Great Teachers Don’t Wait for PD Days

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This was a comment I made on the #satchatwc a while back. It’s had a few retweets and some comments. This past Saturday morning, I joined in the first #edcampHOME  hosted as an edcamp event but online. As I’ve processed this event and what took place, there are a few take aways for me and then a reflection.

1. Eliminate “PD”

PD needs to be eliminated from our discussion about teachers’ learning. Although it is professional development, it has become associated to something that is “done” to teachers instead of a self-motivated improvement where you get some type of certificate at the end instead of the internal motivation to be better at what you do. Because we learn all the time, we need to tap into the natural learning process of adults instead of the imposed learning from experts.

2. Professional Learning Year-round

Learning, which most teachers know, isn’t limited to “days” or “events”. Instead, it is something that is continuous – sometimes situational – and is personal.  It needs to part of a Professional Learning Plan which the teacher creates, reflects upon and continues in a continuous cycle of learning, reflecting and refining.

3. Learning is not a solitary act

Learning is social – Lev Vygotsky and John Dewey introduced this to us a long time ago.  For too long, teachers have been isolated in their practice and, for the most part, in their learning. Social media platforms such as twitter and Pinterest have begun to change this. The decision by teachers to share their work through blogging, podcasts and gathering platforms like Google Hangouts, has begun to change the nature of how teachers’ view their practice and profession. This ability to share is at the heart of what teachers do – share their love of learning.

4. Learning requires time

This is where I will probably enter a slippery slope but …. twitter is not a PD event! It’s the beginning of a conversation but it’s the continued learning that takes place afterwards – the sharing, conversations, reflecting, writing, planning, implementing, using, coaching, …. that is the development part. Learning and practice with no game-day experience is just speculation. It’s the sharing and conversations that take place between all those involved that is development – the books that are shared, the discussions about the books that scaffold to new ideas which lead to new ways of looking at things which lead to progress which leads to the change of practice in a classroom for a teacher – and that is why the learning that teachers do is not a PD event – ever!

5. It isn’t PLN platform specific

Yes being part of a twitter PLN is a great thing but it isn’t the only platform – the landscape is ever changing ever more rapidly and to limit the interactions of “great” to one is, well, just inaccurate. It also is a bit telling of how we want to talk about being open to change but, really, are kind of set in our ways. Like the death of Google Reader shouldn’t have really been an event because of the number of alternatives and the ease of shifting – but it was change. It’s leaving the safety of the known for something less proven or even the unknown that puts people off. Change isn’t a big deal – unless we make it a big deal. The death of GR would have passed with little notice had it not been for those set in their ways. There are teachers with whom I have worked that don’t tweet at all, they pin. And pin and pin and pin. In fact, they have developed a PLN that focuses on the sharing they do via Pinterest. And it’s just a viable and credible for learning as those who use microblogging platforms like twitter or plurk but I have heard the whole idea of sharing via Pinterest to be seen as “second-rate” sharing. Really? Now we rank the sharing we do? It’s time we validate what people do, commend them and listen to their stories and share in their excitement instead of the nose-snubbing response.

Too often, those who have reached “rock star” status tend to set the trends which, unfortunately, those who follow tend to continue. The #edcampHOME event was a divergent trail, even from the traditional edcamps and should push our thinking and learning about our need for conferences, or at least, our reliance on them as gathering events. It allows the “experts” of teaching – those in schools and classrooms who are learning and sharing – to come together regardless of distance or time of year or finances – to begin those conversations that  will continue each person’s learning.  It brought together a great many teachers and other people in education to share and learn when they would have not been able to have such face-to-face encounters.

(An aside to this – there seemed to be many of those participating who had already been to f2f conferences or who were then going to f2f conferences which makes me wonder about the learning cycle – where is the time for reflection and refinement? Are teachers become “tool technique” gatherers, moving from workshop to workshop in order to gather tools/apps to use in the classroom as an end? As an administrator, I want to know how this or that tool is better for “what we do for students” and not that it is “cool and will streamline my ability to handle the dissemination of information to students in a timely and proficient manner.”

However, this isn’t the first time educators have gathered via the internet far from one another to share and learn. Many of us have done this in numerous other events- for a number of years – seeking to improve what we have been doing – sort of Outliers.  This time there was a Tipping Point – a large enough group who saw it as a viable and acceptable way to share their learning and were wiling to step out of their comfort zones to give it a try. However, this is a natural progression as the idea of professional learning evolves from that of development to that of continuous learning and improvement through the social platforms that are available and the idea that learning isn’t an event to be graded or scored or give us a reward.

Finally, learning is “cool” even for a teacher!


  1. Reply

    Great perspective Kelly,
    While I totally get your point that ‘twitter is not a PD event!’ for me it creates countless hours of reading and learning, without the searching for information that takes do much time… The PD comes to me… When and where I want it. So it isn’t an event, but an invitation and a window into possible PD that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Still, I like your point and will likely share it going forward. Sitting on Twitter, tweeting and retweeting does not in and of itself constitute PD!
    With respect to Google Reader, it was a huge event for me. I had a seamless tool that fed my reading devices and took no effort. Suddenly I had to change that and I simply didn’t have the time to ‘waste’ researching alternatives. On the positive side, I did some housecleaning with my reader, on the down side, I still have been able to easily transfer the changes to the tools I use to read. It was an ‘event’ for another reason to… It was yet another (working) free tool that went belly-up. I’ve been experimental, tried new tools and have signed up for more things than I could possibly commit to. I’m not afraid of change, but I also don’t like changing things that work unnecessarily.
    On a related note, you and I have been blogging for 7 plus years now. We both know who the ‘Rock Stars’ are. We’ve both seen people rise meteorically (is that a word?). For example, I remember you inspired me to recognize new up-and-coming bloggers and one if mine was Dan Meyer. He has continued to impress me and I’d give him that status. Here is the thing: I still follow these people, some of whom don’t follow me (either on twitter or my blog), but recently I’ve been really impressed with these ‘stars’. I’m loving what many of them are presenting and it’s easier than ever to ‘go to’ a presentation without ever leaving my computer. While you say that, “Too often, those who have reached “rock star” status tend to set the trends which, unfortunately, those who follow tend to continue.” I think ‘finally’ some people ‘in the know’ are gaining enough traction to actually influence change. The message now is that it isn’t about the tools and it is about the sharing and learning… These are good ideas worth spreading… And if a little star power helps, well that’s wonderful in my (humble) opinion.

  2. Sara McGue


    Great posting- I know in my school it is often a boring communicator running the workshop and the teachers are either on their phones on FB, Twitter or other sites- just putting in their time. PD should be relevant to what we are doing in our school. And if you are speaking to communicators- get good ones that we would be willing to listen too. Not someone who has been out of the classroom for 20 years trying to tell us how it is done.

  3. Reply

    Thanks for sharing your perspective. Even though I’ve only spent a little bit of time in these 21st century PD waters, I have also noticed that there are some who consider just being around the conversation or following everyone or having people retweet you to constitute growth and accomplishment akin to development. Those are part of the equation, but I wonder how much of these elements equate to mere status symbols and ego boosting. Perhaps it’s a cynical take, but I wonder what Twitter would look like if it weren’t so overwhelmingly driven by numbers – followers, retweets, favorites, total tweets, etc. (This is not my idea – I think Gary Anderson may have written something that got me thinking about it.)

    In any case, I’ve had to catch myself from feeding solely on the frenzy of Twitter, for it seems like an unbalanced meal. I enjoyed the frenetic balance of edcampHOME, and hope that as the school year gets underway I can hone a core group of folks to have more meaningful, ongoing conversations than 140-character bursts.

    • Reply

      Thanks for the comment. I think that Dean’s comment about needing reflection is key to the growth cycle. Participating in social media is akin to sharing a conversation while out. On twitter, I find chats to be like coffee conversations. It’s the writing and reflecting that takes place afterwards, the planning, execution and then reflection that improves teaching, creates a cycle of learning as a teacher. I hope you are able to connect with other educators in such a manner – an off-shoot of the edcamphome experience. Keep in touch – I’d be interested in connecting for conversations!

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  9. Reply

    @kwhobbes You used several words that I think are missing in most PD: reflection, planning and execution. I agree in general that great teachers don’t wait for PD Days! I love the idea of eliminating PD and of adding validity to the idea of Twitter and Pinterest and other platforms as the beginning of PD. It gets us thinking about our profession and our students and our classrooms. It’s metacognition at its best. Using the idea of the flipped classroom, wouldn’t it be great if we could use the actual PD time to plan and execute what we’ve started to think about on Twitter and Pinterest and in the PD we’ve done on our own time? We’d have so many more teachers who wouldn’t be saying I have so many ideas that I want to implement, but I haven’t had a chance to get them worked out yet.

    • Reply

      Thank you. I believe it would bring about much needed change if teachers were to have an integrated time in their schedules for not just planning but for growing and sharing – like the 20% – which allowed them to collaborate with other educators in a network where the focus was on learning and sharing in order to develop as professionals instead of just implementing the next initiative. Would there be a need for initiatives? Or would teachers, through their learning and growth, develop and integrate these intuitively? Where teachers, based on the students, community, location, situation, budget, …. collaborate and integrate and then evolve their own teaching far beyond what they can be mandated? Thanks for comment – and marking me ponder even more……

  10. Reply

    Interesting about the growth developing intuitively. As it is we have to almost sneak our sharing in during spare moments or emails or other times because those oh-so-valuable sharing times of actual ideas that spark other ideas that eventually actually make it to the students never have scheduled time. It’s like watching a whodunnit and leaving before they catch the murderer all the time. Having just read Teach Like a Pirate I’m reminded of his point about creativity and how it isn’t in lighting strikes all the time. It comes in the lulls and calms…when you’re in the shower and brushing your teeth or in the car…in those subconscious moments. Maybe that’s why Twitter and Pinterest are so effective at sparking ideas, because it’s a relaxed environment and everyone can be on a different tweet or thinking about different things from the same PD.

    • Reply

      Could be. I find that the things that happen on the SM usually sow the seed for something that will then click with something else but needs time to manifest itself fully but that usually doesn’t happen in the “heat of the moment”. Sometimes, during brainstorming or discussions a great idea comes up but it usually needs time to be fleshed out. Usually it’s the “you know, after we discussed I thought of this or that.” If we had more time to reflect and then implement, some of the initiatives wouldn’t be necessary, I believe.

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  12. Reply

    As an introvert, many of my most creative ideas come after much simmering and daydreaming and wondering and go through many changes in form and look very little like the original idea they came from. 😀

    • Reply

      I often need “my” time to allow things to bubble and brew. It doesn’t mean that you need to always be in discussions. But, it does mean you need to be exposed to new ideas, ways of thinking, thoughts, comments – even if you just “lurk” you are exposed to others ideas. It’s that boy bing around and percolating that takes place as we sort thug out that is enhanced through the social learning. It’s like when my 4 yr old has a question, gets and answer, goes away to think about it and then, later comes back to ask another question or clarify something. It’s sometimes after quiet “play” time that he asks the most questions about things of the day.

      I’m not the most out going person but I know that I need to be seek out new ideas and ways of seeing things in order to learn and to do what I do better.

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  14. Reply

    Yep! It’s a combination. I need to hear other ideas to get the sparks and then I need to have time to think about things. Then I need to be around other ideas again. That’s why I have a hard time with meetings when they want to brainstorm a few ideas and then get started immediately. I need that “sink in” time for the best ideas to mesh and formulate. My dad always called me redial because I would always call him back after I hung up because my mind didn’t stop. Much like I’m continuing my thoughts with you! 😀 That’s why I love Twitter and Pinterest and Facebook. It allows me to get the spark and then think about it. And then I can share with my colleagues and get more discussion and ideas going. But I get that thinking time in between.

  15. Reply

    Redial again. And back to your original ideas. I think one of the problems with much PD is it’s the ideas and then no time to get to the implementation phase. There are so many times I went to conferences and got great ideas and then never got around to actually using the ideas in my classroom. Or even ideas that I’ve done years ago and think, why don’t I do that anymore. It’s taken 26 years to develop systems for myself to keep idea books of notes so I don’t forget things and so I can look back at ideas and create the necessary materials in the summer or when I have more time because we’re so overwhelmed during the year with everything else. 😀 I’ve enjoyed some workshops more recently where they give you some time to actually create the materials you need to fully implement your ideas and don’t look at that as a waste of time.

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