Unique Professional Development Program Launched

It’s been several years in the making, but I’ve finally finished the process of developing a unique approach to District-wide professional development.  It involves monthly challenges and microcredentials, both with the ultimate goal of enabling people to become a Connected Educator.

Four possible badges to earn

Four possible badges to earn

As I wrote to my District in an email this morning:

Certified Staff, Administrators, and Board Members,
With each new mandate and each new set of standards, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.  Some days I wonder why I’m still in this profession. 
But then I look to my amazing Professional Learning Network (PLN) of educators from around the world (literally) who are all so positive and see the good in what we do, that I’m recharged and remember why I finally chose education after drifting from job to job throughout my twenties.  It’s because we are the backbone of society – without education, a free democracy cannot exist. 
Since I am a ‘Connected Educator,’ I have access to thousands of teachers’ ideas and resources; I can’t imagine going back to working in the dark, by myself.
Some of you are also Connected Educators, but not very many. I would like to see everyone in this district reap the benefits of establishing your own PLN.  The trick is that, just like our students, every teacher has different needs and comes from a different place, so there is no one-size-fits-all model.  I first started thinking about this in 2012, and came up with the term Personalized Professional Development (PPD).  That blog post became one of my most-read entries, and culminated in a presentation at the Midwest Educational Technology Conference on the same topic.  
Just like in biological evolution when a certain characteristic can appear in completely unrelated populations (like fins for swimming), PPD sprang up all around that year – it’s now a ‘thing’, and a Google search brings up millions of entries.  I firmly believe it’s the best way to grow your professional self, and would like to invite you to a special community.
We are looking for 20 people from District 90 to take part in a Pilot of #OFD90Learns.  
#OFD90Learns is a program where you earn microcredentials. There are two paths:  badges and monthly challenges.  You can choose one or both to work on next year.  I think all your questions will be answered here.  
Remember, this is a Pilot Group of no more than 20.  If this sounds like something you would like to be a part of, click here to accept the invitation and register.  If not, the SIP Committee and I are still planning a great lineup of PD for next year’s SIP Days.  Stay tuned.
If, after you read the Program Description, you still have questions, be sure to ask!
I can’t wait to start.  This is gonna be great!
I welcome any feedback!  Thanks, too, to the many people who have already critiqued, written posts about their own experiences, and presented at #METC16 on their PD programs.  I appreciate you all.

New Job Prerequisite: Failure



I ran across this poster from Startup Vitamins about a year ago when I toured the T-Rex complex in downtown St. Louis.  My copy of it now stands on display behind my desk.  It reminds me to take a chance, to push myself outside my comfort zone, and to take the occasional risk.

I think the teaching community needs to add a prerequisite onto all our job descriptions – a criteria that needs to be met before a candidate can even apply for his/her first job:  “A successful candidate must be willing to take a chance, and to have experienced a painful failure at least once in their life.”  By talking in the interview about how the candidate learned from that failure will speak volumes about their character, and about how they will approach the challenges of their career.  I would rather hire a teacher who had started out as an entrepreneur and had lost everything than someone who had never missed an ‘A’ in school.

There is something to be said for being able to get up, dust yourself off, and get right back in there teaching big and on the edge again, teetering between epic fail and epic win.

Who fails? The teacher.  Who wins? The teacher AND all his/her students.

To me there is no alternative.

Changing Teachers’ Expectations of Teaching

If we are going to rethink/re-imagine/reform schools, we need to start by changing what teachers expect out of education.  And by ‘education’ I mean teaching: its impacts, its pedagogy, and itself as a career choice.  The public has new expectations, the students have the ability to develop expectations, lawmakers have new expectations, lead-learners in schools have a new vision, but the vast majority of teachers need to re-examine what they expect out of their chosen career.  Education as a commodity and as a profession is evolving, but the practitioners themselves are holding it back.

  • teacher tenure is out of date and should never be an expectation.
  • teachers should expect a fair salary, but not a guaranteed raise every year.
  • teachers should always want to improve and learn.  Ask questions.  “I haven’t received training on {insert variable}” or “I’m too old” is NEVER an excuse for not doing.
  • Schools should be on the frontier of innovation.  People who do not like change should choose another profession.
  • Teaching is a difficult profession that should prepare people for such.  Teacher training should be longer and more intense/immersive, should only happen at the beginning of the school year, and only with cooperating teachers who are good role models.

If we can develop a strong cadre of teaching professionals who will constantly work to better the profession as a whole, high-stakes testing will not hold schools captive for a month because real, authentic learning will happen every day.  Ineffective teachers will not be allowed to stay in the classroom.  And most importantly, American Public Education will once again have a leadership position in advancing global citizenship.


The Ideal Teacher


Spring marks the interviewing season – the time when schools replace retirees, and swap teachers and administrators.  Schools frantically pencil in the next year’s schedules, negotiate Handbook revisions, and compile summer maintenance lists.

But what if I wanted to start over from scratch?  What if I had an idea and some money, and wanted to hire a teacher?  What if State Certification didn’t mean anything, and I could hire anyone I wanted?  What would that ‘Ideal Teacher’ look like?

EDUCATION: How important is a teacher’s own education?  Do they need a Master’s? Bachelor’s? High School diploma?  Is my liberal arts education from a private college that much better than an engineering degree from a public University?  What about the all-important GPA?  Does it really matter?  My dad (also a teacher and principal) told me one time as we were driving that his best teachers were ‘C’ students because they knew what it was like to not understand everything on the first try.  I would posit that the ideal teacher’s education would be a bachelor’s degree, and should be in their subject area (grades 6 – 12), or in any subject area (grades pre-K – 5).  Education classes in college should be an introduction to education that explores current trends and a brief history so professionals have a sense of place, and then an intense series of practica with extensive online reflection, dialogue, and research.  An active professional Twitter account would be compulsory.

TRAITS: While their education creates the skeleton on which the rest of their pedagogy is built, I would argue that their personal learning habits are more important than their education.  A teacher should be curious and constantly learning.  Do they surf more than just their hobbies?  Do they listen to more than just hit radio?  Do they watch more than just network television?  A teacher should be open to new ideas – or at least to the possibility of new ideas.  They should be caring.  Their humor should not default to sarcasm.  They understand that the world is not just black and white, yes or no.  The successful teacher will have a strong sense of personal morality.  They will make friends easily.  This doesn’t mean that every teacher should be an extrovert; rather that they should smile easily and not be awkward at conversation, whether started by them or by another person.

It doesn’t matter what their personal background is – their age, religion, race, orientation, etc.  What matters at the bottom line is what they bring to the students.  Do they care and can they articulate what needs to be said?

The interview would be an unedited videotape of them teaching in an existing classroom over the course of several lessons.  After I watched the footage, they would come in for a debriefing of their reflection on the taped lessons and how they would progress if it were their class, or how they would do it over if given another chance.

I’m sure that in this rambling post that helped me, at least, define good teacher characteristics, I’ve forgotten something vital.  In the future, I’ll think out loud about the ideal facility, the ideal curriculum, and probably the ideal schedule.  Comment below and let me know what other characteristics make up a Successful Teacher.