Six for Summer: Professional Learning Opportunities

Do you want to improve your practice but can’t find time during the school year? Check out these summer professional development opportunities to explore topics that interest you.

Teaching is, and always has been, a year-round job. Even when educators aren’t working during the summer months, they’re always planning for the year ahead. This hasn’t changed in the 21st century. In fact, teachers might work harder now than ever.

And while summer is the perfect time for teachers to relax and recharge their batteries, it also affords teachers with something that isn’t easy to come by during the school year — time for professional learning.

Whether you are a new teacher or a seasoned veteran, summer is a great time to explore innovative material, gather fresh ideas, learn how to do something new, or connect with educators around the world. There is always work to be done to improve your craft. Take advantage of your time “off” to do just that.

Here are some simple ways to make the most of your summer weeks so that you’re rested and inspired when the 2014-15 school year rolls around.

Tune in to the Teaching Channel

I’ve yet to find a Teaching Channel video that didn’t help me in some way. There’s no shortage of thought-provoking ideas within their vault of hundreds of videos. Twenty minutes spent browsing on a lazy summer Sunday will easily turn into a couple of hours. They’ve got something for everyone — all grades, all subjects. Here are a few great ones to get you started:

  • “Writing Higher Order Questions” — This is a great two-minute clip about pushing students’ thinking about texts in English language arts class.
  • “Think Alouds: Unpacking the Standards” — The Common Core State Standards will make more sense to you after watching this video.
  • “Learn by Leading” — Check out how one teacher empowers students to own their learning.

Just search by title to find these or use their search tool to locate videos on topics of interest to you.

Join the CTQ Collaboratory

Do you love taking part in meaningful discussions about education? Do you want to connect with like-minded educators from around the world? Are you ready to stop talking about changing education and DO something instead? The Center for Teaching Quality’s Collaboratory is for you.

Launched in spring 2013, the Collaboratory is more than just a free online network of teachers. It’s a place to learn about what’s important to you and your work. Featuring “labs” for learning about and discussing topics ranging from the Common Core and school redesign to innovative leadership and more, this network is growing by the day, and it’s poised to make an impact on the world of education. Join today — and tell your friends. You’ll be glad you did.

Start a book club

Chances are that you work or went to school with teachers who are just as passionate and dedicated as you. Why not get some of them together, choose a couple of books, and have a summer book club? But instead of reading the latest from The New York Times Best Sellers List, crack open a top-notch book about teaching and learning.

The challenge here is finding the right book. Take a look at this list, organized by category so you can choose a book that’s best for you and your colleagues.

Attend an education event (from the comfort of your own home)

Several online organizations host regular free online events where participants can learn about a range of education topics. These are a great way to boost your knowledge of topics that interest you without leaving your house.

Education Week features regular virtual events, including webinars and chats, that are sure to get you thinking. Whether your interest is leadership, technology, assessment, or all of the above, you’re sure to find something to pique your interest here. Missed an online event? They’re available on demand for a period of time after the event ends.

“Classroom 2.0 LIVE” is a weekly Internet broadcast hosted by Steve Hargadon featuring guests from all over the world of educational technology. Check out the homepage for info on upcoming shows, a tutorial on how to tune in and locate archived episodes, and more.

Edweb.net and Simple K-12 feature free webinars, many focused on 21st-century skills and technology.

There are several free online events during the summer and fall. Here’s a brief list:

  • Teaching Teachers About Technology: 4T Virtual Conference is May 17-20 and is organized by the College of Education at the University of Michigan. Learn more.
  • ISTE Unplugged is held at the world’s largest education technology conference, ISTE, which takes place this year on June 28-July 1 in Atlanta, Ga. However, ISTE Unplugged events take place live online, so you don’t have to travel to learn. Check out their site for updates.
  • Edmodocon, an August event (date TBA), is all about the use of Edmodo, a fantastic tool for teachers and students. See below for more about Edmodo, and follow Edmodo on Facebook for announcements about this year’s conference.
  • The Reform Symposium eConference is held in October (date TBA) and covers a range of education-related topics and issues. Learn more.
  • The Global Education Conference is held over several days in November (dates TBA). One of the world’s largest international online conferences, it brings educators together to learn about issues concerning global education. If you’re looking for ideas about how to take your classroom global by participating in international projects or by connecting with other classrooms, you should check out www.globaleducationconference.com.

Learn a new tool

Integrating technology is on the to-do list of many teachers I talk to. Summer’s a great time to find a tech tool and plan how to use it in the fall. Here are three easy-to-use, free, web-based applications that are perfect places to start:

Edmodo — One of the most user-friendly and multipurpose web applications is Edmodo, a safe and secure online network for your students. You can think of it as a Facebook page for your classroom, but there’s a lot more to it than social networking. You can post assignments, start an online discussion, share resources, collaborate with other classrooms, and more with this easy-to-use tool. Check out the Edmodo help center (http://help.edmodo.com/teachers/webinar) for webinars, tips, and advice on how to get the most out of this amazing and engaging site.

Kidblog — Bring your students’ work into the 21st century by teaching them to publish it online at Kidblog. Students can blog about any topic you (or they) choose — perhaps a weekly response to reading assignments or reviews of movies and games. Kidblog is easy to use and designed with teachers in mind. Both you and your students can interact with blog authors by commenting on each other’s writing.

You can make students’ blogs private, so only class members and the teacher can view them, or you can take them public for the world to see. Making students’ blogs open to the public allows you to teach them about digital responsibility and also provides extra motivation. Students will become very interested in the quality of their work when they know that anyone from around the world can view it, including their parents.

Wikispaces — Wikis are easy-to-build webpages that anyone with access can edit. The world’s most famous online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, is a wiki. Wikispaces offers free accounts to educators, who then can create logins for their students. Students can build wikis individually or together as the culminating activity for a research project. You could also have students create an online portfolio.

Wikispaces offers students another opportunity to publish their work live on the web. It allows students to learn how to build digital content that includes hyperlinks, embedded images, audio and video, and more.

Get connected with Twitter chats

Twitter is catching on with educators like never before, but some still find it a bit intimidating. That’s understandable. However, I believe that using Twitter is the best online professional development available for teachers.

Twitter chats are one great way to get started. Twitter chats are live events focused on a specific topic and led by a chat moderator. #edchat is one of hundreds of regular Twitter chats. It takes place twice every Tuesday, at noon and 7 p.m. Eastern time.

You can follow a Twitter chat on the web using Twitter, of course, or you can follow the hashtags using a web and mobile app called Hootsuite. Perhaps the easiest site to use to participate in a chat is Tweetchat. Just go there at the appointed time, type in your chat’s hashtag, and start tweeting.

There are chats for every educational interest. Check out #5thchat for 5thgrade teachers, #engchat for English teachers, #tlchat for teacher librarians, and many more. A recent trend involves state-based Twitter chats, including Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Rhode Island, and Texas. One terrific chat is #ntchat, held every week for new teachers. It’s moderated by educator and blogger Lisa Dabbs at 8 p.m. Eastern every Wednesday. A handy schedule of chats is at http://bit.ly/officialchatlist. Another great resource is my friend Cybraryman’s guide to participating in a Twitter chat.

These six ideas are sure to keep you inspired and learning all summer long. By the time the 2014-15 school year starts, you’ll be ready to go!

AUTHOR ID: BEN CURRAN is an instructional coach at a K-5 charter school in Detroit, Mich., co-founder of Engaging Educators, and coauthor of Engaged, Connected, Empowered. He blogs at http://engagingeducators.com/blog.


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