In my district, the powers-that-be have recently changed the system of staff development. Up until last year, teachers were required to participate in 40 hours of professional development during the school year. This was outside of the contract day, and we could not include those activities where we were reimbursed by the district. Many of us used conferences attended, curriculum work with others, school visits, grad classes, and the like to count toward this 40 hours.

This year, we are operating a system similar to many other districts where we have a set calendar of staff development, including monthy one-hour extension days for teachers and half-day early releases for students, leaving the afternoon for PD. To determine the subject of all this time, individuals, departments, and buildings wrote proposals based on needs and goals. Various committees supposedly review these, and a calendar for the year is constructed.

Though we’ve now been in school for three weeks, much ambiguity still exists as to the specifics of these sessions. We only know which will be “building” and which ones “district”. Frankly, it has caused no small amount of frustration among staff. My only frustration is that our district tech coordinator submitted a proposal for some ongoing technology in-service, which apparently will not be a part of any of the sessions.

Just recently, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of Professional Development. I already have my master’s degree (and don’t plan on getting another…or my doctorate!). I have taken the maximum credits needed to max out on the salary schedule. So, it’s probably a good thing that we have a system of staff development lest I become a veteran teacher stagnated and stuck in the past, right?

It dawned on me a couple weeks back that I have a fairly elaborate, self-imposed system of professional development. I have an evolving personal learning environment through my connections and networks and reading. After 13 years of teaching, I’ve learned more in the past year than I learned in the previous dozen, plus my teacher ed. program. And I think for the first time in my adult life, I can honestly say:

I truly learn something new every day.

My more skeptical colleagues would say that I, the web geek, am learning the tools. I am learning how-to and all the new gadgets that seem to come out every day. True enough. But I am learning so much more than that:

I am learning about learning.

Through my own use of technology, though my conversations with colleagues far and near, through my own writing, blogging, recording of thoughts on my iPod (which may become a podcast one day!), I am experiencing a new way of learning, one that is much more compatible with the way our kids are learning. Because I know that the way I learned in the past is not “good enough” for kids these days, I have chosen to immerse myself into the type of learning environment that best suits the digital natives.

So what does my PLE look like? I connect and think through…

  • My blog, which gives me a chance to reflect on what and how I am learning
  • Classroom 2.0, a social/professional network (kind of a Facebook for educators) where conversations take place on a wide range of topics (both technological and non-tech). This network also includes my own page and separate networks (for professional development, for example)
  • Google Docs, where I have collaborated on documents with other educators
  • Chat: I just recently started using the chat function in Gmail for conversations
  • Twitter: Ok, this is just a little fun. Sort of an ongoing IM, pops up when someone in the “twitterverse” adds a thought. Can be used for quick survey for ideas, tech help, quick sending of links, etc.
  • a “social bookmarking” site that allows me to tag and categorize sites that I find. Others can see my list, or find my links when doing a general search. I can also network with other users, creating an even larger “database” of sites.
  • A number of blogs written by other teachers and technology coordinators. I learn much about the latest tools and uses of technology, what others are doing in class, and what others are writing about learning. Here, I find links, people, organizations, and ideas that I might not otherwise have found.
  • Google Reader, which helps me keep up-to-date with many of the conversations above by subscribing to RSS feeds and bringing the new content to me, in one place.

I know I’m missing some elements. I’m not even including personal connections, like my Facebook account–where I may not learn much about teaching, but I learn plenty about how communication and social relationships are changing.

And I don’t plan on quitting. Lifelong learning doesn’t allow you to say: “Well, that’s about enough learning. I guess I’ve arrived.” So, I hope to facilitate some tech workshops throughout the year, I’m applying to be a STAR teacher through the Discovery Education Network, and I hope to attend an English education conference and NECC in San Antonio next summer.

And I feel like I’m just beginning…

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