Districts need to broaden definition of “Legitimate” PD

Last week, teachers in my district received a handout reminding us how various types of PD experiences converted to hours for license-renewal. The standard options were there: university coursework, conference attendance, district-sponsored in-service meetings. Absent from the list?  The primary method from which I, and thousands of others, obtain ongoing professional development– through social networking.

Not only is  social networking not recognized as legitimate PD, but most district leaders are not willing to recognize any professional benefits in tools like Twitter, Blogging or social bookmarking services. Rather, they consider such platforms to be educational pariahs- believing their sole purpose is to showcase drivel from the likes of Snookie, Ashton Kutcher, and Kanye West.  Missing in this narrow condemnation? The opportunities for sharing ideas and resources with thousands of innovative education reformers and teachers like Daniel Pink,  Joyce Valenza and Joe Bower .

In a conservative estimate, I would say I spend about 5-10 hours each week involved in conversations and sharing with education professionals across the nation and around the world. This kind of personal, self-directed PD has enhanced my teaching more than any on-site inservice in recent memory.

I have attended two professional conferences this year. The first was an on-site conference for which I applied to the district for approval to attend. They paid my conference fees, and upon completion, I received a printed piece of paper stating that my LPDC should recognize 12 contact hours of official PD time. It was a worthwhile conference, and I came away with some useful information.

The second conference was this weekend’s EduCon conference, which I was in the process of attending as I began drafting this post, in between sessions, on my iMac in my home office.  I registered about 10 minutes before the first Saturday session and subsequently spent the next three 1/2 hours learning from, and sharing with, leading thinkers in my field. I discovered the conference through educators in my  Twitter PLN. In fact, several conference presenters are part of my PLN.

During sessions like The Future of Student Inquiry/Research: Environmental Scanning and Scenario Building, Standards-Based Grading in a Project-Based School: Reflections, Challenges, and Successes and Project-based Learning in the Language Classroom, I constantly uploaded notes, links and quotes to Evernote while simultaneously interacting with participants in session chat rooms. This afternoon, I learned more relevant information in one hour spent with virtual chat room participants than I learned in one day at my last face-to-face conference.

The irony? I will not receive any credit from my district for this conference. No contact hours, no CEU’s. In short, the conversations, emails, uploaded and shared links, conversations, and new PLN members do not count as PD in the eyes of my district.

Bottom line? The Professional Development I engage in via Twitter and Blog feeds and the articles and resources I discover through these connections, is far more relevant to me than school-wide meetings in the school cafeteria. We frown on delivering “sit and get” content to students. The same philosophy should be applied to PD. District officials need to recognize and embrace the power inherent in reading and writing analytical blog posts, sharing resources, and participating in an ongoing global dialectic about education.