My entire way of teaching changed dramatically when I went to a Barnes and Noble and picked out a book entitled, Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males: Closing the Achievement Gap by Dr. Alfred W. Tatum. From that moment on, I engaged in a new kind of personal professional development.
I became acquainted with the work of Dr. Geneva Gay, Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billing, bell hooks, and others in the culturally responsive space. That was my first encounter with professional development that shaped my practice. Since then, many books and TED Talks have followed. I’ll always treasure the learning I’ve gleaned from these scholars.
As I continued to grow my practice, I started attending conferences and engaging in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). These experiences were energizing, but it was difficult to apply the learning to my practice, and see it reflected as a change in my teacher moves.
If the conference was during the school year, it made it difficult to implement along with the other school-level priorities for that particular year — not to mention planning and preparing to teach every day. If the conference happened over the summer, there was a gap between the event and the first pre-service welcome back week for teachers that I normally filled with rest and relaxation (imagine that!). So, over the years, I’ve learned some quick “teaching hacks” to ensure that conference learning turns into classroom (and school) level change.
Bring your planner. When you attend a conference, bring whatever curricula you either were working with or will be working with in the next year. As you learn new ideas and tools of the trade, take the time to jot them down directly into your curriculum so that you can have a record of them when it’s time to teach.
Bring your team into the process. If you’re leading a team or are a member of a grade-level or content team, it’s important to let the other members of your team (who may not be attending the conference) know what you’re learning. Sharing with them in a zoom chat, conference call, or meeting when the ideas are still fresh in your mind, gives you the ability to start building a coalition of colleagues that will champion the learning. Additionally, it helps to deepen your understanding of a topic to share it with others. As the old African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Bring your journal. If you have a physical or digital professional journal, you have a great space to record your thoughts about your new learning and its implications for your work. I have several journals (it’s probably an addiction) where many of the pages begin with “musings and ruminations” and the date the thoughts were written. According to Edgar Dale’s Cone of Learning, we remember 70% of what we write and say. If you incorporate these tips, you’ll likely be able to remember 70% or more of your conference learning with ease when the time comes to implement.
There’s so much that’s thrown at educators at conferences and in classes that it seems there’s simply not enough time to truly implement it. But, with these three small actions, you can be off to a great start in planning for an excellent year of instruction.
Josh Parker is a 2013 NEA Global Fellow and the 2012 Maryland Teacher of the Year. He serves the students and staff of Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School in Washington, D.C. as an instructional coach. He is a proud board member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year and is a Teaching Channel Laureate. Connect with Josh on Twitter: @MDTOY2012.