Professional Development Drought

*This blog post does not reflect the views of my school or anyone working within my school.

Professional development (PD) should be the cornerstone for anyone looking to better themselves no matter what career they choose. Educators seem to be at the forefront when it comes to attending PD. We are a profession that is constantly trying to make ourselves better and in some instances told we have no choice but to attend certain professional development because we cannot be licensed to be a teacher without a set number of hours of PD or college credits to match.

Since starting my teaching career over 16 years ago I have slowly and steadily watched professional development make the proverbial dive out of the sky as if it is an airplane that is slowly losing one engine at a time. Teachers aren’t going and the quality of PD isn’t always top notch. For me, I am lucky because I have had the privilege of being on both the delivery side of PD and the receiving end through work with the Chippewa River Writing Project. Through many conversations with colleagues and like-minded educators, I have come to a few conclusions as to why professional development is facing a potential breaking point for teachers and educators.

First, professional development is expensive. Many school districts used to help their teachers out and help pay for professional development. With constant cuts to per-pupil funding, declining enrollment, and other funding like Title II being cut, teachers are forced to pay for PD out of their own pockets. If you add up the cost of the conference, potential hotel expenses, gas, and meals. Teachers can potentially be looking at costs between $500-$1000 depending on the type of conference. Please don’t think I am complaining about what teachers make either. I am simply saying therepotentially is a lot of out of pocket costs to absorb.

Besides the financial burden of professional development, I feel there is low-quality PD being offered by our Intermediate School District (ISD) where multiple schools belong. They do a poor job of helping teachers. Our ISD is supposed to support and develop teachers and their skills. That is not happening. I do see them helping our new teachers, but that is it. I hear too much from their end about the high cost and poor attendance, etc. Why is it then that our ISD sits on almost 3 million dollars, but can’t offer quality experiences for teachers? I don’t know if this is true everywhere, but I know it is within my ISD.  They are not the only entities to blame for quality PD, but when considering the types of professional development that can be low cost or free for teachers, this is good place to start.

Now, put aside financial burden and quality of PD and the issue of teacher burnout existing. I never really gave much thought to teacher burnout until I was talking to a very close friend and colleague about why teachers are not participating in PD. He discussed that fact that teachers plates are becoming increasingly full. With reduced staff in schools, teachers are being asked to do more and more. When teachers prioritize what they need to do and get done, PD seems to be at the bottom of the significant list of items. I think of PD like a salad. We know it’s good for us and it can make us better or healthy. However, we just want to skip it and get to the main course or the main items on our plates. We don’t have time or the need to mess with the salad. I have even witnessed teachers turn down a professional development package that was worth over $1000 and all it would cost them is gas money to travel.

All of this lends itself to rethinking how professional development should be delivered to teachers. Yes, there are many online PD opportunities, but are they better than face-to-face? Is true collaboration taking place with online spaces? I do have a passion for the 4T Conference which is truly phenomenal. So, to say that all online PD is low quality is not a fair assessment. I do not have the answers and I am sure others don’t agree with what I am writing. On the other hand, I do feel it is time to rethink how PD is being done and what we can do to help teachers in this area.

Cheers!

 

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(Image Courtesy of Johnson County Community College http://blogs.jccc.edu/2017/08/11/professional-development-days-fall-2017/)

 

 

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Humility

Over the past several weeks the word humility has been swimming in my head. The sermon at church a few weeks ago was about humility. Humility is defined as being humble or one’s own thought of being important. Or even the amount of pride you might show.

I like to think of myself as being a humble person. I don’t like to shove my successes into other people’s faces or talk about my accomplishments much. For the most part, I feel I am humble.

I feel that I am a good teacher and I reach as many students as I can when I am in contact with them. On the other hand, as an author and a presenter, I also believe that I do my best. That isn’t me bragging, that’s just me being confident in what I do. I am also proud of what I do. Plain and simple, I love helping other people, especially teachers. If I have ever appeared to act otherwise, it isn’t done on purpose. Collaborating and working with other like-minded professionals is where it is at for me.

Unfortunately, there is still a struggle within me that I don’t let others see and it is me dealing with pride and humility. There is a deep desire within me to continue to be as successful as possible. I want the emails, the phone calls, and the guest blog posts. Yes, that part shows my lack of humility. What keeps me somewhat grounded is thinking about the costs which comes to the other parts of my life. More importantly, my own kids and the students in my classroom suffer as I try to better myself in a professional manner. I start to wonder if it is worth it and why does it matter. I also wonder at times why I don’t get more phone calls or requests to speak. After all, I am published and know what I am talking about. It’s a constant battle in my head and I am starting to become irritated.

Lately, I have set my sights not on what I can do for others or gaining glory, but more on making my students successful. No more worrying about the emails or phone calls. What happens…happens. I recently posted on Facebook that it was time to step-up my game and I meant it. I have been focusing on setting-up a new class website, researching digital tools that help my students be successful both in and out of the classroom, and studying more science curriculum as I begin my 2nd year as a science teacher.

I am refusing to let the battle rage on inside me. What is important is that I work hard for my students every day and not worry about things I can’t control. I will be thankful for the opportunities when they come my way and not let that part of my career control who I am. Today, I am more humble.

 

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“I Quit”

The first week of the new school year is in the books. Overall, I feel we are off to a good start and moving forward nicely.

This year I am really focusing on building relationships with the students during the first two weeks of school. The first day I only discussed one rule with my 7th graders; respect me and I will respect you. Then, we spent time in a circle sharing something about ourselves. I learned a few things about my students and they were excited it wasn’t going to be another class filled with rules.

As the week progressed, students read a short story, a memoir, and did some smaller writing assignments. Yesterday I did the Marshmallow Challenge with my 7th graders. If you have never done this with your students, I highly recommend this activity to witness your students problem solving skills and it is an activity that helps them develop their collaboration skills. The gist of the challenge is participants have 1 marshmallow, 20 pieces of spaghetti, 1 yard of string, and 1 yard of masking tape. They must create a free standing structure in 18 minutes with the last thing on top being the marshmallow. Tallest structure wins. I usually give the winning group suckers.

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I am always super excited about having my students participate in this activity…until yesterday. Needless to say I was very disappointed with not only how most of the students performed, but the number of times I heard:

“I quit!”
“This is hard.”
“I give up!”
“This is impossible.”

By the time my third section of 7th graders left my room for the day, I couldn’t help but shake my head and begin to worry about how my 7th grade students are going to perform this year. I was pleased with a number of the groups and the structures they built, but at times my coaching voice kept trying to creep to the surface of my throat and I had to keep pushing it back down. I would reply to the students by telling them that quitting and giving up in middle school is not an option.

I really worry about the work ethic and the perseverance that our students are lacking and it seems to be getting worse. I truly do believe in having compassion for students, but I also believe there are times they are going to have man up or woman up to the challenges that face them. I refuse to hold the hands of middle schoolers unless absolutely necessary. Middle school is a huge transition from elementary school and I will continue to encourage them to do their best and I will not accept mediocrity from my students.

As a society, we need to challenge our children to problem solve and not always lend a helping hand. After all, some of the greatest success’ does come from failure.


The Power and Questions of Revision

Just over a month ago I was asked to write a chapter for a book dealing with Technology and writing.  Another colleague and I had originally submitted a proposal for the book and our piece was accepted for a different project that spawned from the original proposal.  We declined to use our submitted proposal due to some personal preferences on both our parts as writers. I was relieved because I am co-authoring a book and I could see my life becoming more busy and with school, I knew it would be a challenge.

Just over a month ago I received an email to consider submitting the proposal that was originally submitted. I knew that I would be on my own with writing it and because I didn’t want to pass on the opportunity or back down from any challenge, I said yes! Insert big GULP! I had a week to type a 9-15 page chapter, single space.  Needless to say, I flipped out! I spent a few nights staying up until midnight getting it done.  Once submitted, I knew I was going to have to make some changes and I knew there were plenty of errors in it, but with the timeline given to me I did my best and submitted it for review.

About 3 weeks ago I received the reviews back and I knew it was time to get to work!  On the other hand, I was not expecting to reduce my 15 single paged chapter to be reduced to 8 pages double spaced as requested by the publisher.  I was starting to feel more pressure and the need to scream at the top of my lungs.  To make a long story short, I was able to effectively revise my original submission after some collaboration with great mentor and friend. I was even a day early and only 4 lines over 8 pages. WOOO HOOO!

After giving my brain a rest, I decided to discuss with my 8th graders what I had to do.  Their jaws dropped down to the ground. I actually had them do a quick write on it.  I asked them what would they do if they were in my shoes. Many of their responses were entertaining, from giving up hope to reducing the font down to 8, I laughed with sincerity at all of their silly responses.

Though I might have received some off the wall answers, when it came down to it, I was pleased with some of the serious replies they gave me.  Below are a list of suggestions my students had.

  • Go back and look at the requirements and decide what is most important.
  • Get rid of fluff or filler
  • Find what is more important and focus on making that better.
  • Record yourself reading the chapter and listen to it.  Decide where to cut based on recording.

There were other responses, but I continued to challenge my student’s thinking.  I posed three questions to them.

  1. How do writers, such as yourselves, determine what details are more important?
  2. What is classified as “filler” in a piece of writing?
  3. How do I determine that I need to reorganize or move things in my writing?

These were questions that my students struggled to answer.  I feel they are higher order thinking questions.  Often, at this time of year, 8th graders aren’t in the mood to think.  Nonetheless, I had a job to do and I wanted them to think.  Many students talked about going back to requirements/guidelines/rubrics to help determine what was more important.  In terms of moving sentences or chunks around, they struggled a bit with the question.

What this solidifies for me is that revision is not an easy process. Students in general have the misconception that revision is nothing more than fixing spelling, grammar, sentence structure, etc.  This is not the case!  Those items I mentioned are part of editing, not revising.

Revision is a difficult task to master and it takes time to understand what quality revision actually looks like.  For middle school students, they want nothing more than to complete the assignment and get it handed in.  The one strategy I found to be effective is to walk through my writing and talk through my thought process with my students so they can see what my thinking is and why I choose to move parts or eliminate them all together.  In order for our students to feel comfortable and motivated to revise their writing, we as teacher need to be comfortable with our own writing and be willing to show our students how we struggle with our own writing from day to day. I feel it is then we start to get our students to understand the power of revision.

Cheers!