When I first became a teacher, I spent incredible amounts of money on my classroom, my students and boot legging curriculum materials together. So much money that I was wary of ever spending a penny on professional development. While staying at school until 9pm to prepare a science lesson or taking kids to a museum on Saturday were totally fine, the mere idea of attending a 6-hour “workshop” on the weekend made my skin crawl. Then to find out that they wanted me to pay my own money to go? Wow. No way. I could use that money to buy more books for my classroom library.
Then I won a grant and found myself with 32 iPads and no idea how to use them. Suddenly, I was gleefully shelling out $200-300 for conferences that enveloped entire weekends or weeks in the summer. So what changed? Was it winning a grant and feeling I needed to step up to fulfill it? Perhaps. But there it was much more than that.
As I reflected on this mindshift, I kept coming back to the following three factors that make me want to attend a professional learning event (in order of my perceived importance):
The Need/Interest Factor
For me to even want to wake up and put on pants on a Saturday, or give up some summer break time, the PD event/session has to be something I’m interested in. Either I’m interested in it because it’s truly something that I think is intriguing (i.e., MakerSpace or Coding for Kids) or because it’s a current need for me professionally (Common Core). The content had to be compelling not because I was being told to go, but because I felt it would help me solve some current classroom issue or fill a deficit in my skillset.
The Engagement Factor
The set up of the event is also key. I check out after about 30 seconds of a sit-and-get style lecture. Forced activities like playing math games or acting out scenarios without clear understanding of how it impacts my classroom on Monday are also PD turn-offs for me. I tend to gravitate toward events or sessions where I get to participate authentically. By that I mean, collaborating digitally or physically to discuss and apply tools, strateiges or ideas to my actual classroom with my actual situation. Not a constructed scenario with “Student A” and “Ms. Smith”. Being able to walk away from a 60 minute or full day session having synthesized how the content affects my practice and my students makes me not only feel like the time was well spent, but empowered to take action as well.
The Social Factor
When I first started attending longer events like conferences or institutes, I immediately noticed that it was a bit like summer camp for adults. Educators ran across the registration halls in big embraces, much like kids who hadn’t seen each other since last summer. Gangs of geeked-up teachers roamed the halls with matching T-shirts and decked-out lanyards, or sat on the ground together, huddled around laptops or swapping war stories. I realized that registering for these professional learning events was about more than the sessions. It was about the social factor - finding your PLC and seeing them face to face. It was about finding like-minded educators who shared your passions, challenges and dreams... and then spending time with them getting recharged and inspired. Now that I’m going to more of these events, I am meeting more of my “Twitter” friends - folks from whom I learn online every day but have never seen more than their avatar. I’m having countless heart-to-hearts with EduStars who make me feel like we can do so much for for our kids. I’m realizing that my issues aren’t the whole world and my goals can be loftier. This social factor is now the real reason I open my wallet for professional learning. (Now if only we could make free events like EdCamps multi-day conferences!)
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.