Professional Learning: “Is this Mandatory?”

“Less ‘fun ideas and silly stories’ and more practical resources. Please use our professional time professionally” and “Is this mandatory?” were a response on a follow-up survey from a training that my colleague and I gave. The training topic was an insight into the new teaching licensure requirement in technology for our state. We focused on multiple ways and places that teachers could explore to acquire the required credits. The majority of what we presented, while readily available if someone went looking for it, wasn’t entirely easily accessed. Our thinking was that we would provide easy links and videos to save teachers time in finding the various ways to get CEUs (Continuing Education Unit). And we provided part of a credit by giving this training.teachers at training

Providing instruction where we don’t know the small group of teachers coming in to work with us means that sometimes we are going to not provide enough, provide something the teacher doesn’t feel they need or go too quickly for someone. We attempt to differentiate during every training, but sometimes we miss the mark.

We take our feedback surveys personally. We really do want to modify our training to continue to improve the content we deliver. And I know we can’t make everyone happy (as was evidenced by the teacher and another colleague at this training!) But how do you discern whether the dissatisfaction is because of the content, the trainers, job unhappiness, or personal life affecting attitude? I feel it’s our job to at least attempt to meet as many people as possible right where they are.

question marksDid I take this teacher’s comment personally? You bet. Does it mean that I’ll never give that same training in the same way again? Probably. And a few years ago, I would lose sleep over what I “did wrong”. But I am a different person today. I have an amazingly supportive colleague who collaborates to make things better each time. We will digest the feedback and will find a way to respectfully and professionally follow up with this teacher to find out how or if we can provide digital learning support in the future.

This journey of educating isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s for the brave. It’s for those that, despite the criticism, despite the challenges keep coming back into the ring every day. Whether you work with children or adults, the motivation is the same: To open the door to learning and to make that learning relative and timely.

“Is this mandatory?” Yes, yes it is. While you might not hear the message yet, we will continue to share the message. While you might think it’s a waste of your time because you know more than we do, there are valuable things that we are learning from you at the same time. Teach us and help us help you. #neverstoplearning

Expanding Your PD While Waiting in Traffic

No, I’m not really checking my Twitter feed while sitting in traffic. (Not that I haven’t done that before). But, there are so many tools that can curate for you while you are busy doing other things. Last summer, most of my professional reading happened while waiting for my Dad to finish his cardiac rehab. It was quiet up there on the second floor of the medical building. Dad was getting his physical workout time and I was getting my brain workout time.

There is so much information to digest! I often get caught up in Twitter feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. Info-whelmed I believe the term is. So I went looking for other ways to get the best of what worked for me so that I could add to this info whelming PD process.

There are lots of tools out there. Some seem more suited to my style of learning than others. The tools I choose to use for myself are not the same as what I might suggest a teacher use with students.  Common Sense Media has curated a good list of these: https://www.commonsense.org/education/top-picks/great-apps-and-websites-for-curation

content curation tools map

Where do you find your inspiration? A young professional friend of mine commented that she’d never used Twitter. Never tweeted. Hmmm. Are we teaching the immense value of this platform?

While it’s rapid fire and sometimes I continue to feel info-whelmed, Twitter is still my go to for my PLN (Professional Learning Network). LinkedIn is becoming more like a cross between Facebook and Twitter. While I like both of those platforms for different reasons, I’m not ready to really spend a lot of time there – YET.

I find nuggets of information on social media. I really couldn’t curate as much data as I do without using Feedly.com. Feedly allows me to follow multiple blogs and grab information from so many sites. A quick read of headlines allows me to utilize my time in the most efficient way.

Social media is a powerful learning tool. How do you curate? Who do you follow? I look forward to learning from you!

#PD #ProfessionalLearning #Twitter #curate #alwayslearning

The Nature of Summer

Every day of summer vacation includes some professional time. I’m not one to take the summer off. Even if I could truly take the summer off, I’m sure I’d fill my time with professional development or a project of some kind. I’m not good at vacating!

While summer gives me time to regroup and change up my routine, it also allows me time to reflect on what’s truly important in my career as well as my home life. What parts of your work life spill over into your home life? If you’re an educator, then probably a lot.

beach during sunset
Photo by b. on Pexels.com

Educational professionals lead a different kind of life. There is a constant need to reinvent oneself as technology changes, curriculum changes, schools change and demands change. It can cross into your personal life in such a way that you never truly feel like you are away from your job.

So how do you balance it? Every person does it differently, but I find that I have to still teach all summer. Maybe you teach at a summer camp. Maybe you give professional development sessions to other teachers. Maybe you teach your own kids. Or maybe you teach yourself new things. I try to combine as much of that as I can but on a less demanding schedule than the traditional school year.

I teach teachers online for the New England Institute for Teacher Education. Two of my established technology classes are running concurrently right now. The summer is the only time to run two at the same time while working full-time! This adventure is full of new things every time I do it. These teachers find new angles that I hadn’t even thought of! I get a “2-fer” – I get to teach and I get to learn at the same time. Now that’s a great summer!

The nature of my summer might look a lot different than yours. Yes, sometimes I long to go take a really long walk on a beach somewhere, but my family has other demands that just don’t allow for much of that. It’s all good, though. I’m able to help them out and still get to do something I love: educate and learn.

How about you? What’s your “Nature of Summer”?

 

Developing an Online Course Is Like A Box of Chocolates

Chocolates would be good right about now. Every time I sit down to work on the next piece of one of my online courses, I start searching for the one with the gooey caramel center. I mean, that’s what it’s like. I look for the nuggets of wisdom. The centers of rich and creamy perfection that I can share with my online students.

box of chocolates

Gee! Now I’m hungry – again!

Teaching online is a bit different than just taking your seated course and moving it to the cloud. Some universities and professors find that an acceptable way to educate adults online. Frankly, I haven’t seen it work yet. You have to find the richness that is found in your topic and make it relevant to the classroom.

The online platform requires a different set of skills for the learner. If I don’t find out what kind of learner they are, I can’t assist them in any way. Asynchronous courses – those that can be accessed and worked on at any time by teacher or student – are tough for those that aren’t used to self-directed learning and being in the proverbial closet when doing their work.

While I’ve tried to set up synchronous meetings in past online classes, the availability of busy teachers (including me) just hasn’t been helpful. My summer courses seem to have a bit more flexibility, but even then my students are often working other jobs to make ends meet.

So back to the development of these courses…

My courses are project based. They have to be. Writing papers for an online technology course is like asking a cat if he wants a bath. It just isn’t pretty. Besides, it doesn’t show me what my students know and are able to do.

I create tutorial videos and screencasts which help a lot. But, if my content changes every 10 weeks or so, it’s hard to keep up that recording schedule. My dog isn’t much help. He barks every time I need a quiet moment. Or the 3D printers start printing a remote job. Or someone comes to the door. Or, well, I could think of a million excuses.


Who did we ask before Google

The fact remains, that I keep searching. Searching for just the right chocolate. Searching for just the right center. And then Google changes the way they do something. Or links go stale. Or the LMS (Learning Management System) gets changed. Or I’m just not satisfied that I did my best work. Or I’m in a hurry because I also work a full-time job and have a family.

Do I love it? Yes! Do I need to keep reinventing my courses? Yes! Maybe you are a teacher reading this and you think you might like to learn more about learning online. Or you need CEUs and want to learn more. Come shake up one of my classes. Come try out your Growth Mindset because you just don’t have it all done YET. Oh, and bring chocolate. Because everything is better with chocolate!

Barbara Vinal is a full-time Instructional Technology Facilitator and Magnet School Coordinator. She teaches online for the New England Institute for Teacher Education. She also teaches piano and plays keyboard/sings in a contemporary Christian music band.

The Power of Personal Online Professional Development

It has always been a challenge for me to find enough time to really communicate and train my staff the way I think I should. It’s not due to lack of motivation on my part. It’s not due to lack of need on my learner’s part. The biggest stumbling block becomes time. There is never enough time – at least not enough during the school day, a workday or well, any other day!

The move to online professional development that is self-directed has made all the difference. While I’d prefer that best practices teaching be standardized in some way, the personal aspect of being able to provide content that “speaks” to my learners in my own voice is crucial. Each trainer or coach needs to provide that personal touch that pulls in their audience.

It has a lot to do with surrounding oneself with greatness. Take, for example, that vibrant person that you learn something from every single time you are around them. They seem to just ooze the best tips, tricks, and ways to do things. They are dynamic, even if they are quiet. One is drawn to what they have to share and may be found following them on Twitter and even to lunch. But, they are willing to share. They are quick to offer a solution. These are the people I like to surround myself with.

I can send people to YouTube where they can search for their topic. But they want to hear it from me. They want to hear about my personal connection with this tool or method. Making it personal makes it real. It’s no longer just the learner and the computer. It becomes the learner, the computer and the coach who is on demand 24/7.

So, I will continue to surround myself with great people. I will continue to learn about my profession, as it changes daily. I will continue to provide the best professional development that I can so that my learners will grow and become leaders themselves. What a great year it’s going to be!