George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Many schools across the country have professional development days built into their calendar and regularly send teachers to sessions related to their discipline or passion. These are great opportunities to collaborate with staff members in your building and meet educators with similar goals in nearby schools. If your school doesn’t have the resources or hasn't created space in your schedule for valuable professional development, there are ways that you can take ownership of your PD. These nine quick tips are for teachers looking to make the most of the knowledge within their own school building, maximize their use of social media, and connect with faraway teacher friends.

In Your Own School

1. Ask For Help

Be this person! I was so lucky to start my teaching career in a school with many open doors. This made it easy to ask a question, borrow a resource, solicit advice, and just chat with my colleagues. If your school has more closed classroom doors than open ones, be the person who knocks to say hello. Since asking for help or posing a question can be out of our comfort zones, bring a copy of a fun lesson or an interesting piece of student work to start a conversation. This can make it easier to ask colleagues for a favor or get their opinion on a situation you're trying to tackle.

2. Locate Free Resources

Traveling to a conference can be logistically and financially challenging. There are many live and recorded webinars that provide insight into how to effectively integrate a new learning tool or introduce a strategy to incorporate into a lesson. Gather a group of teachers after school, request coverage for a period, or host a lunch for your colleagues to watch a webinar together.

3. Keep Track

If your state, district, or school mandates that teachers participate in a certain number of professional development hours, use a PDF scanner on your mobile device to stay organized. This app is perfect for snapping a picture of an agenda or sign-in sheet so that you have easy access to all of the paperwork showing evidence of your attendance.

4. Hold an "Appy Hour"

We are often so caught up in our own day and schedules it's hard to know what is happening in the classroom next door, let alone on the other side of our school building. Dedicate one afternoon a month to connecting with your colleagues. Build time into your monthly faculty meetings or weekly grade-level meetings for teachers to share. This could be an "Appy Hour" where teachers each have two minutes to demo a favorite app they're using in their classroom, or an opportunity for each member of the school community to share a successful lesson or new web tool they've tried out with students.

On Twitter

5. Follow Five

Twitter is an amazing resource for teachers, and it's had an enormous impact on my professional growth as an educator. Once you've gotten started with an account and are checking in regularly, make a commitment to follow five new people every week. This could be five education organizations, like Edutopia or Scholastic, or five people that you find by using the search terms like "Apple Distinguished Educators" or "AP English teachers."

6. Join a Chat

Twitter chats are a wonderful way for teachers to connect with likeminded educators who have actionable ideas and advice to offer. By joining a chat, you can read through the tweets people are posting to a chat's hashtag or dive in by answering and posing questions. Three of my favorites are #satchat, #ADEchat, and #1to1ipadchat. Learn more about Twitter chats from Betty Ray's blog post.

7. Hashtag Search

A hashtag is the # sign that you often see included in a tweet. Some schools and conferences use a hashtag to help people search for tweets that focus on a particular topic. You can type in a hashtag into Twitter's search bar for a topic that you want to learn more about. This could be #ipaded to read about iPads used in education, or #flipclass to see tweets on the flipped classroom model.

With Faraway Teacher Friends

8. Start Voxing

I thought this walkie-talkie app was a little gimmicky when I first tried it, but after a few weeks, I completely changed my mind. Voxer lets you set up groups of people that can send audio, text, or picture messages to one another. Instead of the 140 characters you're limited to on Twitter, Voxer gives users more space to articulate their thoughts. You can start a Voxer group with college friends who are teaching in different parts of the country, or with a few people that you met at a conference who were interested in sharing the successes and challenges in your respective classrooms.

9. Virtual Blog Club

Committing to a book club can be overwhelming for busy professionals. Try setting up a virtual blog club instead. Using a tool like Google Hangout, have a handful of teacher friends sign on at a set time one night a month. Before you meet, the rotating host should choose four or five blog articles for the whole group to read. During your blog club, participants can share their big takeaways, classroom applications, or questions about what they've read.

Whether you're in a school that values meaningful professional development, or your district doesn't have the resources to support all of their teachers, there are plenty of PD options.

Share your favorite quick tip for taking ownership of your PD in the comments section below.

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Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Can I add one more to this great list? Start by getting clear about what you want to learn. PD- particularly teacher driven PD via the web- can be like drinking from a firehose. Knowing what you want to learn now (as opposed to what you want to know next) can help you curate the resources you come across. I've used Pinterest as a great way to curate information on different topics- particularly when they weren't what I was looking for at that moment, but that I didn't want to lose.

Thanks for sharing this list- there's so much good stuff to explore!

Hillary Hill's picture
Hillary Hill
Social Media Marketing Associate at Edutopia

Laura, Pinterest is an amazing tool, isn't it? I think it's really great that you use it for keeping tabs on PD topics that might be useful down the road.

Taytes's picture

My favorite tip is having a Brown Bag lunch across grade levels. We set aside one day a week to eat lunch in the lounge. This gives an opportunity to share ideas, celebrate successes, and brainstorm ideas to solve problems. My staff has done this and it is great to meet and build community across grade bands.

A. Struckman's picture

I enjoyed this post and the tips to be very beneficial. The "Appy" hour tip is my favorite. As educators we are always looking to collaborate and communicate more with our colleagues, and this would make a great addition to what we already are doing. I agree with Laura about the "PD via the wed can be like drinking from a firehose" gush! With that in mind, my teaching partner and I try to narrow our topics down monthly. We try to choose a topic that is important to us throughout our teaching and focus on finding blogs, ideas and research to help support and apply them to our teaching practices. This also keeps our collaboration and PLC meetings fresh and new.

Grant Lichtman's picture
Grant Lichtman
Author, speaker, facilitator, "Chief Provocateur"

Great list! I might add that I find teachers using combinations of these tools and pathways very effectively in as little as 30 min to one hour per week. These do not have to be all-consuming; just get started!

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