Season 1, Episode 1 of The Educator’s Companion to Professional Development: Unlock Your Genius through PLPs (Show Notes)

Season 1, Episode 1 of The Educator’s Companion to Professional Development: Unlock Your Genius through PLPs (Show Notes)

I know that a lot of people enjoying reading and skimming through podcast show notes to get a gist of the highlights of the episode. This podcast was originally recorded back in May 2017. To listen to the podcast, please go here.

Before we start diving into all the great resources, I really want to share with you a structure to unlock your potential, that I call a professional learning plan. I know. It’s not very sexy sounding, but it is a practical framework that you can use as a map for your learning journey.
Today’s Focus hinges on 2 questions: Why you need to create a personalized plan for your professional development? And what is the framework so you can get the most out of your learning?

Why you need to create a personalized learning plan?

Unfortunately, for many teachers today, professional development is viewed more as an exercise in compliance rather than an opportunity to improve their practice.
Research has shown that the way in which schools and districts deliver professional learning is highly fragmented and characterized by big disconnects between decision-makers and teachers.
I was surprised and disappointed to find that research suggested that only 29 percent of teachers are highly satisfied with current professional development offerings. With a 1/3 of all teachers stating that they do not believe that professional development is helping them prepare for the changing nature of the profession, including the use of technology and digital learning tools, analyzing student data to differentiate instruction, and implementing the curriculum.
 So, although a variety of professional development formats such as professional learning communities and coaching is becoming mainstream, there is an extraordinary amount of that still feel like they aren’t growing themselves, and becoming more effective in their classrooms. Perhaps this is because they have limited if any choice. Fewer than one in three teachers actually have a voice in their professional development.  Yet, what we do know is that those teachers with more choice are more likely to engage seriously in professional learning and improve their craft.
I can absolutely relate to the struggle of making professional development meaningful in schools. As a curriculum coordinator, I was involved in the planning of professional development for my school. We look at data, we do surveys, we have PD committees, we have PLCs, we have collaborative planning meetings. We try to tick all the boxes but the truth is that it is really difficult to move students forward without addressing the specific needs of a teacher; so we often make generalizations when it comes to professional development decisions. We talk a lot about differentiation for students, but rarely for teachers. But the research now shows that increasing the use of self-guided online resources combined with the individual teacher’s innate desire to focus on a professional goal, improves the quality of learning in the classroom.
Teachers who are learners, shift from mediocrity to expert status when they are motivated towards a professional goal that is meaningful and timely for their growth in an area of specific interest. And passionate teachers, create classrooms of excellence.
It is preciously why I have made this podcast and preciously why I want to help you to create a personalized professional learning plan because you can go from good to great in no time whatsoever if you have a framework that supports your growth. So this professional learning plan is has been created from a mash-up and combines the ideas of Google, the methods of Tim Ferris and Josh Kaufman, as well as stealing from the playbook of the personal learning plans that we use for our students.

What is a personalized learning plan?

Now I’d like to share with you the 6-step process to create your plan, and 4 tips to help you be successful in executing it. So let’s begin.
Step 1: Start with the end in mind by creating a goal.
You have to have a destination in mind when you embark upon a learning journey. So think about what worries you about your learners or what excites you in education, then create a goal around that. Be careful not to make it something outrageous but it needs to be something that is challenging–to throw out some teacher speak for you, it needs to be in your zone of proximal learning, right?
The Goal: To be Smart on Unsmart?–that is the question!
Yes, you may wonder how you should approach goal setting.  At this point, I’m going to leave this up to you. You’re an adult and you know you. Some of you may cringe at the idea of making a goal S. M. A. R. T.–specific, measurable, achievable, relevant/realistic, and time-bound. Yet others of you really need that in order to flesh out your goal. What I am suggesting is to use a framework that will inspire you and keep you glued to this interest so that it becomes sustainable.  Your goal needs to you light you up and get you excited for this journey ahead. Use positive language that is focused on what you want, not what you don’t want. You can start with a challenge that you currently plaguing you.
I can give you a personal example. I had a student who I was concerned about that had some very anti-social tendencies. And I really wanted to find a way to develop empathy in this student without it being a lesson in social skills because that approach really wasn’t working since this student had a touch of oppositional defiance. So I decided that I was going to another approach such as design thinking as my way to developing perspective-taking in students, particularly this student.
So my goal became: I use design thinking in at least 1 unit this year, in order to develop perspective over a product and cultivate empathy in a context that is rigorous and fun.
There you go. Hopefully, my personal example helps you to consider how you might create a goal statement that captures what success might look like. The point here is to turn any challenge or interest that you have into a statement that you resonate with and places the attention on your purpose for learning.
When you crafted something that makes you feel anticipation and delight, boom–that’s your goal. Do that.
Step 2: Audit your Knowledge
They say that what you measure you can improve upon. We know that all good learning in our classroom begins with a pre-assessment. So then the next logical step is to do an audit of what we know about this topic. I’ve created a workbook that goes with this plan which you can access on my website and I have a couple of exercises in there to help you determine your level of competence in an area. But let me give you one tool right now to help you start thinking. I think this one comes right out of the personalized learning plan playbook that is used with students.
Current Status:  When you begin, you simply rate yourself on a level of 1 to 10. 1 being little to no knowledge on the topic to 10 being a trainer or expert in it. Where would you put your level of proficiency and why did you rate yourself there? For my example, I rated myself as a 3 because I have done some research but not much and had attempted to use the design process with some success in a previous unit of inquiry.
I think it’s important, to be honest with where you are at and to remember, just because you may score low in the beginning of this journey, doesn’t mean you will be there at the end. In fact, I suggest that you do status updates along the way and mark your progress towards your goal. I assure you that monitoring your growth will be an affirming check-in that will help you develop momentum.
How will you know that you have acquired a level of mastery in this area unless you are keeping track of it?
When you know that you are making gains, it can be very motivating. This helps to inspire you to keep up your commitment and perhaps even increase the intensity of it. You will be ever so grateful and pleased that you did because it develops greater confidence in your ability to make small steps forward towards awesomeness.
Step 3: Write questions you want to be answered
So now that you have done this audit, what needs to be learned starts to emerge. You should start writing down all the burning questions you have about your topic of interest.
Going back to my personal example, some the questions I asked were…
Can I really teach design thinking to little kids?-How can it be modified? What might design thinking look like in the Early Years?   How might empathy be developed in this process? What exercises or approaches to I need to take in order to develop empathy in a creative context? Based upon my last experience, what part of the design process do I need to understand better to make it more successful? Can design thinking create learner agency?-What other ways might students be empowered in the process?
Once you have formulated a list of questions, you must rank the ones that you want to pursue first. Which leads me to the next step.
Step 4: Build a Learning Ladder
This is the step in which you take your big goal and deconstruct it, breaking it into pieces of the knowledge you need to attain and the skills you will need to develop in this process. Look at your questions-What are the main skills and concepts that you have to master? Brainstorm the ideas and get into the nitty-gritty of what needs exploring. Have you ever heard of Pareto’s Law–the 80/20 Principle? This is when you try to figure out the main 20% of activities or tools that produce 80% of the results that you want.  Focus on those power punches and commit your effort to them.
Where do you think is the most important place to start with those key skills–that becomes the first rung on your ladder for your transformation. Then what do you think is the next logical step, and the next. The point of this exercise is to start charting your trajectory and is really important so that you don’t get overwhelmed in the process of learning. You can always revise this later, but it is really important to make a sketch of your learning process. This is one of the keys to making this personalized and meaningful for you.
Step 5: Resources Needed Who Can Help/What can help?
In the upcoming segments, I will share with you some free resources and training that you can use to help you in your learning.  Depending on the quality of the content, you may only want 1-3  true resources. If you scatter yourself too thin, then it’ will be hard to focus. But it is useful to have a bookmarking site to pin things to when you come across ideas later. Just don’t get sucked into the world of Pinterest, Pocket, and Diggo and not actually do the reading and deep dive into your resources.
People can be exceptionally helpful. If there are experts in your area of interest, then find out what methods or ideas created their knowledge.
  1. Is there someone in your school or district who has expertise and knowledge in this area? Can you invite them out and pick their brain?
  2. Look on Twitter–are there experts you can follow who might be posting great articles or ideas that would benefit you? Follow them!! What are chats? Are there any Tweet Ups you can do? That might be another way to engage and learn from others.
  3. Facebook Groups are there any groups that are examining these topics. Join these groups.
Another word of caution when it comes to social media, be sure you put time limits on yourself. If you want to spend 10 minutes a day checking into those groups or folks you are following, that’s fine. But make sure you manage your time wisely. Personally, I set a timer or do it when I know I only have a few minutes to spend so that way it keeps me from falling into a black hole and losing so much of my day to getting sucked into conversations or posts.
Step 6: Schedule Your Learning Time
This is huge. In order for you to go from 0 to 100, then you have got to make managing your time seriously. There was a great TedTalk and book written by Josh Kaufman that debunked the myth of the 10, 000 hours rule that was perpetuated by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers.  Instead, it only takes about 20 hours of focused time devoted to the pursuit of an interest before you gain competency in it. If you think about, 20 hours is really not all that much time, but the quality of your attention during that time that is extremely important. You need to have undivided attention to it. If you spend 1 hour a day for 5 weeks, you are going to see progress. Consider this your “Genius Hour”, in which you explore your interest without any sort of pressure to produce or create something.
So then What days are you going to do this? And from what times? Put it on your calendar. Micheal Hyatt is a productivity expert and he says that what gets scheduled, gets done. So true, if you put it in your Outlook or Google Calendar and set up reminders, to make sure that you sure that you have time set aside to work on your plan.
4 Tips in Executing Your Plan:
  1. Write down the theme of those learning timesRemember your calendar, well get it out because you need to flush out some details–what will be your focus? What do you wish to accomplish in those slots? You can make this as general or as specific. I used to be more general, but now I am very specific. For example, when I want to do research, then I have a content curation day, and I further divide that up into social media, blogs/websites and books. If it’s a social media day, then I am on FB and Twitter looking specifically at what’s being posted with certain hashtags or the ideas being posted in groups. I’m just reading. I may like or heart something, but I am not commenting on stuff. That’s not my purpose. On blog/website days, I only read that online content. Online PD days, I only go through a workshop or course that I am focused on. I try to be really specific and focused because I find it is super helpful in getting the most amount of knowledge in the shortest amount of time. Other days you might want to theme as planning days, in which you are working your new found knowledge into your unit or weekly plans. I’ll speak more to planning later, but the idea is to have a theme to help you become intentional with your time.
  2. Pick your place: I haven’t spoken about the importance of privacy because it seems self-evident that you are going to need some “alone time” to do your research and reading. I hope you have considered how important it is to be undistracted during these times. Make sure you have a special place that you can work unfettered for an hour. Sitting on the couch, while your family watches Game of Thrones is not going to be your “place”. You need to find a place that offers a pure unadulterated block of time in which no other things are happening other than your learning.
  3. Gather the resources: Have everything you need ready to go when you set down to learn. If you are doing your learning online, close down all the other tabs, like email or social media, on your browser and make sure your notifications are off. Just have those web pages open and ready to go so when you open your computer, it’s go-time!
  4. Reflect once a week on your learning: do a status update. You don’t have to do it at the same time as your learning time.
For example, I usually spend a part of Sunday doing planning time.  If you were to look at my schedule, you would see that I themed the day Planning.  I block off a couple of hours on Sunday and plan out my schedule for the week. At first, I do this planning with my husband on household things. It’s the time we plan our menu and make the grocery list. My husband and I go over our weekly expenses and budget. And talk about what needs to be done that week regarding our household–is there anything that needs to be fixed or paid or any special events that are going on at school? We have these conversations so we can then decide who is doing what and put it on our personal schedules. Then my husband and I go our separate ways to work on our personal planning for the week. Not only is this is the time I work on lesson plans, but I plan out MY learning as well. And this begins with reflection. So I look at my goal and ask myself where am I with this?  What are my next steps? And from there, I determine what I need to work on next to move me forward in achieving success on this goal.
As you know, my verb is to Empower, and I hope all this information was helpful and is getting you excited for your learning possibilities. In order to cut down on time, I intend to post a personal learning workbook that you can access and download from my website:  so please sign up for my blog and I can send it to you.
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Judy Imamudeen

Judy Imamudeen

Developing learners as leaders is my joy! As a highly qualified International Baccaluearate (IB) teacher and educational leader, I am committed and passionate about executing its framework and empowering students in creating a future world that works for everyone.

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