The 2019-20 school year sure is turning out to be a doozy, huh? So many educators, including me, are learning how to provide meaningful instruction from a distance while maintaining a learning climate where students and families feel supported and cared about.
Educators have learned to Zoom and Skype, to Kahoot and Flipgrid, to Google Classroom and Schoology. Honestly, it’s been fast and furious and more than a little stressful. But, if my read is correct (data gathered from Twitter, Facebook, my own staff, and the graduate students in my online classes), teachers are learning quickly and well!
It’s been amazing to see how smoothly the transition went in my district and to hear similar stories from others all over the nation. While some school systems are having distinct and even grievous challenges, the distance learning ball seems to be rolling rather well in many places.
Teachers Learning at Home
A few months back I wrote a piece about why professional learning is central to great teaching. When teachers become learners, it widens the perspective regardless of what we’re learning (a new online tool, how to play the piano, a new language, how to build a birdhouse, etc.).
Repositioning ourselves as teachers trying out novel methods gives us fresh insight into what the kids in our care experience as they navigate new learning in school. It is in that spirit that I share some ideas for learning at home during the closures and beyond.
Be assured that the intent of this post is not to ask you to do more than you want to. There is no pressure here! Maybe you’re already overwhelmed and busy, maybe you are working hard to teach your own children at home. Maybe you’re stressed to the hilt with thoughts of the pandemic. Maybe you’re using this time to practice radical self-care. Do what you need to do. No judgment here.
That said, if you’re interested in doing some professional learning at home in addition to the on-the-fly learning that comes part and parcel with reorganizing your class so it’s distance-friendly, then have at it! Below are some good options.
1. Graduate Credit on the Cheap
If you need three credits but don’t want to pay university fees or find the time for face-to-face, meat-in-the-seat classes, try an online course. Most are easy to navigate and asynchronous, which means you can work on them when and where you choose. (Which for me, often means at midnight in my jammies with a glass of wine at my side. If that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right!)
With a plethora of online courses in educational topics including literacy, math, technology, classroom management, social emotional learning, and more, PDI is a long-time favorite for practical teachers. Total cost with 3 graduate credits from the University of California, San Diego is approximately $375! I must divulge that I write and teach courses for PDI. I have also taken many PDI courses and can personally vouch for the quality of content of resources.
Learner’s Edge is another resource for low-cost graduate credit with both online and old-fashioned correspondence courses. Two interesting options offered by Learner’s Edge are “custom-independent-study” classes and “book studies.” Both allow teachers to explore topics in education using nothing more than high-quality books from scholars in the field.
If you can’t find a course you like from PDI or Learner’s Edge, you can build your own course with a custom study. For example, I once had a team who wanted to study the scholarship on engaging African American middle school boys in reading. We chose our own text and off we went! Look here and here to see some of the fruits of our labor.
2. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)
MOOCs are an amazing gift of the 21st century! If you have ever wanted to take a course from a master professor out of Harvard or Stanford or Yale but didn’t think it was possible, you were wrong! Not only is it possible, it is FREE!!! Many universities are offering online courses or learning modules free of cost to teachers. They mostly consist of videos, readings, and online discussions. (Here’s one MOOC course aggregator you can explore.)
While credit is not always available, it certainly would count as evidence of professional development in whatever form of so-called “teacher accountability” or “educator effectiveness” program is imposed on you. The best part about a MOOC is that you can participate in the parts you are interested in and ignore the parts that don’t seem to pertain to your learning needs.
With courses in character education, teaching English language learners, learning a new language, assessment, and emerging techniques in teaching with technology, there are many, many choices.
Similar to Coursera, this MOOC clearinghouse offers a range of classes of potential interest to students. Learn how to engage families, about emerging technologies, how to speak Spanish, or use principles of gaming in education. Some courses are even offered in Spanish.
Try short course “stacks” designed to help teachers learn about and show proficiency in a variety of educational topics. If teachers are concerned with completing a stack and earning a microcredential, they can work on a single module. The one I tried was on using wait time and it was truly helpful!
3. On the World Wide Web
Socrates is often quoted as having said, “Education is a kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” Teachers, in the 21st century that flame is burning all over the internet. It’s time to warm yourself by the cyber-fire!
If you haven’t yet, get yourself a handle, use TweetDeck (Twitter’s own tool to follow multiple threads in a single interfact) or HootSuite to make a free account, and start tweeting in a chat today! A chat is a focused hour of tweeting with teachers all over the country on a given educational topic. Find a frequently updated list of education-oriented hashtag chats here. You’ll be impressed.
If you’re not ready to tweet, just “lurk” (a somewhat creepy Twitter-term for observing a chat). Or start even smaller by following an edu-favorite. You will be amazed at the level of interaction that you can achieve with some of your edu-heroes. I have been able to converse with Dr. Mary Howard (@DrMaryHoward), Larry Ferlazzo (@Larryferlazzo), Kylene Beers (@KyleneBeers), Stephan Krashen (@skrashen), and many more! While you’re finding folks to follow, add me (@ritaplatt) and MiddleWeb (@middleweb).
To get you started, Scholastic offers a great primer for the beginning Twitter-teacher, click here.
Google (Yes, I said, “Google!”)
Honestly, the go-to place for me when I need to learn about a new topic in education is a Google search. When I wanted to learn more about Response to Intervention, PBiS, and standards-based learning (three hot topics in my district), I googled them, saved the links that looked promising in a folder on my toolbar and read them at my leisure. Of course, the internet is not called “the web” for no reason. One resource led to another and another and soon, I felt like I had a good handle on each topic.
This site offers webinars led by education experts on a range of teaching and learning-related topics. Once you register for a webinar, you’ll get a link for either a live event or a recorded one (depending on the timing of your request.) Several of the teachers at my school have enjoyed edWeb offerings since the closure. To discover more free webinars (live and archived), check publishers (like ASCD or Corwin) and professional associations (like AMLE or NSTA).
4. Professional Reading
Now that you’re home, it might be time to crack the books! There are so many truly wonderful options for professional reading.
MiddleWeb offers a wonderful book review program. Teachers can ask for a recently published professional book and the MiddleWeb staff will mail you a free copy if you agree to write a short review to be published at the MiddleWeb site. For a list of books that are currently available, click here. And take a look at some of the 1000 reviews for fresh teaching ideas.
Books to Keep Us at the Top of Our Game
In a previous post for MiddleWeb, I wrote about my all-time favorite professional development books. These are books that I return to often to inform my work as an educator. Even better, read my book, Working Hard, Working Happy: Cultivating a Culture of Effort and Joy in the Classroom! Okay, this is a shameless plug, but I’m proud of Working Hard, Working Happy, and I think it’s a great resource. Give it a read and if you want, we can Zoom and chat about it!
10 Book Challenges
Just plain old pleasure reading is an important form of professional development. Really! It is! Choose a topic that goes with the content area you teach and read 10 books that kids in your grade might like. Reading widely in the content area and/or grade level you teach will help you to have good ideas for books to suggest to your kiddos. (See this SLJ post for links to free book access during the pandemic.)
Again, I want to remind you that it’s okay to do none of these things. If you chose to, I’d love to hear about your experiences! Reach out! I’m home too! I’d love to chat.
Rita Platt is a principal in Wisconsin and recently received a leadership award from the Kohl Foundation. Her first book, Working Hard, Working Happy: Cultivating a Culture of Effort and Joy in the Classroom, is a Routledge/ MiddleWeb publication. It’s a quick read, filled with practical ideas about creating a learning culture in your classroom and school (see this review by Anne Anderson). MiddleWeb readers receive a 20% discount at the Routledge site with the code MWEB1.
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