Everything You Need to Personalize Your PD

Startup Teacher Playbook: Turn Your Ideas Into Actions, Personalize Professional Development and Create Innovative Learning Experiences for You and Your Students 
By Michelle Blanchet and Darcy Bakkegard
(Times 10 Publications, 2021 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Linda Biondi

I am sure most of you who are reading this review know what the required back-to-school professional development looks like.

You are sitting in a vast auditorium, longing to be in your classroom to get ready for the moment the students walk in. Instead, you are listening or trying to listen to a speaker who probably cost the district more money that you can imagine.

The speaker is going on and on about programs you should be using in the classroom and using all the latest “teaching buzzwords.”

You feel useless, frustrated, and ready to bolt! And to top it off, the speaker is challenging you to institute the program with supplies and time that you do not have. But you will try your best to follow the district’s wishes and purchase items with your own money, because “it’s the right thing to do.”

This description could apply to most traditional “teacher day” PD, any time during the school year. I have been retired from classroom teaching for a few years now, but I know from speaking with former colleagues that this hasn’t changed a bit.

Teaching is one of the most exciting, rewarding, and satisfying professions you could be in. It is also difficult, draining, and it sometimes breaks your heart. The work you do demands dedication, time, compassion, empathy, and, yes, your own money.

Michelle Blanchet and Darcy Bakkegard ‘get’ teachers

Startup Teacher Playbook is written from the heart. It is written by two educators who want to help you. It is current, with references to how teachers adapted during the Covid-19 crisis not just as educators but as humanitarians.

As I read their introduction, I remembered the dismay teachers have when they feel like no one is listening to their ideas or their frustrations. And I remembered the joy and elation that teachers feel when a student “gets it” or a colleague asks if they could use a strategy you created.

I also remembered the conversations in the teachers’ room, both negative and positive. I remembered the tears in our eyes as we said “goodbye” to our current class, and the cheer we felt when we welcomed our new class.

As I continued on and read through the chapters, I knew these authors understood the teaching life and cared about teachers and their students.

The Educator Canvas: Your go-to tool

One important benefit of the book is the “Educator Canvas.” The Educator Canvas is going to be your “go to” tool. Just as an artist uses a canvas to paint, you will be using your Educator Canvas to paint your ideas. You will be adding hues and images to your canvas. You will be looking at your Educator Canvas with a critical eye and also be inspired as you work on it.

Your Canvas will be shared with colleagues as you work on a problem or idea. This Canvas is easily downloadable at The Educator’s Lab (a support site for the book) and is broken into four critical sections: Impact (short- and long-term goals), Insights (inspiration and user input), Logistics (tasks, resources, partners) and Execution (timeline, strategy, managing relationships).

If you are wondering how you can possibly manage to read this whole book – or simply where to begin, the authors provide guiding questions for each section that will remove any angst. They remind you that as an educator you are not alone and urge you to work with a colleague as you brainstorm and plan.

A focus on three professional learning topics

✻ Open-ended professional learning: Give teachers time to think, play, explore and create.

✻ Leadership for teachers: Train all teachers to see themselves as leaders.

✻ Emotional intelligence for educators: Nurturing our social-emotional learning to prevent burnout.

When I spotted the third learning topic, I was sold. Social emotional learning is critical. Schools focus on making sure that there are programs, time, and energy spent for social and emotional learning. But it’s easy to forget the huge responsibility that teachers are exposed to and face day after day, moment after moment. The authors offer assistance on each page and act as your “guide on the side.”

There are several modules that outline how to use the startup methodology within your classroom.

✻ Module One: An introduction to the book.
✻ Module Two: Defines the problems you want to solve and develop solutions.
✻ Module Three: Reflects on your leadership potential and helps you determine if you are meeting it.
✻ Module Four: Teaches you how to help you “nourish your well-being and build your mental stamina.”
✻ Module Five: Additional tools to help you such as templates, suggestions, and an Impact Log.

A book overflowing with ideas you can use

I have to be honest with you. It’s not easy to review the book in less than a thousand words. This book is filled with practical ideas, anecdotes, guidelines and guiding questions, technology links, and strategies for the reader to check out, absorb, reflect upon, and try out. Every page is filled with a thought, link, or activity that will help you become the best teacher you can be.

You won’t feel alone on the journey because you will be so excited about the book that you will want to share it with your colleagues. The authors write in a style that makes you feel as if they are walking the path with you.

Check out the site to get an idea of what the book is all about and meet the authors. You will be happy that you did. You can also join the #StartupTeacherPLN to bring your ideas to life and help students bring their ideas to life.

After teaching fourth and fifth graders for 41 years, Linda Biondi is supervising preservice and student teachers at The College of New Jersey and Rider University. She has co-facilitated summer writing institutes in conjunction with the National Writing Project and volunteers for two service organizations: Homefront and Dress for Success of Central New Jersey – with missions to end homelessness and empower women to achieve through economic independence.

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