There have been some good discussions around the web lately about why there aren’t more educators who participate in self-directed professional development–that is, reading education blogs and websites, conversing about educational topics on Twitter/Facebook/Google+, or participating in virtual and real-life conferences, chats, and edcamps. So many great resources are underused, which gets people are asking: what can those of us who are enjoying the benefits of a personal learning community do to encourage our colleagues to join in the conversations?
I wrote a post last week asking readers to share their take on both the solution and the root cause of the problem. There were some excellent comments on the post that shed a lot of insight into the topic, and I thought that the points raised by commenters were worthy of their own blog post. There were some common themes that multiple people touched on, so what follows is kind of a synthesized version of all the insightful contributions made. As you think about this discussion, keep in mind that we’re referring to ALL educators–not just teachers–because the percentage of district leaders, administrators, para-professionals, instructional coaches, etc. who regularly engage in self-directed professional development is fairly small.
Here are some things that can zap educators’ motivation to look for opportunities to learn and grow in their practices:
- Educators are already doing wayyy more than what is contractually required.Lack of time and energy make it hard to invest in a personal learning community.
- Learning about new ideas usually adds to that workload.The idea of discovering one more thing that they “should” be doing is exhausting and guilt-inducing to some educators. There’s a sense that the more you know, the more you’re obligated to do.
- They may not think that the lack of PD has a negative effect on their practice. There’s sometimes a sense that, Hey, the way I’ve been doing things for years has always worked, why change it? While it’s true that we don’t know what we don’t know, there ARE a number of educators whose tried-and-true methodologies produce consistently strong results. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
- Not all educators are comfortable with technology.Most of the opportunities for professional growth utilize web tools: social media, podcasts, webinars, etc. If you’re not tech-savvy, don’t enjoy being on the computer, or don’t have access to the right equipment, trying to stay current is not a very fun experience.
- They aren’t part of a culture of innovation in which self-directed PD is the norm.The learning environment is heavily influenced by those in charge. If the superintendent doesn’t support principals in building learning communities, how can principals can support their teachers in doing so? When leaders make these opportunities abundant, simple, and part of the school culture, it’s much easier for educators to get involved.
- Higher-ups may not approve of self-directed PD and block its use.Teachers are sometimes discouraged by their princials when they question the status quo; principals don’t find regional or district-level support for innovation. Why bother to learn about new methodologies when you’re required to do things the way the district wants them done?
- Prior experience has programmed educators to believe that PD is boring. After you’ve slept through enough dull college courses and waste-of-time staff development meetings, you start to think that ALL professional learning is irrelevant. (It’s the same thing that happens to our students; a few years of drill-and-kill testing squelches their desire to learn and dampens their natural curiousity.)
- A lot of “best practice” info is coming from people who aren’t educators.Nothing is more frustrating than having someone with a business degree and zero classroom experience trying to tell someone in education how to do their job. After this happens enough times, educators may start to tune everyone out, and assume that there’s nothing of value out there. They get a chip on their shoulder and resent anyone who suggests that there might be a better way.
- Some educators want to focus on the needs they see right in front of them.For teachers, this means focusing primarily on understanding what makes their students tick and how they can meet their kids’ needs. For school leaders, this means directing their attention to teacher, student, and parent needs, and investing themselves in the issues of their communities.
So, how do turn these energy-drainers unto energy-givers? Self-directed professional development. Taking charge of our own learning and doing more of the things in education we’re passionate about.
Self-directed PD (as I know it) is inherently energy-giving, not energy-draining. It feels like a burden when we’re assigned a book to read or mandated to attend a staff development session. But when we choose the topics that interest us and pursue them in ways that feel natural and enjoyable, improving our practice as educators becomes something that we look forward to doing.
It’s kind of like exercising. When you’re tired, the last thing you feel like doing is heading to the gym. But if you can establish routines so that working out is a regular part of your life, you actually feel MORE energized afterward. It’s totally counter-intuitive: how could something that requires so much energy actually produce more energy? But it does. And once you’ve entrenched yourself in the habit, you can’t imagine not exercising on a regular basis.
Having a personal learning community (PLC) is not for everyone. It doesn’t address all of the obstacles above. But it IS the solution for many of us who otherwise get worn out from the day-to-day stuff that sucks all the fun out of our work. Scrolling through my Twitter feed or Pinterest for 5 minutes a day might be the last thing that comes to mind when I’m tired. But if I do it anyway, what I find gets me excited about my work again because I’m connected with other people who are enthusiastic and positive. Reading other educators’ blogs motivates me to reflect on my own practice and try new things. Checking out the latest educational books gives me ideas to share with the teachers I coach and makes doing my job easier. I do these things because I know that they’re going to inspire me to keep giving 100% each day.
Taking charge of my own professional development over the years hasn’t been about proving that I’m on the cutting edge, ensuring students pass The Test, or labeling myself “highly effective.” It’s been about bouncing ideas off of other people and feeling like I’m not alone in the issues I’m facing. I consistently find that relying on my PLC actually increases motivation during low-energy times. Tapping into those aspects of work that I love helps me get past the parts I don’t love.
So what’s your experience? Maybe you’ve never thought of yourself as having a personal learning community, but do you have educators you share ideas with? What things help you re-connect with your passion for education and keep you motivated when you start to lose sight of what matters? How do you cut through all the extraneous required tasks to re-focus on what you truly love about your work?