Making time to continue my own professional learning.
GUEST COLUMN | by Scott Kinney
As I rang in 2016 with my family, like many others, I made some resolutions for the New Year. This year, I am going to make sure to find time for my daily run. I am going to work harder to choose salads over cheeseburgers. Most importantly, I am going to make more time to continue my own professional learning and networking.
As I consider my New Year’s resolutions, I believe making more time to focus on my own professional development will be the hardest to keep. Today’s hyper-connected world empowers each of us to be more communicative and collaborative, and by extension, more productive. However, the flip side of that productivity is that sometimes, we forget to focus on personal growth.
Learning communities are the connective tissue that helps you link to others who share your passion.
Due to a host of economic, social, and technological forces, teaching and learning have changed dramatically since the late 1990’s when I served as an Instructional Technology Coordinator in Pennsylvania’s Sharpsville Area School District. The shift from print textbooks to dynamic digital content in particular has been transformative. While this shift has had a tremendously positive impact on instruction, it has also made education more complex.
In the past, educators could draw on the experience of their immediate peers in their own school system for guidance on a particularly thorny challenge. Yet, the complexity of modern education requires teachers and administrators to cast an even wider net when seeking support and advice on a particular topic. For example, if I want to make progress in closing the achievement gap in my school system, I need to draw on a nationwide network of experts to learn the latest research-based practices on this topic.
The need to build a network of colleagues that can be accessed for constructive input and inspiration becomes even clearer when one considers the relative isolation of educators. The classroom teacher, for example, may connect regularly with four or five fellow teachers. The principal may connect regularly with perhaps two or three colleagues. Of course, a superintendent and other senior administrators often experience even greater levels of professional isolation.
The unique combination of complexity and isolation make ongoing professional learning and networking the most important of my New Year’s resolutions. One way to stay connected and continue learning is by participation in the Discovery Educator Network (DEN) – a global community of educators passionate about teaching with digital media, sharing resources, collaborating, and networking.
The DEN works under the singular mission of connecting educators to their most valuable resource – each other. The DEN’s role is to provide support and help facilitate connections among educators who share similar passions. Some educators want to deepen their understanding of inquiry-based instruction while others want to find colleagues who share their desire to collaborate on student projects. Learning communities like the DEN are the connective tissue that helps you link to others who share your passion. Personally, I find that my involvement with professional learning networks like the DEN keeps me attuned to the practical application of the latest research in education, and helps broaden my perspective on the needs of educators at all levels.
While joining a professional learning community is one way to connect with your colleagues and continue your professional development, participating in the numerous conferences and symposiums various education organizations host each year is another way to continue learning. Organizations such as ASCD, ISTE, CoSN, NSBA, and others provide regular opportunities for professional development throughout the year.
Discovery Education also hosts these types of professional development opportunities. In addition to supporting the DEN, Discovery Education offers numerous, no-cost, professional learning opportunities throughout the year that are open to all educators. One such event, our Powerful Practices series, launches on January 28 in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Designed specifically for public and private school instructional leaders interested in moving their schools to best practice, these no-cost, one-day events will feature engaging keynote addresses from prominent education thought-leaders, interactive breakout sessions, and numerous networking opportunities. Additional Powerful Practice sessions are scheduled for February 24 in Nashville, Tennessee, and March 15 in Pasadena, California. These events, which will explore critical topics in education including equity, personalized learning, formative assessment, culturally responsive classrooms, and student engagement, offer the perfect chance to begin your year of connecting with colleagues and growing professionally.
It’s a new year, and with each new year comes a new opportunity for self-improvement. In 2016, I am going to make it a priority to leverage all the enriching professional learning and networking opportunities at my disposal to simplify the complex and grow my professional network. I hope you will join me!
Scott Kinney has nearly 25 years of experience in the fields of professional learning and educational technology. As Discovery Education Senior VP of Educational Partnerships, Scott collaborates with educators around the world to develop and implement customized solutions that empower the creation of modern, digital learning environments that support student achievement. Prior to joining Discovery Education, he spent 15 years in public education serving at both the school district and regional service center levels. In addition to his K-12 work, Scott has taught undergraduate and graduate classes for Kent State University and Penn State University, and has served on numerous education-focused advisory boards.