Professional Development that might happen under the radar
As recent post-vacation weeks vanished into history without evidence of reflection here, I began to worry that the commitment to my professional development that got this website up and running in February was similarly waning with the weeks. But coming home from work one day I ticked off a list of projects I’m involved in at the moment and realized that they are producing a lot of the reflection and development that used to go here. Tellingly, many of them grew out of connections and developments started through Evolutions.
So I thought I’d share with that list, with some examples and questions for each item in hopes that everyone in the profession (and in other professions, for that matter) who stops by here in need of ideas/impetus/reassurance sees how easy it can be to add a couple of these to their PD repertoire without necessarily committing themselves to hours of added ‘work’ each week.
This post is a broader list of things I’m doing largely (but not entirely) outside the classroom. As such, it’s a bit of a companion piece to this earlier one specifically on developing as a teacher. If anyone feels like commenting, I’d love to know what others are doing in this area.
How Professional Development is (and isn’t) fostered in the workplace
I’m sure all of us could ask our employer to contribute more to ‘nurturing’ us. Aside from buying books we request, my employer does nothing else. At the same time, for the program I coordinate to survive in fierce competition, the teacher development courses we offer must remain current and accredited by the numerous organizations worldwide that cooperate with us despite the absence of fair compensation for product development. One might think there’s a significant disconnect here, and/or a revolving door for dissatisfied faculty, and an environment in which success is unsustainable. On the contrary, we sort of collectively realized that while on principle we could look ignore the developmental needs of our program, doing so would mean spiting ourselves as well, because in refusing to evolve the academic environment in which we were immersed, we would also be stifling a major source of our own professional evolution. We had to accept that the personal growth produced as a by-product of minimally remunerated skilled labor for our employer was valuable for other compelling, essential reasons: professional competence and self-esteem, new literacies, a larger professional network, and ultimately the next step in a professional journey.
0. Change an existing course = update/improve an existing product
Plan –> Teach (Record) –> reflect (with students?) –> Change (Evolve)… Basic exploratory practice. Contact me if you need articles from this link.
The question: “How does what my learners experience with me meet their needs and expectations?”
1. Teach a new course = take on a new existing product in the company’s line
This semester I took on a “Classroom English for Young Learners” class. It’s my first foray into the YL side of our teacher development program, though not my first time dealing with EFL for children, and I’m having a ball, even though there’s a bit of panic each week in the days before the class. The prepping with faculty I wouldn’t otherwise get too involved with on a professional level invites dialogue that provokes reflection on the courses in both programs.
There’s nothing like agreeing to continue the success of an existing product to invigorate, promote inspiration, get faculty room brainstorming/pedagogy discussions going, force a little outside-the-comfort-zone risk-taking… and it leads to the practice and acquisition of new skills, not to mention an enhanced portfolio.
The question to ask: “What turns me on that one of my colleagues is doing?”
2. Design a new course = launch a new product
This semester my faculty colleagues and I have agreed to lay the groundwork for a blended version of our courses. To be clear, the decision to go blended emerged largely from my reading and research (occasionally with colleagues) while updating other courses in our program.
In many ways, the course creation or re-design I have done here (in consultation with colleagues, students, and supervisors) has fueled my professional development more than anything else I have done in my career. The design of any new course requires purposeful research in professional journals and all over the internet, which affords new relationships as well as new “worlds” of knowledge. It requires choices of technologies and tasks, and deciding on these opens new interdisciplinary avenues for connections and discovery: edtech, psychology, neuroscience, and so on. Invariably, it turns out that this knowledge has many applications, and other courses/classes/colleagues in the program then benefit in turn. Once a new course is up and running, keeping it up to date up-to-date means keeping up with these fields, which again ensures my ongoing professional development in these areas.
So one asks oneself, “What’s next for me as a teacher? What do I want to do that fits the needs of my workplace?”
3. Help a colleague’s research = practice cooperative development / mentoring
In June, four colleagues and I agreed to assist a doctoral student working in our field with research for her thesis. Previously, colleagues in my department conducting their own doctoral research had engaged me, others, and our students in studies. Such is the norm, and all of those earlier examples fostered at least some meaningful professional interaction that pointed us at areas of our profession we might not otherwise have looked at.
In this current case we got lucky, because this researcher’s focus is the beliefs and practices of teacher educators. So we’re reflecting with her on our teaching, and she’s transcribing observations and asking us questions. I’m sure I’ll be adding reflective posts here once in awhile to follow-up, but it’s also possible that reflecting with her may temporarily replace some of the teacher reflection I’ve been doing here.
No question here — just say “Yes”.
4. Survey current and/or past students = development customer satisfaction dialogue
Understanding learners’ needs, beliefs, and other elements of their culture (what they bring to my learning community) is essential for the development of an optimal quality of classroom life. Billions of words have been spilled on this topic, and damn near nothing has been done by yours truly in this area of teacher research here in Korea. I have largely been too afraid to ask my students how they are feeling about my classes, even though I’ve known of simple technology I could use that would let me do this, and despite the tale of woe I documented in Failure Fest which indicated that I really ought not to be so disconnected from my students. (I don’t want to give the wrong impression here: hundreds of my are friends on my professional FB page and Google+, and my email inbox seems to never be without student emails, but directly asking for their take on things in some collectable way that suits their response style… not until recently.
So, at a June meeting of the lovely Sunday afternoon Seoul Reflective Practice Sig (this session chaired by the inestimable Alex Walsh), I committed to engage my learners in active negotiation of their classroom culture. In other words, I said I’d design a survey system that would keep me informed of my effect on the class, and the learners’ satisfaction with various essential aspects of the class, as well as invite suggestions from them.
Every couple of weeks I embed a Google Form in the class Google+ community. Each student can click on the form, fill it in right there in the community, and hit ‘submit’. The data is tabulated automatically and comes back to me in easily readable colorful graphs and charts… Couldn’t be easier. I’m currently on a fortnightly or so schedule. Here’s an example – I learned just now that it’s equally simple to embed in a WP post:
Acting on feedback provided by students is a great way to keep the reflective cycle going. For example, I ended the first survey with an “any suggestions” box, and I learned from a student that she wanted opportunities to partner with different classmates nearly every lesson. She suggested to me that I see to this somehow. I thought, “Golly that’s a good idea!” and remembered that I hadn’t paid much attention to reseating/regrouping students for a few semesters, since after the opening six weeks or so of our program, the various tasks would put them with different classmates anyway. But it was easy to throw in a five minute regrouping activity every lesson or two in these opening weeks, and a definite boon to socialization and community-development among my students. Problem fixed, on to the next problem.
I use the forms primarily to find out how they are feeling about several aspects of the course. I’ll undoubtedly be blogging about my findings (ongoing) soon, so I’ll keep this brief here. I must say I’m excited to be given a window of my own design into my learners’ thoughts and feelings about me and their course, but insight I get is not for the faint-hearted. The fact that I have that information, however, means that it is within my power to make better-informed changes to my practice/style/planning.
“How do my students feel about x in my class, and how can I get them to tell me?”
5. Acquire at least one new tech literacy = upgrade skills
Usually, this happens almost organically. Every semester it seems there’s a different one. With me it’s been a lot of Google over the years. First, Google Docs (now Drive), then student-hosted blogs on Blogger. At some point I switched from Firefox to (primarily) Chrome because of the smoother operation of some of the Google services through Chrome.More recently we integrated most of these services by adopting Google+, and added Youtube for hosting student videos, voxopop for student recordings. Earlier this year I blogged a lot about using this Wordpress site for student authoring, and Twitter for basic student written communication.
This semester, I expect the main literacy gained to be the one for the blended learning platform we adopt. I’ve seen several in operation through webinars and conferences I’ve attended in the past couple of years. Saba, Adobe Connect, and GoToMeeting appear to be the most popular, but here’s a great feature comparison chart of these and many more.
Perhaps the only point to make here about the benefit to one’s professional development afforded by greater technological literacy is that once we reach the point at which we are older than 90% of our students (and it only takes a few years for that to happen, even teaching at Universities), our relevance, and the relevance of our courses depends on the estimation of our students that they are worthwhile, savvy, and modern. That means we need to understand, work with, and then develop our students’ literacies.
“What’s the most interesting and fun tech tool I don’t know much about yet?”
6. The ‘working’ lunch = discuss product deployment strategies in local communities of practice.
Where I work, our students are supposed to receive the same content regardless of who teaches them. This results in fairly systematized lesson plans, but that constraint affords the flexibility in approach to the plans that assures the ongoing evolution of all our products. Of course, that evolution only happens because we get together regularly (every week) to react, coordinate, and say ‘I found myself wanting to do it this way’… The get-togethers frequently occur online from home as well. Regularly these chats lead to reading safaris, video-watching, tweetchats, and so on, collecting data that in turn prompts reflexive redesign of course modules and faculty members’ practice.
“How did you handle x, why, and how can we address y?”
7. Multimodal reading = participate in the communities of practice of the field
“Do you read me?” Chances are if you’re reading this, this is one goes without saying, but where does one begin in this day and age? Peer-reviewed journals, while frequently containing outstanding content, frequently hit the shelves/websites long after the same topics have caught fire in the blogosphere. The progress of “Open Access” is still snail-like, which renders those journals inaccessible behind paywalls to a huge audience that could benefit from them. Still, nearly everything is findable in some way at minimal cost — abstracts, manuscript pdfs, or similar papers lodged at sites like Academia.edu have rendered the journals all but unnecessary.
Furthermore, “reading” is more and more often a multimodal activity that includes viewing video, slideshares, polls, and interactive websites. Where to start? Well, I guarantee that a brief look or two at the #keltchat group on Facebook will point you to excellent teacher-authored blogs and a way into Twitter via that hashtag, which will promptly give you more than you can handle.
I find the reading to be addictive, and an endlessly rewarding voyage to me. My reading feeds back to my workplace, where I can pass on ideas or texts, or confidently implement/integrate positive change in our products, and experience tangible better results. That said, a lot of people wisely place this kind of reading within the context of an external goal, like coursework that leads to higher degrees or certificates, or professional development seminars that yield extra income. Whatever the reason/motivation, I’ve come to the realization that interacting through texts with other professionals is a piece of my professional happiness/vitality.
“What’s the title of the most interesting reference in the last article I read?”
8. Enroll in a new course (or 8) = diversify
I’m pretty sure that this semester I’m feeling a need for outside sources to point me to my reading. Taking a course is great way to focus one’s reading/research/development, and there’s never been a better time for them. Besides, if I do finish one, I get a certificate and a fresh item on my CV. In conjunction with actual work or other evidence in my portfolio, these items WILL improve my attractiveness by adding to the sense of commitment to a particular area or one’s own ongoing development.
While the MOOC wizard has long since come out from behind its curtain, this in no way means the plethora of online courses are useless to me. It just means learning from them is up to me, and not at all the same kind of experience as ‘being there’. I’ve tried a course each of the past two semesters, and while I didn’t finish either one of them, I can’t say my loss of interest was due to the design of either course. I just didn’t put much thought into the choice, because I was more interested in experiencing how online courses work than any particular course topic.
This semester the stakes are higher. Given the blended learning turn desired by my institution, I can link my own passion for this area quite happily to my institution’s development by choosing courses more carefully and more topically. This summer I went to Coursera and searched their index of courses for topics in online teaching and learning.
Then I signed up for eight, only one of which is about online learning. But that’s OK — they vary in duration and start date, and I’m not worried about finishing them all. My hope is that one will keep me engaged. Sort of like having a bunch of pdfs on my tablet and surfing them until I find one I can’t put down.
I used to think the easy road is to master the teaching of one or two courses/classes by repeating them enough semester after semester to the point that I could teach them without thinking about them or spending much time at all on prepping myself for them. I figured I was “maximizing my efficiency” in this way, spending less time at work for the same pay and freeing myself up for the finer things in life… whatever those may be.
“What do I want to know more about, and why?”
And there we have it. If I take a minute to notice what we’re doing in the workplace, and meet the needs of the workplace halfway, more or less, I can notice, impact, and amplify my professional development. Just as I criticized my employer’s lack of interest in my PD, it is equally arguable that my PD would be severely restricted without the involvement of that same place. In other words, development occurs through interaction, and what’s good for the gander… or, as I heard Bruce Springsteen say once, and never forgot: