Guest Post via @DariaPizzuto: 6 Non-conformist Ways to Teacher Professional Development

boromir-teacher

Teacher professional development… Dreaded? Boring? Transforming? Something in between?

I have been teaching for 11 years. During my career, I have participated in dozens of professional development courses/workshops/lectures. Some of them were dull, some–rather intriguing. Some were simply turned into faculty meetings. Some had nothing to do with students learning or teaching. Some put us straight to sleep.

Thankfully, right now I work in a district that mostly gives its teachers relevant and enjoyable professional development opportunities–many of them are taught by our fellow teachers!

But let’s think about this for a moment.

**Should our districts be responsible for our professional development? Or, should we, as teachers, take initiative to develop ourselves professionally for the benefit of our students?**

It certainly is convenient to have those “in-service” days where the expectations are clear, and the school offers a professional development program that is relevant to all teachers yet differentiated by subject, grade level, and even student needs. Such training is difficult to arrange: just imagine, there are 200 teachers, and they all need/want to learn different things… So, I cannot really blame the school districts for providing “one size fits all” kind of professional development. So, here is the radical idea…

~~~~ I think teachers should take charge of their own professional development~~~~

Whoa!!!! What?!

Hold on a minute. When teachers seek out their own PD, they feel empowered, they pay more attention, they value that time, and they are more invested in it. When I participate in a workshop that I, myself, sought out, you better believe I’m going to be paying attention!

1. Take to Twitter.

Build your PLN (Professional Learning Network) and start participating in TweetChats. Some of my favorite chats are at

#fitnessedu #satchat #langchat #ohedchat #aussieEdChat #leadupchat #PhDchat #mindfuledchat

Tip: pick ONE and try it out a few times. Don’t like it? Move onto another one.

2. Give PD workshops in your school or district.

I work with so many talented educators that have a lot to share. In fact, my best ideas come from other teachers! Also, as this old adage goes, when you teach, you learn. Share your knowledge and experience with your colleagues! Bonus: you will most likely be paid good money for preparing and presenting. Just for the past few weeks, I have attended two workshops, in my own district that were taught by fellow teachers on relevant topics: planning and organization for the new school year, and how to celebrate Mondays!

Tip: think of a topic you always wanted to teach (even if it has nothing to do with biology/algebra).

3. One. Yearly. Conference.

Find a yearly conference that you love. Go to that conference. Maybe even submit a proposal to present. Make connections. Feel fulfilled and renewed. Yes, it is admirable to be involved in your local school and district. But I encourage you to take your craft beyond your school or district walls.

For example, my preferred conference in held by the Center for the Contemplative Mind in Society, and that is the conference I try to go to every year. Teaching can often get lonely yet attending a yearly conference that is held OUTSIDE of my school district gives me the opportunity to connect with educators on state, national, and even international levels.

Tip: Have funds available-it is possible that your district will not reimburse you for that conference.

4. Find your niche beyond the subject you teach. Go deep.

Yes, I teach Spanish but I am also passionate about higher education, teacher well-being, and mindfulness in education. So, those are the three topics that I constantly read up on, research, and write about. I also do workshops in my district and beyond on these three topics.

Tip: researching other areas will make you feel well-rounded as an educator.

5. Take trips. With purpose.

I just came back from Chile where I spent 4.5 months visiting schools and doing research on Chilean children’s literature. It was an incredible, highly stimulating experience that allowed me to see what my colleagues overseas are doing and to learn from them. A fellow teacher in my school went to Spain for 6 weeks to sightsee and gather information for our units. There is Fulbright, National Endowment for Humanities, Hilton HHonors Teacher Treks, and other programs that allow teachers to travel with both personal and professional goals in mind.

Tip: these types of programs often require an extentive application. Apply early.

6. Professional organizations. No, I don’t mean LinkedIn. 

Think of a professional network organization or an alumni association that you joined because they a. promote the profession/subject matter, b. advocate for you, and c. provide resources and networking opportunities. Become an ACTIVE member. Being an active member does not mean paying membership fees yearly. It means being actively involved with that organization.

For me, such organization is Kappa Delta Pi Internationa Honor Society in Education. I am a long-standing member of KDP, have served as their chapter president, attended their conferences, received multiple teacher grants from them, was involved in Graduate Student Committee, and build a strong network of like minded educators.

Tip: Choose no more than ONE. Otherwise, you will have no time for anything else.

In closing….

As I reflected on the above 6 points, I realized that many of them have to do withtaking your teaching out of your classroom and into the world… 

Perhaps this is what makes teacher professional development enjoyable and thought-provoking?

Perhaps we need to rethink teacher professional development to make it more relevant to us and our students?

How can we start this conversation with schools, districts, professional organizations, the Department of Ed?

How can we, as teachers, move away from the “required 20 hours a year of professional development per year” and actually start doing it simply because we enjoy it?

Most importantly, how can we find **time** to invest in the above initiatives?

Those are some loaded questions. I am open to answers.

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