How much of a teacher’s professional life should be spent in professional development? How about a coordinator? An administrator? What constitutes professional development? Taking a class, going to a conference, watching a webinar or attending a committee are certainly all activities that everyone in the education field will agree are professional development related, so long as the class, conference, webinar and/or committee are education related.
What about less organized activities? Collaborative planning, data analysis of student work, book groups about education-related material and peer observations have all come to be recognized as professional development too. Over many decades, the nature of professional development has evolved to include much more than organized conferences and seminars, and rightly so.
A week or so ago, I laughed when I read a friend’s post on Facebook, which read, “Pinning lesson plans and education research on Pinterest should earn us CEUs.” It occurred to me, however, my account on the same social media site has nearly five times the number of lesson plans than anything else. In the last month, I had to open a professional Twitter account in order to attend National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC) event chats. Since then, I’ve used it exclusively to keep track of interesting education sites, articles, thoughts and blogs. Oddly, Twitter and Facebook are nearly essential to keeping on top of the latest in education news, since many groups post information there first.
I discovered over the summer that LinkedIn was another essential social networking site. I joined several discussion groups which provide me not only with the latest information, but free resources! Through my LinkedIn connections, I’ve gotten free books and found websites I’d never have thought to try.
There are definitely days when checking all of my social networking sites feels like my full-time job. I find it overwhelming sometimes and I wonder what I’ve gotten myself into! I have found that a separate, professional e-mail address that isn’t linked to school helps keep the e-mail digests to a minimum on days when you aren’t up for tackling the masses.
I find myself laughing alongside my older students; they understand this world so much better than I do! As teachers, we need to adapt. I find it troubling that as an adult society, we tend to treat social networking as something silly or frivolous. If kids and teenagers are gravitating toward social networking then we need to harness the power within it to connect with students and each other.
What makes it even more challenging is that many districts have decided that social networking isn’t just frivolous, it is also dangerous. Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube and even LinkedIn are blocked at many schools. Blocking access to these sites cuts teachers off from these powerful resources. It also cuts off the ability for teachers and students to connect through classroom Facebook pages, which have proved so successful in many districts. Worse, it cuts off the all too important conversation that needs to occur about internet safety and privacy.
Is there a happy medium? How do we protect students and still empower teachers to use the available technology to educate them?