Ways to Rev Up Your Passion for Summer PD

A MiddleWeb Blog

It is often said that teaching is both “an art and a science.” To the extent that it is an art, some amount of success can be attributed to innate ability.

But because it is also a science, there is always room for new discoveries, fresh ways to practice, and overall improvement.

All professionals tend to enjoy their work more when they feel a sense of mastery, and many teachers are born lifelong learners who know that their education doesn’t end when they receive their degree.

The most effective and happiest teachers I know take responsibility for their own growth and development.

When I asked some of my virtual teacher friends in an online secondary ELA group why they find professional development valuable, they had some great answers.

Susan said, “I guess I feel a sense of urgency about creating independent, critical thinkers. It’s crucial for the survival of democracy.”

Megan said, “I want to serve kids better, and if I’m not reading current research or trying to seek out new strategies and ideas, then I’m not doing that.”

And Laura’s sentiments mirror my own, “I just genuinely love what I do and always want to get better at it. I’m a nerdy person in general, and when I’m into something, I’m really into it. That includes teaching! It’s not just a job for me.”

Inspiring comments. But there’s a problem.

PD needs to be about choice

When you say the phrase “professional development” to most teachers, you are rarely met with a joyous response. Usually, teachers will express how much they dislike professional development, how boring it is, how it’s a waste of their time, or how irrelevant it is to their practice. Too often, this is because they were offered no choice in the matter. It doesn’t have to be this way.

The biggest hits in my classroom every year are the Passion Projects completed by my sixth graders. I am convinced that the reason these go over so well is because they are based, first and foremost, on the student choice – they pick the task they want to attempt to master.

My students are intrinsically motivated to do well and learn a new skill because they are interested in the subject. The same happens when teachers are able to investigate topics of their choice on their own terms. Personally, I am a professional development enthusiast and can’t get enough of self-selected PD.

Summer is the perfect time

I am lucky enough to be able to attend a couple of educational conferences throughout the school year, but that is not without a certain degree of stress. It involves leaving plans for a substitute, traveling during potentially awful weather, being distracted during the conference by issues back at school, and being haunted by the neverending stack of papers waiting to be graded.

For me, summertime is the perfect time to reflect, plan, and improve because I am free from these other responsibilities. Every May, I look forward to exploring my options for summertime learning. And the number of options is an embarrassment of riches.

Here are some of my favorite professional summer development opportunities.

PD in my PJs

I am so thankful for a good wi-fi connection because it allows me to learn remotely in my favorite bed and breakfast—my home. I am a huge fan of reading blogs, watching webinars, reading articles, and listening to podcasts. Among some of my favorites are:

Cult of Pedagogy blog: I find everything Jennifer Gonzalez writes to be sound advice and immediately applicable in my classroom. In fact, she recently wrote a great post about alternative professional development models.

Alice in Wondertech blog: Alice Chen gives me great ideas for how to incorporate technology into my lessons. Two other wonderful blogs for tech ideas are Catlin Tucker’s and Cool Cat Teacher.

Truth for Teachers podcast: Listening to Angela Watson is like listening to your best teacher friend. She is practical, engaging, and energizing.

TED Talks Education podcasts: I’m a huge fan of all things TED. I feel so much smarter just having listened or watched. You’ve probably watched some TED video but how about audio? Perfect for car rides, yard work and pool time.

And of course, I find a nearly infinite number of great ideas at MiddleWeb and AMLE.

PD in My Shorts

When I attend summer education conferences, I get excited because it means I’m about to learn something great from people who are also giving up some of their precious summer vacation to improve their craft.

Over the years, I’ve attended some wonderful conferences, and this summer, I am very excited to again be on the faculty for the Association for Middle Level Education’s (AMLE) Institute for Middle Level Leadership. Not only do I get to present several sessions on my teaching passions, but I get to learn from the faculty and my fellow educators in an intimate, collaborative setting.

I am also lucky enough to live in Michigan so I am able to attend nErDCampMI—my favorite PD of the year. When you get 2000 book nerd teachers together with their favorite children’s book authors, there’s bound to be a wealth of book love shared and ideas for instilling this love in our students. These are my people. Even if you don’t live in Michigan and teach literacy, there are nErDCamps (and Ed Camps for other content areas) in other locations.

I’ve not yet had the pleasure of attending either the summer International Society for Technology in Education (#ISTE18) or the International Literacy Association (#ILA18) conferences, but I learn merely by following the twitter feed of those lucky enough to be there and clicking on links they share. Attending these is definitely a bucket list item.

PD in My Lounge Chair

It’s no surprise that as an English teacher I love to read. I’ve read several hundred professional development books, yet I still buy every new one published by my favorite authors.

There have been a few books that have informed every day of my teaching practice. If you visit my classroom, you will see the influence of the incomparable Rick Wormeli, Kylene Beers & Bob Probst, Penny Kittle, Donalyn Miller, Kelly Gallagher, Jeff Anderson, and Harvey Daniels.

This summer, I am excited to take a deep dive into three books that I purchased this spring. These are sitting on my bookcase taunting me until I go on vacation in June: A Novel Approach: Whole-Class Novels, Student-Centered Teaching, and Choice by Kate Roberts, 180 DAYS: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle, and Engaging Children: Igniting a Drive for Deeper Learning by Ellin Oliver Keene. (Although I’ve had this one since the fall, I keep finding new ideas in The Creativity Project by my friend Colby Sharp, and I’ll be picking it up again too.)

PD with Friends

Every summer, my school has several days of teacher meetings after the students leave. One of the things we accomplish during these meetings is reflection – the chance to look back on the year with my sixth grade team and with my English department. While it is still fresh in our minds, we discuss what went well, what did not, and what we want to change in the year to come.

#BookExpedition meet-up at NerdCampMI (2017) Left to right: Laura Shovan, Cheryl Mizerny, Susan Sullivan, Patrick Andrus, Katie Reilly. From Nerdy Book Club

Last spring, I connected with an online Twitter book group called #BookExpedition. We share the advance reader copies (ARCs) we receive at conferences and from publishers. We read them, insert comments on sticky notes, send them on to the next person, and eventually back to the author. Not only have I read and discussed some amazing books, but we have developed a strong bond and are looking forward to seeing one another at nErDCampMI where we are giving a presentation about how to start a similar group.

I also love my social media virtual friends, who not only give me someone to hang out with at every conference I attend, but also share their brilliance for free. By reading their posts in a teacher Facebook group or following them on Twitter, I get the most inspiring ideas. Because teaching can be such an isolating profession, I love the feeling of companionship and collaboration I get every time I log on.

Choose the right amount of PD for you

This seems like a lot of summer PD, and it may be too much if you have a lot of other things going during the break. I have those years too. But even if you only choose one thing to learn, it may be just the spark you need to make next school year your best ever!

Cheryl Mizerny

Cheryl Mizerny (@cherylteaches) is a veteran educator with 25 years experience – most at the middle school level. She began her career in special education, became a teacher consultant and adjunct professor of Educational Psychology, and currently teaches 6th grade English in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Cheryl writes about student motivation and engagement at The Accidental English Teacher. Read more of her MiddleWeb articles here and here.

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