Professional development can be a pure desire or sometimes an obligation. You might have a burning desire to constantly learn new things and become a better version of yourself in your profession, or you might be doing it mostly because your institution requires you to do so. Whatever the reason is, professional development is more meaningful and useful when you know your purpose, your strategies and tools. In this post, I will give you practical tips about how you can hack your professional development and stay relevant as a teacher “the digital way”.
As a huge fan of digital tools, I assure you there are innumerable ways of developing yourself as a teacher in the digital world. Most importantly, the digital world empowers teachers giving them a great degree of freedom as it helps self-directed learning without having to rely on anybody else or a higher authority.
First off, let’s start with the fundamentals
PD is driven by growth mindset: Growth mindset is the biggest driver for constant development as a human. It is the belief that your qualities can change with effort and practice unlike the fixed mindset which dictates you to think you are born with a certain set of qualities and skills that can hardly or never change. Growth mindset is a “can do” attitude. Just to check if you have that kind of a positive attitude, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you avoid or embrace challenges?
- Do you easily quit or keep on trying until you succeed?
- Do you see practice worthless or a helpful process?
- Do you constantly criticise yourself or have self-compassion?
- Do you hate to hear criticism or learn from feedback?
Once you practice and teach yourself how to think positively about failures, challenges or obstacles, you will be more open to learning and PD will just be made easy and natural.
It is transformative: PD is acritical inquiry process through which you question and transform your attitude, beliefs and practices as you learn. You do not have to feel restricted to the training and development plan that your institution provides you. On the contrary, you go and create your own opportunities for growth by taking the ownership of your own learning. The digital world is the gateway that opens to brand-new learning opportunities.
It is reflective: Reflection is a skill needed for development. As a teacher you must look back and think about what happened in the classroom, why it happened and how you can improve your practice by taking informed actions next time. A useful and practical cycle to facilitate reflective teaching is the “plan, act, review outcomes and improve” cycle. Identify a problem, plan a specific action to solve the problem, apply your plan, record and review the outcomes to evaluate if your potential solution really worked. Identify the downsides and make it better.
It is evidence-based: What is it that shows you have learned and grew out of a specific professional development activity? You have to find evidence for yourself and even better if you share the evidence with others and engage in reflective conversations.
It is social: According social learning theories, learning is more effective when it involves others. One of the best ways of such type of social learning is communities of practice. When you engage in a community of practice where you have the opportunity to exchange and discuss ideas you benefit from connectedness, mutual support and internalisation of learning.
Going The Digital Way
As any other professional you need to make sure you adapt your practices and your learning to the changing technology. Keeping the above-mentioned guiding principles in mind, here is what you can do “the digital way” to develop yourself.
Stay up-to-date: This is the most basic and easiest way of professional development and it is your starting point. If you are unaware of what is going on in education, what new techniques and tools are available out there to help you teach better you will end up being in the same cycle of routines, become irrelevant and eventually burn out. Great news is the Internet is a treasure. Here is a list of some digital platforms or influential people to watch in order to stay up-to-date about education.
Teaching Channel: A platform where teachers can watch videos of practical tips to use in the classroom, browse educational articles based on their interest and be part of a community where they can ask and answer questions through the platform’s community page.
Daily Ranking of Educational Blogs (Teach.com): An amazing list of blogs on education that is updated daily.
Gettingsmart: It has a wide range of topics and series from personalised learning to STEM.
Edsurge: A platform for news and resources mainly on educational technology in K12 and Higher Education. It has a critical point of view about the technology’s role on education, which makes the platform highly recommendable.
Top 25 EdTech Influencers to Follow on Twitter: A great list of people you should follow on Twitter. If you do not have an account yet, get one today!
The 10 Twitter Hashtags All Teachers Should Follow on Twitter: A list of hashtags that will help you follow the topics of your interest and reach more people to expand your community.
8 Educational Youtube Channels for Teachers: From Edutopia to Khan Academy you can find tons of videos in this list.
Not only educational updates but also the advancements in other disciplines help you grow your vision as a teacher. My biggest recommendation for teachers is to watch what is going on in the area of big data and artificial intelligence as these are huge disruptors affecting all areas of life including education.
The Elements of AI: This online course for non-technical people teaches you what artificial intelligence means, what kind of impact it has on our lives and businesses, and how it will affect us in the coming years.
Bonus Tip: Once you indulge yourself in such an immense pool of online resources, it is more likely to lose control and get disorganised. Here are some tools to curate your content and stay more organised.
Learn a new skill: PD can be designed specifically to address a specific weakness in your teacher performance or an area of interest in which you wish more mastery. For instance, technology integration into teaching is a skill that every teacher needs to have. Here are a few online resources to hone your tech skills.
Google’s Teacher Center: A free online course for teachers who want to use technology in their classroom effectively.
There are many other self-paced and free online course platforms. One of the easiest ways to find them is via platforms such as Mooc-list and Class-Centralwhere you can do category-based search and come up with a list of courses that MOOC platforms provide. One tip here is to go multidisciplinary in your selection of topics and integrate those skills into your teaching such as coding, storytelling, drama, mindfulness, visual design and so on. You can find hundred of free online courses through these platforms and apply your new skills in your teaching.
Engage in reflective activities: As mentioned earlier, development comes as a result of reflection. As a reflective teacher you can benefit from several digital tools. Here are my favourites:
It is one of the best ways of creating a reflective account of your learning. Here is a nice summary of why teachers should blog. My personal blog www.didemyesil.com is the most important tool for my own development and a great way of building my online network. I set it up easily without any coding skills on WordPress.
If writing is not your thing, creating reflective videos and publishing them in your YouTube channel might be an excellent way. You can check out some great teacher vloggers here for some inspiration.
- Keeping an online private journal
You may want your learning to stay private, then online journals are perfect tools. Penzu is a great one.
- Keeping online notebooks
Another private platform similar to Penzu but more like in a notebook format is Evernote — one of my favourite tools for jotting down my notes.
- Keeping an e-portfolio
A surefire way of professional development is to keep an evidence-based e-portfolio. Not just students but also teachers can take advantage of a systematic way of documenting their learning. You can find useful information here about teacher e-portfolios from an academic point of view. The tools might be no different than blogging sites such as WordPress, Blogspot, Edublogs or Google Sites.
- Using student reflections to improve your teaching
This indirectly improves the way you teach. You can ask your students to reflect on the lessons and use their reflections as a means of improving your lesson plans. The social media-like platforms such as Edmodo and Twiducateare safe and social learning environments where students can reflect, share and connect. Students can choose to write, audio record or video tape their reflections.
Build your personal learning network: The benefits of building a personal learning network on social media platforms and the give-and-take relationship are well-known and already supported by a lot of research. According to the Connectivist learning theory (Siemens, 2004), knowledge rests in networks and “a community is the clustering of similar areas of interest that allows for interaction, sharing, dialoguing, and thinking together.” In those online communities, teachers get connected with each other regardless of their location for idea-sharing, support, inspiration and to catch up with news. Social media sites are used as a global staff room for teachers. Twitter is the leading platform millions of educators use everyday for inspiration.
Learning communities is not restricted to social media platforms. Teachers can blend digital platforms with face-to-face activities that they can organise in their schools. One way of achieving it is to create a professional development group with other colleagues in which they follow an online course in their own time and meet regularly either face-to-face or online for a follow-up or a specific agenda they previously set. They can go beyond their campuses and reach out to other colleagues globally. There are various tools that can facilitate digital communities of practice. One tool that I can recommend for this is Mighty Networks where you can interact with other group members with the same interest, share useful resources and have discussions.
Teach others: While you grow professionally you accumulate knowledge and experience. Then, why not sharing these with the world? In this post that I wrote earlier, you can find a list of platforms where you can create online courses. Another way of teaching others is to give online webinars using tools such as Zoom and GoToWebinar. You can check out this list of free Webinar platforms.
Learning agility is the primary skill needed in today’s professionals, therefore growth is a mindset and it never ends. Teachers with this kind of a mindset take the ownership of their learning and create their own opportunities for their personal and professional growth in the digital world. I believe that they are just the perfect role models for their students as well.