This week, Michael Pershan had a presentation on Being Your Own Professional Development via the Global Math Department. If you have never checked out one of their webinars or their site, you really should. If you have but aren’t a member, then you really, really need to register. Even though I thought I had an idea of what Michael was going to present, once the talk started I realized I didn’t. Classic Pershan- follow him at @mpershan, he keeps you thinking.
My first two years as a teacher was different than most it seems. I didn’t have a mentor assigned to me, I was given a key, some tables and books. I started my first job 3 weeks after school started, I was working in the building as a paraprofessional and was later hired to fulfill the mathematics position. As such I did have a good rapport built up with staff at the school. I used that rapport constantly, I was always talking with the experienced teachers to find out what I could do to make my classroom better. When I think about how I came into my first job- it really was a series of fortunate events. It wasn’t until year 3 that things took a different path for me- not the best for me at the time but it has made me the teacher I am today. I had a change of administration, the district decided to try and share principals for both the middle and high school. As such, I didn’t have a strong rapport with him and the first observation- while not bad- was rough because I didn’t know his expectations and he didn’t fully understand the high school. I was assigned a mentor at that time, but instead of someone within the mathematics department, I was assigned to a veteran language arts instructor. As such, most of our conversations revolved around student engagement and behavior. I appreciated all of the feedback and input I received- but there was still a level of disconnect because of the content and program with which I was expected to operate within. Despite the fact that I received two more observations that went very well and had great remarks- I was transferred to the middle school the next year, Gr. 7.
I have to say, switching gears to middle school was tough- very tough. Where I once could determine where anger originated, I was presented this group of teens who didn’t always have rational thought processes. This really challenged me professionally- I had no other 7th grade mathematics teachers in my building. I tried working with my old high school teachers- but they had no experience in the middle school setting. The only real resource I had was the other 8th grade teachers and they could only give me advice on classroom management. After three years of muddling around- being pulled between high school philosophy, strong traditional education influences, and my own need to change my classroom into an environment that I felt both my students and I could learn in, I was sent up to 8th grade. Once again, I was the only math teacher for that grade, but I had a better feel of what I wanted from my students and class and had more tools to utilize. It was during this time that I started tapping into the potential of the #MTBoS.
I needed, craved, searched for ways to develop professionally. At my old school the focus continually was on Language Arts, every speaker or consultant that was brought into the district. I always was expected to attend these sessions, but when asked what strategies they could provide for a mathematics classroom- they always responded that they didn’t know. They didn’t have the background or experience to provide me with resources to make a positive change in my classroom. As such, I was constantly searching for workshops, conferences, seminars- anything that had to mathematics. I started reading Dan Meyer’s blog, branching out with his blogulty lounge- and stumbling upon twitter. Once I hit Twitter, my appetite for ideas for development was in full force, I was provided with an infinite amount of resources and contacts. The biggest problem was determining which resources I needed.
This is where Michael was concerned. With this type of professional development, one where I am not directed but self guided, was I actually providing myself with the resources I needed to grow professionally? Was I only seeking out like-minded educators? Could I notice things outside of my focus that could impact learning?
At first, I was only seeking out like-minded educators. I had a vision for my classroom, and up until the point where I was established on Twitter, I need to have the resources to create that environment. One thing that did happen during this time is that I learned things about my classroom and instruction that I wouldn’t normally notice. This noticing would be different that if I had someone in my room observing me, but I still think that it is a powerful and meaningful experience. Now that I am comfortable with my classroom and how it functions, I am looking for ways to refine and create better experiences for my students. I have started once again to find new resources, different resources (eg: I no longer actively seek out classroom management resources, instead looking a specific instructional approaches). I find people who push my thinking, allowing me to grow outside my narrow vision of myself (thank you Michael- I always appreciate your insights and comments). Once again, there are many things I will miss compared to having another educator in my room, but there is a great opportunity to discover and learn in a safe mode that may not otherwise happen.
Individual professional development isn’t optimal, but I think it leads to a more individualized focus that the educator needs. I feel it is a critical step in an educator’s professional growth to seek out PD on their own to meet their needs. I also feel that there is a place for peer observations and those need to remain present no matter how established you are as an educator.
Find what excites you, go seek it out. Find out how to make it work in your room. Then invite others to observe it and give you feedback on how it’s working.