional growth. We recognize that educators that serve multilingual learners often experience isolation, so our chapter on interactive professional learning invites educators to CONNECT, INTERACT, and COLLABORATE. The three of us first “met” on Twitter, so we felt comfortable encouraging readers to follow our footsteps and seek out companions for their professional learning journeys across boundaries of location and time.

Our final chapter emphasizes the value in thinking outside the box when it comes to professional learning. Educators can LAYER, LEAD, and INNOVATE in order to move their personal, site-based, or collective professional learning to a whole new level. The actions discussed in this chapter call us to rise to the challenge of carefully crafting opportunities to learn more deeply, to inspire others, and to take professional learning where it’s never gone before!


LF: What are specific professional-development challenges facing teachers of multilingual learners, and what are some ways they can be faced/overcome?

Tan Huynh:

There are many factors that constrain professional learning for all teachers, especially teachers of multilingual learners. The factors we identified (“The 5 Cs”) include cost of attending a workshop, choice in how teachers learn, continuity of the professional learning overtime, learning on our own or in a community, and connectedness of the session to our teaching context. We know that many districts have limited budgets so many are not able to contract with a workshop provider to lead sessions for the language specialists. We worry that many language specialists are not receiving the professional learning offerings, and this directly impacts students’ education.

We see these factors like adjustable buttons on a soundboard. Some can be turned up depending on teachers’ context while others cannot be “dialed down’’ depending on district constraints. The goal is to create opportunities for teachers to design their own professional learning by adjusting the factors that they can control.

For example, a school district with limited funds for professional learning can have teachers volunteer to join a free webinar of their choice. The district can have teachers then meet after the webinar to synthesize the information and make plans for implementing the ideas shared within school-based groups over three months. At the end of the three-month period, the districts can meet with everyone who attended the webinar to share their successes and challenges of implementing the ideas. In this way, districts are still able to provide the needed professional learning to language specialists while working within their budgetary constraints.


LF: If there is one action that a teacher of ELLs can take to enhance their professional development, what do you think it should be (you can choose a second one, too)?

Carol Salva:

I would actually mention two things. The first top tip for any teacher of multilingual learners is to be reflective. Research in the field of education is clear; reflection has a significant impact on learning (Hattie 2009). Like many educators, the three of us see ourselves as lifelong learners, and we have come to realize that being intentional about reflection is having a significant impact on our practice.

While reflection is powerful for anyone’s learning, we know that time is precious for teachers, instructional coaches, and administrators. We wrote the book so that educators can be as efficient as possible when they invest time in reflection. That time can be found in so many different places. For example, it might be 30 minutes of reflection while walking a dog, or a meeting with a like-minded colleague, or even taking one minute to weigh pros and cons about a learning opportunity.

Our goal is to make it easy and efficient for any language specialist to be intentional. We wrote this book to honor schedules that have no extra time and offer specific ideas on how to reflect. As Tan mentioned, we recognize that each of “The 5 Cs” is important to educators to different degrees. This is the reason we included tools that help readers consider these factors as they evaluate PD opportunities. No matter how educators take advantage of professional learning opportunities, we suggest they find a way to consider what is working, what is having the biggest impact, and what they enjoy in their own professional development.

The other tip would be to grow your professional learning network. Of course, we honor how powerful it can be to learn in solitude in the book. Indeed, many people prefer learning on their own, and we have many suggestions for powerful interpretive learning that can be done by yourself. However, the three of us have extended our learning about serving MLs, and continue to extend it, largely due to how we collaborate with others. We continue to be intentional about carving a learning path that includes ideas from others and being reciprocal with our learning.

In the book (#DIYpd4MLs), we mention author David Weinberger who reminds us that “the smartest person in the room is never one person.” It is the entire room and their networks. People who are passionate about serving MLs are out on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media spaces right now sharing ideas. So even if it is only once in a while, we are out there connecting with others. We join colleagues to reflect, we bounce ideas off of our teacher friends, we meet new like-minded folks in Twitter chats and more. Those are just a few examples of how we can interact and learn from our professional learning networks.


LF: What have you learned from the experience of writing this book that has assisted in your own development as an educator?

Carol Salva:

We did not intend to write a book during a pandemic. We had already started collaborating when the world shut down in March of 2020. However, like so many educators in the world, we decided to push forward with our work, despite the stress and uncertainty of what was happening in the world of education.

I briefly considered putting the project on hold while I tried to figure out how to do my job, support my family, and just live life in the very different world we were all living through. But the three of us were already working remotely. Tan was in Thailand, Katie lives in Oregon, and I am in Texas. So much of our collaboration was already asynchronous. Instead of putting the project on hold, we were more determined than ever to produce a resource that might be helpful to a teacher who was needing to take their professional learning into their own hands.

As we kept writing, more and more we realized that it was actually exactly what teachers needed. Teachers were needing to reinvent themselves and their pedagogy because of the pandemic. The act of writing the #DIYpd4MLs book actually helped us through the early years of the pandemic. All three of us appreciate the professional learning that comes from creating a resource for teachers of MLs. We write about that in the book, and for me personally, I learned that turning away from challenges is not the answer if I want to grow as much as possible. Diving into the project in such a difficult time, and collaborating with my colleagues, was the best thing I could have done for my own growth as an educator.

LF: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to share?

Carol Salva:

We want to be sure people do not think that the book asks you to take on more tasks or dive into anything you would rather not do. We have entry points and activities for every educator regardless of your availability to take on PD right now. Some ideas could happen while you’re doing other things or may already be part of your job as someone who serves multilingual learners. This is the beauty of the DIY concept. It is not about ignoring what is offered to you in your school or district, either. It’s about making the most of it.

The book is an easy read that helps you make the most out of ANY professional learning experience and create some new learning opportunities for yourself.

LF: Thanks, Katie, Tan, and Carol!

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo 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.


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