TCHERS' VOICE / Professional Learning

Leveraging the Power of Personal Professional Development

I’d like you to hear about a big passion of mine: personal professional development!

One of the biggest frustrations I’ve heard from teachers (and something I have personally experienced too many times) is that the professional development we sometimes receive from our districts either doesn’t feel like it relates to our content or our classroom, or isn’t something that helps us grow as educators.  For various reasons, we aren’t getting what we feel we need as educators because logistical (albeit necessary) things seem to take priority. 

That’s okay. You are not lost in the woods without resources!  You have a metaphorical compass, map, boots, and trekking poles and all of it is within your reach. 

Let’s take a look at four key ways to #cannonballin with personal professional development.

The Compass: Stalk the Bookstores

Just as a compass helps you know which way you are headed, stalking the bookstores can help give direction to the next steps, in the form of books!

The simplest and most direct way for me to find resources is to stalk Amazon or your local bookstore for intriguing and interesting education books. This is where I started with Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. I fell in love with the passion and energy contained in this book/ “teaching manual,” so I was determined to find more. I discovered Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz a few weeks later, and what followed was an endless amount of discovery of new books, mostly from Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc., but also from people like Ron Clark.  Reading these in my spare time or during silent reading time with students has helped me to change and shape the way I teach and interact with students. The advantage here was that I got to pick and choose the topics I was interested in, and most of these books sparked a desire to find other books and authors they referenced. Quick note: Learners Edge has put together a list of books that teachers should read in 2019. 

The Map: Log On & Connect

The compass pairs well with a map to provide a pathway for professional learning. Twitter can provide the map, so log on to Twitter to learn about obstacles and solutions you may encounter on your journey. 

Author Aaron Hogan mentions that, “Twitter won’t change your life, but the people you meet there will.” This is the essence of the online educator community, so if you’re not on Twitter, you need to get an account. Pick a topic around which you have passion or interest, and there is likely a Twitter chat about it. You can search by using possible hashtags to hone in on topics; some of my favorites include: #worldgeochat, #XPLAP, #tlap, and #sschat. If you really want to dig in, Learners Edge offers a course called The Well-Connected Educator: Building a Personal Learning Network

If you’re more into the Google search way of finding stuff, there are plenty of cool resources out there; sure bets include Edutopia and Teaching Channel, or you can look into the vast variety of YouTube videos. I discovered PD on Standards-Based Grading by watching Rick Wormeli videos. It takes a little while to uncover stuff, so pairing this with some bookstore stalking can open up some ideas for good searches.

The Boots: Find the Free Stuff

A sturdy pair of boots will prevent those blisters, rolled ankles, and other maladies that cause us to stumble and sometimes turn back. Free digital or in-person conferences can provide extra support when Twitter chats or reading books isn’t quite enough to get you where want to go. I attended a free conference last weekend called EDCampJOCO at Olathe West High School, which turned out to be an outstanding morning of learning. I got to hear Tara Martin speak about #BookSnaps, (crossing that off my Ed Conference bucket list), learned more about podcasting, and got to share my joy of gamification and standards-based grading by presenting with Jordan Billings.  

Another free conference that launched last summer was the Hive Summit, hosted by Michael Matera. You can check out #HiveSummit on Twitter for some awesome video podcasts with fantastic education innovators. You can subscribe today to get in on the learning fun.  

The Trekking Poles: Go Travel & Learn

Just as trekking poles allow you to move faster down the trail, traveling to conferences can truly get you speeding down the path toward your personal summit! 

My first recommendation is to find conferences that spark your interests and passions, and worry about the cost later, as that piece can be intimidating. Summer Spark at University School Milwaukee is an affordable and impactful 2-day conference with some of the greatest educators in the country!  Plus, it’s very reasonably priced and fairly centrally located, making travel and expense much easier. 

For help with cost, consider reaching out to leaders in your district for funding to support the cost of travel and conference registration. Have confidence in yourself and make the pitch to them about why you need and want to go. Reassuring them that you will share your learning upon return can help as well. I’m fortunate to be in an awesome district that does this on a regular basis, and we need to encourage educators to get better by providing them the space and funds necessary to help them grow.   

Summit Seeker(s) of the Week: This week I’m shouting out another amazing educator and colleague: Amy Walker. Amy is simply amazing, having taught both 5th grade and 7th grade, bringing an infectious smile and wonderful positivity to our school and her classroom. Her leadership as part of our social studies professional development group has helped shape our department’s growth, and her encouragement to come to @EdCampJOCOKS was all the motivation I needed to spend a Saturday morning getting better as an educator.  In every way, Amy makes the teachers around her better and her students find success through her innovative and encouraging classroom! You can follow Amy on Twitter @MrsWalkerOPS.


Ryan Stephans is a middle school educator with more than a decade of experience in the public schools as a Social Studies teacher. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education from Kansas State University, and his Master’s in History from Emporia State University. He began teaching in 2005 at the high school level, before leaving for Turner Middle School (TMS) in Kansas City, KS in 2007. He spent eleven years at TMS, mostly teaching 8th grade U.S. History and serving as Building Improvement Chair, Professional Development Council Representative, and Social Studies Department Chair.  In 2013, he was selected as an Abraham Lincoln Fellow by the Horace Mann Corporation. In 2018 he joined the staff at Summit Trail Middle School in Olathe, KS continuing to teach 8th grade United States History.  He writes a personal blog at www.summitseeking.com and can be followed on Twitter @Coach_Stephans. 

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