Professional Development Opinion

PD Is Not a 4-Letter Word: My Ignite From #ISTE14

By Jennie Magiera — July 12, 2014 5 min read
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Recently I gave an Ignite talk at ISTE. Afterward, folks wanted to know where they could review some of the ideas I had mentioned. So... I went through my slides and tried to type out basically what I said for you below! Here it is (approximately), with the slides. (Side Note: I hope to turn this into a longer presentation someday! Because... I love PD!)


Hello! My name is Jennie Magiera, and I’m here to talk about PD - how it’s supposed to mean “professional development” but often people think it stands for something more like “plain dull” or “pedagogy death”. But PD could be and should be so much more.

In 2012 I attended a great PD event for the first time: ISTE. It was like going through the looking glass... here was a magical land where we could meet our tribe, folks who got geeked up about the same things we did, explore ideas, attend socials. Here was a place we could ignite our passions. (Get it... ignite?)

But what about when we go home and ISTE is over? Where do we find inspiration, connect with colleagues and try new ideas? What is feuling our passions and interests then? Now I always knew I wanted to be a teacher...

...I even made this list when I graduated from college... of things I wanted to do post-grad and things that “were not an option.” I’ve typed them out here since at this point I had yet to develop my teacher handwriting. But nowhere on this list was what I actually spent quite a lot of time doing in my first years of teaching...

... Sitting in mass staff meetings watching a presenter read bullets off a powerpoint. So I adapted and did what all smart teachers do when they hear it’s time for “PD": rush to grab papers to grade, materials to cut or emails to read. Anything to keep us occupied during the next boring and a half hours.

And that’s because teachers are just big kids. And so when it’s time for us to put our student hats on, why is it that oftentimes we’re delivered the worst pedagogy? In educational conferences around the world, teachers learn about “best practices” like hands on challenge based experiential learning... through sit and get structures.

So what do teachers need? What is it they want when it comes to professional learning and the development of their practice? Well obviously it would be presumptuous and silly for me to speak for all of education, all of you... but I’m going to. Because I have 165 seconds left.


Teachers want authenticity. They don’t want cheap crap. If they’re going to take time away from their classrooms, planning, grading and family, then they want the learning to be applicable on Monday. A real-world idea that is road tested and speaks to students.

For example, PLAYDATEs were born out of the desire to have hands-on learning with likeminded educators. Instead of hearing about a tool for an hour, teachers get to play with the tool, experience failure and rebound together in a safe space.

One of the things I love about a PLAYDATE is how egalitarian it is. Anyone in the room can be a lead learner. Pods organically emerge as someone has an a-ha! moment and people leave having real experiences and oftentimes a plan for how they’ll use these tools in class the next day.

Speaking of authenticity, what is more authentic than having students present at an event about teaching and learning? Our students attend our conferences and live-tweet their learning and reactions from sessions so folks from around the world can follow along.

But the kids like to take the driver’s seat in PDs as well. Our students support teachers through app speed dating sessions - an idea we got from friends in Auburn, Maine. Teachers move through 5 min hands-on stations where students share their favorite app, and how they use it in class. Teachers ask questions and the kids are super open - It doesn’t get more real than a 6th grader.


Teachers also want differentiation. Once I was on a plane sitting next to a man with a newspaper. He was acting shifty - not turning pages, holding it close to his face. When he went to the bathroom, since I’m nosy - I looked under it and found... 50 Shades of Grey.

Now I’m not telling you this story to put this guy on blast. But it reminded me of how my teachers hide and are ashamed of what they don’t know and what they’re interested in. They’re afraid to ask questions in staff meetings or say they want to try something new in fear it would be viewed as taboo.

PD should be learning based on needs - no matter how advanced or novice. For example, this YouTube video on “How to Restart your computer” has been viewed 66,000 times (side note: from the time when I created this Ignite to the time of publishing this blog post, it’s up to 71,000 views). I must admit, I even had to Google “How to make a Dropbox file public” when turning in the deck for this Ignite.

So to help differentiate support, we’ve create teachers IEPs - Individualized EXPLORATION Plans (side note: stay tuned to this blog... I’ll be writing a post about IEPs and who we create them in the next post!). They take teacher’s existing challenges and passions to create a scaffolded plan for how they’ll innovate at their own pace.

They can then take those IEPs and dig into events like EdCamps and Appy hours - great venues for powerful choose your own adventure learning. Going into these events with a focus and essential question can help a lot of teachers from leaving overwhelmed.


Finally, Teachers also need Connection. We need to take a moment at these events to look up from our screens and say hello to the person next to us. We can attend an event barely meeting those around us - and who knows that person might be your educational soul mate. I speak from experience.

A few years ago, I connected with 5 other educators at a conference and we realized we had a great affinity with one another -- so we combined our powers and passions to create the types of PD we wanted for ourselves. PLAYDATEs, app speed dating - PD created for teachers, by teachers.

So don’t wait for someone else to create these PD moments for you. You don’t have to host a 10,000 person event. It could be a group at a bar after school. Go home and grab some old friends, call up your new friends - and create the PD experience you deserve.

The opinions expressed in Teaching Toward Tomorrow 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.