Finding time to engage in professional learning can present a challenge for educators. We keep ourselves quite busy with our daily work, creating lesson plans, interacting with students, taking care of the daily tasks and responsibilities, and preparing for each day, that finding extra time to connect with other educators sometimes does not happen.
It is important for educators to find ways to engage in professional development, and more importantly, to do so as a means to push ourselves out of our comfort zone, bring in new learning experiences for our students, and to avoid the isolation that can happen at times.
How can we make time to connect?
Our daily schedule at times leaves little room for attending PD events and sometimes can limit our interactions with our colleagues. While schools provide their own professional development sessions or teachers may have opportunities to attend local, state, or national conferences, the cost involved in attending them leads to additional planning and preparation for our students.
As a result, some teachers decide to stay in the classroom because missing out on that time with students is too difficult.
So how can educators engage in professional learning and find time to connect with other educators, when schedules and responsibilities make finding extra time difficult?
Over the past five years, in my own personal and professional learning journey, technology has enabled me to make new connections and to participate in a variety of learning opportunities. We know that technology is not always the answer, however in this case, it can help to provide a solution so that educators can take advantage of these important and necessary professional learning opportunities.
A few years ago I made a shift to becoming a more connected educator by leveraging the technology available through social media.
How I have found time to connect and grow as an educator
Here are five of the ways that I have engaged in professional learning that work well with a schedule and that are available without so many constraints on time or place.
Although I was quite resistant to create a Facebook or a Twitter account, once I did, my Professional Learning Network (PLN) has continued to grow. Whether you have time to engage in a Twitter chat or instead follow an educational hashtags, you can find what will work best with your schedule.
For hashtags, I recommend #education, #educoach, #ntchat, #edchat, #k12, #suptchat, #edtech, and other topic related hashtags to follow such as #STEM, #SEL, #PBL, #teacherPD, to name a few. See some of the many weekly and monthly Twitter chats and topics to follow. Connect with me on Twitter (@Rdene915) and I would be happy to help!
Schools have been starting to provide time for PLCs, or professional learning communities. A PLC can be created to explore a specific focus, a type of learning, whether a book study or other self-directed initiatives that teachers select to explore more personalized professional development.
Depending on each school, perhaps time can be set aside for PLCs to meet during the school day. We can also leverage technology, which allows PLCs to collaborate through options such as email, online conferencing, or using communication tools like Slack or Voxer.
There are different educator communities available such as Common Sense Educators, Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts, or Google Certified Educators, for a few examples. In these types of learning communities, educators become part of a supportive professional learning network (PLN) that brings in real-world experiences for students and for teachers.
They offer opportunities to connect at networking events like local meet-ups, conferences and online learning such as webinars. As a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE), I have taken different courses through the online platform and also participate in summits with educators from around the world, sharing new ideas and resources.
Teachers can stay up-to-date with the trends and issues happening in education. Some resources that I have used include Simple K-12, EdWeb, and NEA which offer some free webinars and other learning opportunities and resources.
Recently there have been online learning events like the TeacherSuccesSummit, which included sessions from more than 70 educators on many different topics. Throughout the year there are also special online events like Global Maker Day, Ditch Summit, and Hive Summit.
The benefit is that opportunities like these enable us to learn when it fits our schedule and we can also build our PLN by connecting with educators from around the world.
Read more: How to succeed with online PD for teachers
Blogging and reflections
Reflection is an important part of our professional practice. It is how we can continue to improve and to push ourselves to keep learning. We can engage in our own writing, or read some of the education blogs out there and make connections that way. Here is a list of top education blogs to follow and this can be helpful for finding specific topics, based on certain content areas or grade levels.
The power in being intentional about reflecting, whether we are writing or reading someone else’s, is that we can transform these thoughts, or those notes, into a blog and ask for feedback from our PLN. We can then share what we are doing and it might end up being the advice that a colleague needs.
We must continue to learn
Educators are passionate about lifelong learning and becoming part of a supportive network. It’s also about stretching ourselves personally and professionally. To provide authentic and real-world experiences for our students, we must continue to challenge ourselves and place ourselves in the place of a student to better understand how they are feeling in our classrooms.
Professional development today is greatly changed compared to how it was in the past because we now have access to different resources. The power of learning whenever we connect with others and share our stories and our experiences, really serves to amplify the learning potential.
When educators seize the opportunity to try new things and continue to grow, we can provide our best selves for those we lead and learn with.
Rachelle Dene Poth is a Foreign Language and STEAM Teacher at Riverview Junior/Senior High in Oakmont, PA. She is also an Attorney, Edtech Consultant and the Author of In Other Words: Quotes that Push Our Thinking, The Future is Now, and Unconventional Ways to Thrive in EDU. Follow her on Twitter at @Rdene915