As educators, I know we all grapple with these questions as we seek to find our own best professional selves. And why we all may have different thoughts and opinions on these matters, what I have come to believe is that regardless of how we do it, we must engage in our own, personal professional development if we are to reach our full potential and successfully meet the needs of our students. Taking one's own professional learning and development seriously, and finding the most effective and efficient ways to engage in it, is a moral imperative of the 21st century educator.
Consider the following from Ken Blanchard’s The Heart of a Leader: Insights on the Art of Influence. He says:
"The only three things we can count on are death, taxes, and change. Since organizations are being bombarded with change, you would be wise to make learning a top priority and constantly strive to adapt to new circumstances.”
Of course, there are those educators who are satisfied with their own status quo, thinking they have it "in the bag" or "down pat." These folks would be wise to consider what Blanchard goes on to say:
“Some people might think that once you know how to do your job, you can devote your time and attention to more important matters than ongoing learning. But as a leader, you must model the behavior your want others to emulate. If you’re not serious about learning, you can bet the majority of those watching you won’t be either.”
In other words, if you expect your students to be learners, and to meet their unique needs, you need to make your own learning a priority. I've found that the most effective teachers are also leaders of their own learning. "If you’re not serious about learning, you can bet the majority of those watching you won’t be either.” How can you inspire learning in others if you are not engaged in it yourself in some personally meaningful way?
So how do you commit to growing professionally in this fast-paced, high demand world? How do you refresh, maintain relevance, and provide the best possible learning experiences for yourself to in turn provide high quality learning experiences for your students? How do you lead by example to foster a love of learning among those who you teach?
Recently, our faculty has been focused on developing our areas of need by building and growing our own personal learning networks (PLNs). For those not familiar with this term, PLNs help each of us to tailor our professional learning to our own individually unique needs in a manner that helps us learn in and on our own time, in our own way that honors our own work flow and day-to-day schedules. And with the advent of new technologies, PLNs can be used in a way that helps you maximize and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Here are some suggestions for building your own PLN that I've seen help others, as well as me, grow professionally:
- Create a learning community - Whether professional organizations, informal co-worker groups, or more formal PLCs or disciplinary teams, connecting with the people that are producing the ideas and thinking that can help you grow is key. As they say, isolation is the enemy of improvement. So find at least one group generating material or eliciting your thinking in a way that supports, grows, and improves your own practice.
- Curate content - There has been no easier time to be able to curate the content you consume in a way that it is easily accessible on demand at any moment you may need. Find an article you like? Drop it in Google Drive. Land a website with great ideas? Bookmark it in Evernote. Come across a infographic that helps you connect your ideas? Save a screenshot. There are endless tools you can use to create a "digital filing cabinet" that gives you the access you need anytime you need it.
- Engage in social media - This may go without saying, but the possibilities here are endless. Whether Pinterest, Twitter, or Facebook, you can build a social network of connections providing anytime PD on topics relevant to you. For me, Twitter is the way to go. I follow researchers, organizations, and leaders that shape my thinking and grow my understanding each day. Now that I use Twitter, it has become the single greatest source of ongoing, daily PD for me.
- Buy in to blogging - Whether you create or consume, find at least one way a blog can positively contribute to your professional growth. For me, I follow just a handful of blogs that put out content relevant to my role as a principal and give me great ideas for how I lead others and develop my organization. I have recently started blogging as well, which I'm finding helps me in clarifying and refining my own thinking, understanding, and beliefs. Each time I write, I am learning and making new connections.
The beauty of these suggestions is that they are easily integrated into a workflow that can be modified to meet each learners needs depending upon their own schedules. For example, I curate content in Evernote and Google Drive, all of which are accessible through my devices that also allow access to Twitter, blogs, and the web. All these tools work together, and allow me to be more efficient in my own learning.
Remember, your students are watching you. You are an important leader in their life. Showing your love of learning and engagement in the learning process is one of the most powerful and important skills you can model to help your students be prepared for the world that will exist for them, and also ensure you are providing the best possible education to prepare them for their future!
As Blanchard goes on to say, “When you stop learning, you stop growing.” I'm not sure about you, but I certainly want to grow and thrive. Use the amazing tools available now, and you can find ways to make professional learning work for you!