social networkIt was sitting at a breakfast meeting three years ago with a colleague in a neighboring school district and my close friend, Rich Kiker (@rkiker) that it hit me. Rich and I were discussing needs in our home districts, plans moving forward, effective aspects of our professional development, and how to continue to improve on our already successful programs. As we sat there eating our eggs, we began to see clearly, how through a few simple steps, we could continue to help transform professional development in our districts.

At the time, we were implementing Google Apps for Education and I was sharing with Rich our plans, our training model for teachers, the roll out plan, etc. Here I was, sitting across from the number one rated Google trainer in the world (See Google Marketplace) talking about how I could bring in a trainer to work with my staff on Google Apps. In retrospect, it was comical. In sharing some needs in his district Rich talked about bringing someone in for Blackboard training for his staff. We both laughed.

Sitting in my own district, were three teachers, Todd Silvius (@toddsilvius), Nicole Hazelwood (@nickyhazelwood), and Bekci Kelly (@bekcikelly) who are three of the top Blackboard experts in the area. Essentially, we were using our traditional frame of reference; the one used by most school districts around. Bring someone in, pay them a few thousand dollars for the day, perform a ‘sit and get’ workshop, and never see them again.

As Rich and I brainstormed that morning, we quickly came to the realization that there had to be a better way; one that saved money, was fun, and most importantly, was meaningful to our staff members. Why were we allowing a highway to separate the incredible talents of our collective staff members? Why would we both pay a few thousand dollars for trainings when we could share personnel between school districts, save money and have local support afterwards? Rich and I both returned to our local districts excited with possibilities, formed district teams, and the first Pennsylvania EduSummit was born.

We decided moving forward that the EduSummit needed to have a few key components:

1. Teacher voice matters. The planning for the EduSummit began with surveying the entire staff in both school districts. We simply asked them: “What is it you need to learn?” and “What is it that you could help lead and facilitate?” Immediately, teachers appreciated the fact that we were asking for input while simultaneously recognizing they had something to offer. Very often, school districts trust teachers with the lives of children every day, yet don’t ask for staff input, or allow them to design their own learning. Our vision was different; enable teachers to create their own learning roadmap, based on their own individual needs.

Lesson: Make teachers part of the planning and build trust in the process.

2. Offer options and respect teacher choice. Our goal was to allow teachers to come for what they wanted and do so when they wanted. Teachers could come for one session, or come for them all. We wanted to allow them to use the “two feet rule” (i.e. EdCamp style) and move between sessions if the session wasn’t meeting their needs. Simply put, we wanted to trust them as professionals.

Lesson: Empower teachers to design their own learning.

3. Let staff members lead. We made a cognizant decision to cultivate the teacher leadership of our own staff. Districts have incredible experts teaching in their own buildings, yet often look outside before looking inside their own walls for professional development support. We wanted our own staff members to be able to share their expertise and lead, not pull in a random presenter from the outside.

Lesson: Cultivate teacher leadership in your district.

4. Include food and fun! Culture matters. We wanted to build an atmosphere where all teachers felt respected, had fun and enjoyed the professional development. We offered the EduSummit free of charge and worked with many of our vendors to provide catered breakfast and lunch, raffle prizes, etc. The environment was relaxed and designed to be stress-free.

Lesson: Make professional development fun!

5. Make PD about the learning, not about required hours. The largest goal of the EduSummit was for teachers to come to learn and collaborate, simply because they wanted to become better for kids. We were adamant that the purpose was not to come for ‘hours that counted.’ The purpose was to come to learn, share with others, become connected and grow professionally. Too often the ‘does it count for hours?’ question becomes more important than “How can I grow?;” a counterintuitive, all too familiar conversation. We purposefully didn’t advertise hours. We advertised the ability to become better for the children we serve.

Lesson: PD should be about learning and growth, not about a set number of hours.

6. Reflect and do it better next time. Too often districts offer drive-by professional development, with little follow up or reflection; rarely asking for staff feedback. We decided we wanted to ask participants how we could make the PD better, what suggestions they had, and how we could better meet their needs in the future. We understood that feedback would be constructive; we actually encouraged that. Participants offered excellent suggestions which led to improvements in year two.

Lesson: Reflect and refine to better meet the needs of staff.

Three years after our breakfast meeting, we’ve now partnered with four school districts, making the EduSummit a regional collaboration. This year almost 300 teachers, from over 15 school districts, came over multiple days to learn and grow together; not to rack up hours on a PD checklist.Our planning team included over 15 people, including incredible educators such as @mqroth and @cevans5095, who gave of their time to benefit the students in eastern Pennsylvania. Complete with social media and blogger lounges, keynote speakers, and over 100 sessions of learning, our teachers helped plan, share, teach, listen, reflect and grow. Moving forward, our staff members remain in touch between districts, sharing best practices, ideas, resources, etc. It’s not about competition between our districts. It’s about working together, removing traditional roadblocks, looking on the other side of the highway for help, and doing so for our children. We need to prepare them for their future, not our past. Working together helps us get one step closer.

Tom Murray serves as the director of technology and cyber education for the Quakertown Community School District in Bucks County, Pa. He was the 2012 recipient of the Blended Schools Network Leadership Award and was featured in Tech & Learning Magazine’s Leadership Profile in December of 2012. Murray’s QCSD cyber and blended learning programs have been highlighted by Forbes.com, T.H.E. Journal, Project Red, the Innosight Institute, iNACOL, and on Digital Learning Day 2013, among others. Murray serves on the advisory board for T.H.E. Journal and has co-founded both #sbgchat and #edtechchat. Connect with him on Twitter @thomascmurray or at ThomasCMurray.com.

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