Lofty ideas for an approach to PD?

I have blogged before about how Twitter and blogging caused a personal ‘cognitive revolution’. I have always wanted to learn on my job, but since I started to understand blogging and social media and its transformative value for learning the rest is history…

Reading about New Media in  Living with New Media and World Without Walls: Learning With Others really affirmed some thinking I have been doing about a project I have recently embarked upon.

I was presented with an opportunity at the start of the year to develop a PD plan for the school. A train-the-trainer course in English language teaching I was supposed to attend got cancelled and so the school’s plan to have EAL as its major focus for PD the following year needed to be revisited. Having been on quite a few of these courses in my school career and with nearly two decades of experience under my belt, I started thinking perhaps I could develop and lead EAL training for staff myself. I put in a proposal and the school accepted my plan.

I had many questions. How would I go about this? What was effective PD? How could I make this professional development sustainable? How could I make it visible? How could I make it reflect the social constructivist learning environment of our school?  How was I going to make it relevant for all the teachers in the school? But one thing that came top of the list was how I could use social media and blogging in the way it had moved my own learning about teaching forward- how it had caused me to reflect and learn at a much deeper level. I like how Jeff Utecht mentions the importance of reflection in a school day in Reach and I think that is the key to sustaining good teaching practice. I considered how many of my own more traditional PD experiences (such as week-end workshops), because of lack of time, had not always had the impact on student learning they had intended. So what really had?

  • Documenting student learning
  • Reflecting on student learning through blogging
  • Creating
  • Making connections with other educators
  • Sharing
  • Getting feedback

Somehow, social media and blogging had to become part of this PD plan.  I started to get excited about developing a social learning network at my school. Imagine how much collective knowledge, practice and learning would suddenly become visible. If we were all documenting learning and blogging about, for example, ‘stretching our students to use more academic language’, at different divisions of the school, we could really start seeing what was happening. People with similar interests could form groups for deeper inquiry, high school teachers would see what was happening in the early years (another great opportunity for learning!), and teachers could potentially transform learning experiences for EAL students and feel ownership of the whole process. We could create expertise together, instead of one person developing a set of workshops which people may or may not buy into and will have to unlearn by the time they move onto their next job! Will Richardson does a much better job of explaining my thinking:

“It’s about working together to create our own curricula, texts, and classrooms built around deep inquiry into the defining questions of the group. It’s about solving problems together and sharing the knowledge we’ve gained with wide audiences.”

A question I was asked when I put forward my plan was, what about the certificate? Teachers will want a certificate to show their prospective employers. I considered how often I had been asked for a certificate at a new school for an EAL course I had been on. NEVER. A portfolio in the form of a blog that documents student learning and personal growth is surely of more interest to prospective employers than a certificate?There, sold?

What do you think? Lofty ideas?

Afterthought: I just realized I have my plan for my final project right here!

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7 Responses

  1. Hello Marcelle,

    That does sounds like an excellent idea for a final project to me. I am sure that getting people to engage on this level can only help. There are some really interesting possibilities for cross divisional or interdisciplinary connections if you can get people to commit.

    I think it is interesting that you discuss using blogging and social media for professional development because I had a similar idea earlier this week. I am the learning leader for the HS science department in my school. Having just started Coetail and spent some time setting up RRS feeds and floating around reading various educational blogs I had the thought that this might be of use to others my department. I got all excited and I wanted to get everyone set up with an RRS reader that would feed them posts and ideas from educational blogs and sites. In particular we are adopting the NGSS science standards at our school and I was hoping that we could find some good connections through this technique. When I brought this up it was received with lukewarm reception. (I just might have to borrow their phones and install the apps myself). I think that I might have to find a couple of relevant sites and then just suggest again that everyone get connected so we can read and discuss together.

    I wonder how you would structure this type of PD in your school to allow everyone to benefit from the process but not feel too constrained or forced. Certainly as you continue to think about this I would love to hear more so that I can try to get my peeps going.

    Thanks for sharing your idea,

    • I came across this link on Ben’s Twitter.
      It is an article on tech integration and PD. I thought it might help you.
      link to


    • Hi Eric,

      Thanks for your feedback. We (or some of us) use Google Communities at our school. Last year I set these up for most units of inquiry I was involved in and invited all teachers to contribute. I love Google Communities, because you can also add pictures and student work- so a great way to see what’s going on in each other’s classes. If you come across something really valuable on Twitter or the internet (even if it’s something to do with an entirely different area of the school that you happen to know about) you can add it to the particular community. Like in your case, some teachers don’t see the value. But I put that down to not having tapped into the power of these tools! I know that getting people on board for my venture is going to be a challenge. I intend to use all the people who are on board and hopefully some will follow!

  2. Chris says:

    Hi cohort buddy, loved your post. The best professional learning is a sustained process rather than a standalone course or conference. I think I’ve learned more from a handful of bloggers than all the consultants ever to grace the stages of my schools. Following an educator I admired was like enrolling myself in their “course,” only I was able to choose from an infinite selection and stick with each one as long as I wanted. For example Glenn Wiebe from Kansas is a longtime favorite: link to
    Your idea takes this to the next level by creating a community in which you’ll participate in each other’s “courses” and be able to interact both on- and offline. I think it’s a fantastic way to harness the expertise of colleagues and learn from each others’ experiences.

  3. Jon Banules says:

    Hi Marcelle,

    I just came across Jeff Utech’s tweet of this article: link to

    Might be helpful for your online learning communities approach to PD.

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