5 Ideas for Fantastic Professional Development

Dyane Smokorowski on episode 195 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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Dyane Smokorowski, “Mrs. Smoke” talks about what makes excellent professional development. We talked at NNSTOY about training that inspires and helps teachers change.

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Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. All comments in the shaded green box are my own. For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.


Enhanced Transcript

5 Ideas for Fantastic Professional Development

Vicki: So I’m at the NNSTOY Conference nnstoy.org

We’ve recorded quite a few episodes here at the conference.

Today we’re talking with Dyane Smokorowski @Mrs_Smoke, Kansas State Teacher of the Year 2013. She has lots of passions. She does Skype and Global Collaboration.

But we really wanted to talk about teachers for a minute.

We want to talk about exciting professional development for teachers.

Oh my goodness. I bet people all over the world are yelling and screaming and clapping in their cars.

How can we have exciting PD for teachers?

How on earth can we have exciting PD for teachers?

Dyane: It’s a great question! Right?

How often do we sit in professional learning that is Unexciting?

Vicki: (Telling us not to be boring!)

Dyane: Oh my…

Vicki: And they’re boring us! They’re reading to us. Or whatever!

Dyane: Could they tell us EXACTLY not to do things, and yet they perform the acts that we would never be allowed to do in the classroom.

Vicki: RIGHT! Totally!

Dyane: So, my passion really is to see how we can create professional learning that engages teachers. NO SIT & GET. Let’s get up and learn… and dialogue and actually make magic happen for teachers!

Vicki: How?

Idea #1: Take Teachers on “field trips”

Dyane: First off, I believe in teacher field trips.

Vicki: Wow…

Dyane: Teachers should have the opportunity on a professional learning day, either to go visit another school to observe and dialogue with another teacher, go partner with a museum or a zoo (and go work with some of those employees), have an opportunity to hang out at a National Park for a day…

These things don’t cost money. They just give teachers an opportunity to connect in places that they are passionate about!

They’ll find out about things that are partnerships that they can use in their schools. They can see new ways to take content area and make it more real-world connections. They’ll come back more energized and ready to put those things in the classroom.

Vicki: And with better relationships with their colleagues, because don’t we all need that?

Dyane: Yes Ma’am.

Vicki: What else can we do?

#2 Connect with other teachers in your subject area in other schools

Dyane: Secondly, I think we need to have opportunities where you could actually have professional learning, Skyping, peer-to-peer…

For example, let’s say I’m a high school art teacher.

What if I were to connect with another high school art teacher — in France? In Canada? In California?

And we actually do a PLC across two different communities.

“What are you doing in your school? What am I doing in mine? What can we do to — ahhh — collaborate together?”

That could be another magical moment.

Vicki: Well, there’s no reason to be an island anymore, for goodness sakes.

Dyane: Right! We do it on Twitter. Why not do it in Skype and have a deeper conversation? And maybe bounce some ideas back and forth?

Vicki: I love it! What else can we do?

Idea #3: Include active learning in teacher professional development

Dyane: Number three. We could definitely create opportunities where professional learning is “Get up and talk with…”

You know, for example, we do the Think-Pair-Share too many times over. “Here’s an article. Let’s talk about it. Here’s something… hmmmmm.”

Why don’t we just get up and do some of those strategies that we do with active learning for kids? But do those IN the professional learning experiences in the building?

So if you’re asking teachers to create opportunities where kids may have to do four corners… I mean, some of these have been done over and over again. But one of my favorite ones that I do right now is that I pull up and animated GIF on the screen.

And it might be — there’s a great one with Sean Penn — and he’s Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. And he’s in this GIF saying, “Dude! That’s really awesome!”

What if we gave something like the traverse lines, where you have two rows of teachers standing up for those kinds of speed-dating moments? One minute and then shift to another partner, and so forth?

But the first conversation you have to talk about is Spicoli.

Vicki: (laughs)

Dyane: And then maybe we throw something else up there, that is kind of off-beat and silly, but you’ll giggle. You’ll build community. And yet you’ll still have great conversations that goes along with it. It keeps that energy going while the conversations begin.

Vicki: And sometimes I think we need to take ourselves a little less seriously. Because honestly, when kids see a frowning teacher, they think, “What am I going to learn from them?”

I mean… what’s wrong with us? We do need to smile and laugh, don’t we?

Dyane: I don’t know very many classrooms where kids are engaged where the energy is not moving at a level where you FEEL like you want to be there!

Vicki: Yeah.

Dyane: So let’s make professional learning energetic as well!

Vicki: Ohhh. Such great advice. And teachers are going, “Oh, I want this!”

What else can we do?

Idea #4: Go Outside with teachers: make a walking PLC

Dyane: Let’s go outside.

You know, one of my greatest experiences happening for brainstorming…

Because often professional learning says, “Take an idea, and how would you use it in the classroom?”

Or, “Tell me something that you’re using in your class.”

Teachers look at each other with that awkward pause…

And it’s, you know, “Who’s going to be the first person to throw an idea out? And they’re all saying, ‘Not me! Not me!’…”

What if we went for a walkabout outside?

We get some fresh air. You are partnered up with someone. Let’s lap the building. Just take a walk around the building, and say, “You know what? You’re going to share one idea, and you’re going to share with another.”

You get the walking. You get the talking. And you’ll get creativity happening just because they’re thinking and moving.

That’s brain research!

Vicki: And there are a million reasons that a walking PLC is a fantastic idea.

I mean, I know that there have been sometimes when I have been asked to walk.

I’m not sure why we as teachers feel like we have to ask permission to be able to take a walk.

Dyane: (agrees)

Vicki: You know, but I think a lot of us feel that way!

Dyane: Well, and then… you look forward to it, right???

Vicki: Yeah.

Dyane: Let’s brainstorm. Let’s get those wheels moving. I’d do the same thing with students. Let’s get out and have some fun with these teachers!

Vicki: I love it. What else can we do?

Idea #5: Create teacher scavenger hunts

Dyane: My last idea would be Scavenger Hunts!

SO, we’ve seen classrooms where they’ll say, “Students, I want you to spend this time taking photographs of right angles.” Some sort of a math piece.

But what if you put in challenges?

As in, “I would like to have this small group of teachers take a photo of teamwork in the library. And you also must demonstrate collaboration.”

Let’s throw something — a little bit higher end– to those teachers have to interpret that and then take a photograph of that, showing them together. So now they have a conversation of, “What is teamwork? What does it look like? What does collaboration look like?”

Let’s capture that. We can put it into some sort of tool — like you use it in Flipgrid, you could use it in Goosechase, whatever you choose. And see if we can run some conversations of, “Wow, Team 1? You got a photo of great collaboration. But the other one? You don’t look like folks are ‘all in’… in this photograph. How can we move that to be more collaborative?”

Vicki: I love that. What does it look like? There are so many questions that we can ask ourselves about, you know, what do certain things look like?

Now, what do you think the biggest mistake is that people make with teacher PD?

Dyane: I think the biggest mistake is where the one person stands in front of the room and reads 100 PowerPoint slides. And nobody cares.

We turn professional learning opportunities into glorified faculty meetings.

I think that’s the biggest mistake.

Send those things that we know are just check-off lists through an email, and let’s build opportunities — where teachers can feel like they are energized, where they cannot wait to go back and do something.

Not a “sit & git” and not a “talk to me” but a Talk WITH Me.

Vicki: And if you’re teaching something, model it and have them teach with it!

I mean, if it works, I can use it to teach you. Because kids do what we do, not what we say. Teachers do the same thing, don’t they?

Dyane: Exactly!

You know what I think’s really interesting… ?

The same truths for 6-year-olds are the same truths for 36-year-olds.

We want to be engaged.

We want to be up and moving.

And we don’t want to sit any longer than about 10 minutes on atopic before we move again.

Use those same things that we know work great for students, and put it in the BIG, adult kids, as well.

Vicki: Well, teachers, I think this is something we need to share with our administrators and lots of those doing PD. Because here’s the thing…

Our professional development money is scarce.

We have to use it well. We cannot afford to waste our PD.

Great PD can make us a better teacher. It makes me a better teacher. It makes all of us better teachers. We have to be lifelong learners just like we want our students to be.

So let’s have great PD!

Go follow Ms. Smoke. She has lots of cool things she does, and I want her to come and do PD at my school!

Dyane: (laughs) Let’s play!

Vicki: (laughs)

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Dyane Smokorowski – Bio as submitted

Smokorowski is the 2013 Kansas Teacher of the Year and is currently serving as an Instructional Technology Coach in the Andover Public schools. Mrs. Smoke, as she’s known to her students, believes in a project-based, student-centered classroom that helps students build skills in communication, planning, research and project implementation. She wants her students to develop a love for literature, communication, and technology, but also to understand how to use that love and passion to advance their own future, as well as that of their community.

Twitter: @Mrs_Smoke

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.) This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

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