On The Way To Work…

On the way to work in the morning, Mark listens to case studies on various patients in order to best understand how to deal with his own. 

In a coffee shop across town, Margaret designs logos for a company she is freelancing with. They want the designs to convey feelings of interconnectedness, as their new software allows employees to work across several platforms. 

At a breakfast table in his own living room, Joe tunes into a tutorial on mixing beats in Pro Tools in order to develop the score for a local tv program. 

Self- Learning

Mark, Margaret and Joe are all engrossed in self-paced learning. There is no classroom, no lecturer; not even a table or chairs. And while there is no formal “school,” they are learning. The learning is deep and relevant to their individual needs. 

Professional Development in Schools

Although the world has changed, with information accessible with the simple click of a mouse, professional development for teachers still looks remarkably similar to how it did in the past. 

Teachers fly to workshops conducted thousands of miles away to take notes and hear speakers who have little to no understanding of the issues they face on a daily basis.

Oftentimes the PD at their school is no different. 

PD occurs weekly at staff meetings in short intervals spread across a multitude of topics, with little opportunity for deep personal and professional growth. 

21st Century Professional Development Model

What if like Nate, Margaret and Joe, you too could learn at your own pace?

What if you could map out your own professional development plan and consult with the resources that best aligned to it?  

What if you were coached by experts in the field who knew your students, context, and challenges you face?

The good news is that you can! 

It just takes a little perseverance and a commitment to your own growth. Here’s a simple five- step process to achieve it: 

Step One: Find a Focus and Develop an Inquiry 

Before looking for professional development opportunities, it’s crucial that you narrow the focus. Teaching is a demanding profession with a wide variety of skills necessary to develop mastery. Focusing on one particular area at a time will allow you to make greater progress in obtaining those skills. 

Where do you find the greatest challenge? Do you struggle with formative and summative assessment? Engaging students in inquiry? Facilitating Discussion? 

Develop a list of areas in which you would like to grow. Next, consider which area of growth will have the greatest impact on student learning and develop an inquiry around it. 

Here are some examples of inquiries developed by teachers I have coached: 

What are best practices to give timely, consistent, effective, feedback that allows for student collaboration and individual reflection that moves students towards achieving or exceeding standards?

How can I encourage my students to work with their groups and rely on each other to reach a learning outcome together?

Step Two: Consult written resources

The next step is to find written resources that align with your central inquiry. Who’s writing about this stuff? Is there an expert in your particular field?

In the case of Trevor’s question regarding timely feedback for students, a little digging helped him discover Ron Berger’s ‘Ethic of Excellence.’ This book is based on real experience in guiding students to reflect on their work. Learning the methods that Berger used to elicit timely feedback allowed Trevor to try the same approach with his students. 

Step Three: Enroll in an Online Course/ Mooc

After creating an essential question and consulting written resources, find an online course designed around your topic. These courses help move you systematically from novice to expert. Many are divided into modules of learning that allow you to take small steps ins exploring your inquiry and gaining important skills that you can immediately apply in the classroom. 

Here are a few good sites to explore for online classes with many starting soon:

Class Central: Hundreds of online courses designed around a number of professional needs. Teaching English as a second language, coding, and “understanding common core” are a few of the offerings.

Coursera: Coursera is a behemoth in the online Mooc world. And while teacher education is not its central focus, its slick interface makes learning and accessing content a breeze:

Udemy: Similar to Coursera, this platform hosts courses from all disciplines. Although courses aren’t officially endorsed or licensed by an accrediting organisation, I find the courses to be simple, straight forward, and easy to put into practice:

Teachable: This is my personal favourite. Its interface is similar to Udemy with videos, workbooks, quizzes and interactive lessons across a multitude of subjects.

Step Four: Find Your ‘Tribe’

While your professional development should be personalised, it will be strengthened by connecting to a network with similar goals. In today’s highly interconnected world, there’s no excuse not to! Through Twitter chats, Webinars, Facebook Groups, you will have the opportunity to grow together. For me, I have found Twitter to be the best starting point. 

Start with the hashtag most relevant to your area of need, and then continue your investigation to find the authority on your topics. Through articles, videos, quotes and blog posts, you will be connected instantly to your ’tribe.’ 

Here’s some hashtags to get you started: 






Step Five: Find a Mentor/ Coach

When I first begin writing my book, ‘The Power of Simple,’ it was just a scattering of random journal entries on what I was learning through my school development. It wasn’t until I got a writing coach that I was able to assemble those journal entries and get a book published within months. 

The same applies to our growth as educators. 

A coach who knows you well will help clarify your thinking and ensure you are meeting your goals for professional learning this year.

Where to find a coach?

Start at your campus. Who knows you well? Who do you feel comfortable with sharing your professional goals? Reach out to this person and see if they would be willing to devote some time observing and helping you reflect. 

If everyone at your campus is busy, reach out to an expert in your field. Tell them you are hoping to grow as an educator and learn more from them. If they don’t have the time, chances are they will point you in the direction of someone else who might. 

In Closing

We no longer live in an age where our professional growth is dependent on the plan laid out by our superiors. We can chart that path on our own. 

But it starts by narrowing our focus. Frame a question around your greatest area of need and seek out the resources, coaching, and networks that will help you address that need. 

And as always, I’m here to help.

To your success!

Kyle Wagner is an instructional coach who empowers school leaders to lead change and deepen student learning through innovative programs and teaming structures. Contact him for a free 30- minute consultation on how to deepen student learning at your school. 

Schedule a consultation