Best Practices for Professional Development

Are there any teachers out there – anywhere? – who, when they hear about upcoming professional development, actually look forward to it? I feel like it’s a truth universally acknowledged that teachers regard professional development as an unhelpful, frustrating time suck at best, with the added assumption that it will often be tedious and/or condescending.

Now this isn’t to say that I, personally, have never experienced PD that was useful and engaging. I absolutely have! But unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be typical.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s how you can ensure that your professional development is effective and meaningful.

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“Communities of Discomfort”: Empowering LGBTQ+ Ally Work in a Southeastern Rural Community – A Response

The April edition of the English Education journal was focused entirely on topics relevant to rural schools. The article “Communities of Discomfort,” by University of Alabama professor Stephanie Anne Shelton, gave a case study of a pre-service teacher in her final placement. “Persephone” had attended a rural school and had requested to do her student teaching at a rural school.

According to the article, the University of Alabama requires its teacher candidates to teach certain units during their practicum, including one that has something to do with social justice issues. That was something I hadn’t expected; I remember having worked more with my mentor teacher to determine what I would teach. This requirement seems to have put a fair amount of pressure on Persephone, as the classroom teacher she was working with flatly refused to allow her to fulfill those requirements. In an interview with Shelton, Persephone states, “when I talk to my mentor teacher, he’s like, ‘Nope! Can’t do that here! You’re not in the city anymore!’”

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This Too Shall Pass

One of the concepts that has really helped me (both as a teacher and through life in general) is the concept of impermanence.

I don’t enjoy exercise, but setting a clear end goal definitely helps me keep going. While I’m exercising, I’m often out of breath, tired, and aching. So counting down to my last set or my last few minutes reminds me that those feelings won’t last.

pooped

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A Totalitarian Power Grab, and What You Can Do

There has been a fair amount of press recently about the rise in challenges and bans of books in libraries and public schools. A recent, high-profile example has been McMinn County, Tennessee, which is near where I live and work. At the end of January 2022, the McMinn County school board released a statement explaining its decision to “remove the graphic novel Maus from McMinn County Schools because of its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide.” 

Screenshot of comedian John Mulaney with the subtitled text "Now we don't have time to unpack all of that."

Now, community hysteria and moral panic and desperate pleas to  “PROTECT THE CHILDREN!” are nothing new. Several decades ago, it was the Harry Potter series, and before that, heavy metal. One of my favorite old books is Paths to Perdition, which was published in 1922. It includes a section about the evils of ‘modern dance.’ The modern dance to which the book referred was not the jitterbug or Charleston; it was the Viennese waltz. 

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The Potential Benefits of Round Robin Reading

Sharing a book with those you love is a great way to build a love of reading.

Do you remember being read to when you were really little? Can you think of any stories that were your favorites? I don’t have the book anymore, but one of my favorites was from a collection of stories, and it was “The Little Lonely House,” about a house whose family had moved away, and it watched people come and go on the street, and there was lots of description of that. But then, eventually, one of the cars turns, and it comes up the drive, and it stops at the house, and a family gets out and goes inside. And the house was filled with noise, and light, and laughter. I still remember the final sentence: “And the little lonely house wasn’t lonely anymore.”

I want you to think about the feelings that are associated with those memories. Hold onto them for a few moments. 

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Learning Loss

At the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, the COVID-19 pandemic had been in full force for a year and a half. Vaccine rates were up and both new cases and death rates were down. And everyone was tired of closures and social distancing and, you know, the effects of an international plague. People wanted to “get back to normal.” 

My school, and many others, opened up fully in-person. But as cases started increasing again, teachers, parents, administrators, and pretty much everyone started noticing that something else wasn’t “normal.” Students didn’t enter their new courses with the same level of academic knowledge and skill that previous cohorts had. Their behavior was different. And their attitudes were different as well. 

The phrase “learning loss” had been trickling through educational discourse all through the previous school year, particularly with regard to the disparity between students from wealthier families, who were more likely to have better access to resources for effective remote instruction and better support, and students from poorer families, who were less likely to have access to those same resources. Educational achievement has always correlated closely with wealth (or the lack of it), and think tanks and pundits were warning that the pandemic was likely to widen that gap.

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Pinktober, Representation, and Individuality

Well, it’s October. Has been for awhile. And apparently there are a whole lot of things that we either celebrate, honor, or try to build awareness for during October. Some of them get a lot more coverage than others; for example, until I started putting this video together, I was not aware that October was Squirrel Awareness Month, or even that there was a Squirrel Awareness Month, actually, much less that it’s different from Squirrel Appreciation DAY, which is in January. 

Isn’t it amazing what you can learn from the internet?

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Late Work

Missing due dates is a problem that every student faces sooner or later. Different teachers handle it in different ways. Obviously, it’s really important to be aware of an instructor’s late work policy; you can often find it in the course syllabus. This will help you make decisions about how you should prioritize your efforts.

My policy is that I do not deduct any points or credit for work turned in late. It doesn’t matter how late it’s turned in; it still receives full credit.

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Persuading vs. Arguing: What’s the Difference?

Hey everybody! Today I’m going to talk to you about a skill we all need to be good at, which is PERSUASION. Basically, that means being able to get what you want. But before we get started, I want to explain the difference between persuasion and manipulation. Persuasion is convincing others to help you get what you want using evidence, logical reasoning, and emotional appeal. Manipulation is convincing others to help you get what you want through deception or intimidation.

Still from Disney’s Treasure Planet: Scroop threatens Jim Hawkins.
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Expectations

During the past year and a half of instruction during a global pandemic, there has been lots of discussion about “learning loss,” and to what extent (or even if) we should be worried about it. However, I have seen less about what our expectations of students ought to be, or how we should form those expectations. And that is something that concerns me, especially given that in addition to changes in students’ instructional gains due to the pandemic, I will also be teaching a completely different course load this year, including two courses I’ve never taught before. If I go into these courses with misplaced expectations, I’m setting not only myself up for failure, but my students as well. 

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