How much of a teacher’s professional life should be spent
in professional development? How about a coordinator? An administrator? What
constitutes professional development? Taking a class, going to a conference,
watching a webinar or attending a committee are certainly all activities that
everyone in the education field will agree are professional development
related, so long as the class, conference, webinar and/or committee are
What about less organized activities? Collaborative
planning, data analysis of student work, book groups about education-related
material and peer observations have all come to be recognized as professional
development too. Over many decades, the
nature of professional development has evolved to include much more than
organized conferences and seminars, and rightly so.
A week or so ago, I laughed when I read a friend’s post
on Facebook, which read, “Pinning lesson plans and education research on
Pinterest should earn us CEUs.” It occurred to me, however, my account on the
same social media site has nearly five times the number of lesson plans than
anything else. In the last month, I had to open a professional Twitter account
in order to attend National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC) event chats. Since
then, I’ve used it exclusively to keep track of interesting education sites,
articles, thoughts and blogs. Oddly, Twitter and Facebook are nearly essential
to keeping on top of the latest in education news, since many groups post
information there first.
I discovered over the summer that LinkedIn was another
essential social networking site. I joined several discussion groups which
provide me not only with the latest information, but free resources! Through my
LinkedIn connections, I’ve gotten free books and found websites I’d never have
thought to try.
There are definitely days when checking all of my social
networking sites feels like my full-time job. I find it overwhelming sometimes
and I wonder what I’ve gotten myself into! I have found that a separate,
professional e-mail address that isn’t linked to school helps keep the e-mail
digests to a minimum on days when you aren’t up for tackling the masses.
I find myself laughing alongside my older students; they
understand this world so much better than I do! As teachers, we need to adapt. I
find it troubling that as an adult society, we tend to treat social networking
as something silly or frivolous. If kids and teenagers are gravitating toward
social networking then we need to harness the power within it to connect with
students and each other.
What makes it even more challenging is that many
districts have decided that social networking isn’t just frivolous, it is also
dangerous. Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube and even LinkedIn are blocked
at many schools. Blocking access to these sites cuts teachers off from these
powerful resources. It also cuts off the ability for teachers and students to
connect through classroom Facebook pages, which have proved so successful in
many districts. Worse, it cuts off the all too important conversation that
needs to occur about internet safety and privacy.
Is there a happy medium? How do we protect students and
still empower teachers to use the available technology to educate them?