Found! The Best Form of Professional Development (in my humble opinion)

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pln-wordle1In the last five months my teaching has transformed. I am tuned in to the world of education for the first time in my career. At times I have been overwhelmed by it all; only because I truly did not even know many of the tools I now use on a daily basis even existed. What is really amazing about all of this is I had thought I WAS a progressive minded educator. I used technology daily (though my definition of the words USED and TECHNOLOGY have both since changed). I talked about having an ipod and texting with my students (now we are utilizing both in the classroom). I had shown students great websites and allowed them time to explore them during computer lab (not to be revisited until the following week). I made PowerPoints and guided students in making their own. I had even provided families with a static informational website to which they could refer for book review ideas and spelling lists. I thought I was doing as much as I could.

Then I found Twitter.

In September, During an instructional coaching professional development opportunity, Jim Knight briefly mentioned that if you are trying something new in the classroom, and did not have quick access to someone else who had tried it…Twitter can be a powerful resource. He said it…I forgot about it.

I was fortunate to have an interactive whiteboard installed in my classroom this summer (2 days prior to school start-up); unfortunately, I had no idea how to use it. I watched the on-line tutorials and practiced the simulations but that only led to me using it as a beautifully framed writable projection screen for slideshow presentations and the occasional look at an interesting website. I was successful at finding some interactive games and activities for reviewing purposes, but struggled to get much further that that. Finally, in November…I remembered what Jim had said and I set up a Twitter account. My first step was to follow Jim. I listened to Jim’s side of the conversation, and began to add the people he was talking to. That led to them following me and conversation began. The amazing links people were sharing were really eye opening. I had compiled a list of 30+ interactive whiteboard resources in one weekend…all more effective tools than those previously used. Bridging information from Twitter to social bookmarking sites Delicious and Diggo, created a manageable flow of quick access information (what educator would not want that?) With professionals tied together by general interests and a desire to learn, Twitter provides a platform for endless conversation about ideas and resources. Self paced, interest based, ongoing professional development, wow. Now, how do we spread the knowledge to others?

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Keeping it real: In addition to the links embedded in the prior post, this is a list of the sites and tools I have found most useful. Every link was completely unknown to me prior to happening upon my evergrowing PLN: 

Teacher Tools and Networking Sites for use with Students:

Many of these tools have an easy access online support community as well (ning or wiki) which can help provide both encouragement and tips for success. Please ask if you want further info (if I can’t help, someone in the education network can!) This list is just the beginning, but I found these resources to be the most beneficial while starting out, please comment other great starting points for assisting teachers expand their own PLN and collaborative resources if you have them. 

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Sidenote: Yesterday, while sitting with colleagues at a professional development meeting, I mentioned the value of Twitter. I reached out to my network for “their favorite educational website”. Thank you to all that responded (very promptly I might add!). I’ve bookmarked all of them as well as many were new to me. Here is the compiled list:

 

I was truly impressed by how quick the responses came. The diversity of the responses and the professionals who responded impressed me just as much: college instructor, administrator, literacy coach and educational consultant, middle school science literacy teacher and high school english teacher, all helping a fifth grade elementary teacher. I am touched.  Thanks again! 




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Sometimes Learning Just Happens…

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An amazing thing happens with fifth grade students after holiday break. I’m not sure if it’s due to the gradual emergence into preadolescence or if it’s the desire to be back in a structured environment among their young colleagues; whatever the reason…they change. Their voices come out; occasionally in unison, but often as individuals. Their ability to articulate their thoughts both in text and in discussion, continues to amaze me; constantly reminding me to never underestimate their capacity to grow.

This afternoon, while nearing the end of our current read aloud, The Watson’s go to Birmingham: 1963, one perceptive student interrupted and asked me to backtrack and repeat the dedication at the beginning of the book. If you haven’t read Watson’s, it is Christopher Paul Curtis’ fictitious account of an African American family’s trip to Birmingham at the same time as the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. That question led to an impromptu time-line activity led by the students. It was fun to watch students, without prompting, wander to the back computers to research important dates in African American history. Other students were checking for information in their text book and on my bookshelves. Their goal was to map on the whiteboard, some of the major events bringing our country from that tragic moment…until now, a week prior the inauguration of the first African American president. The spontaneous discussion, brainstorming, analyzing, and synthesizing could not have been witnessed in my classroom a few months ago (at least not at this level-and independently). Watching the process unfold, I observed a community of learners in action. Students were comfortable enough with one another to truly collaborate fearlessly. There was no assignment so there could be no failure. Scaffolding their progress was their focus toward a common and achievable goal.

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Keeping it real: Moments like this are what make starting a new year so difficult. Each year, we grow with the students we teach; we ultimately unite as a network to challenge and support each other. Establishing trust and comfort must happen early in the year, but it is certainly not immediate; it is built through constant questioning, listening, and sharing. We have worked very hard to achieve it and will have to work even harder to maintain it.

As usual, I learned much from my students today.