Bringing the Hashtag to Teacher Professional Development
It’s 8:00PM on a Sunday evening. Dinner is finished and the dishes have been put away. It’s time to get ready for another busy week at school. For many teachers, this is also a great time to engage in much-needed professional development with their peers. At this hour, social media sites like Twitter begin to light up with teachers from all over the world participating in all sorts of professional dialog on topics that are of interest to them. Welcome to the next generation of professional development for teachers.
In a recent article, teacher and blogger Kristen Swanson writes about how Social Media Gives Professional Development a Long Tail. She goes on to explain that Facebook groups and Twitter chats like #edchat and #sbchat have gained popularity with teachers and school administrators all over the country and the world. The reason for this, she explains, is due to a low barrier for entry and tremendous potential for collaboration for teachers. The collaboration can happen in many shapes and forms.
Due to its open structure, Twitter is perhaps one of the more widely-used tools for online professional development. Te@chThought Blogger Terry Heick maintains a Complete Guide to Twitter Hashtags for Education on his website. There, readers can search for hashtags by subject and topic as well as view which are trending. #competencyed, for example, is an excellent resource for educators to talk about competency education, a rising movement in both K-12 and higher education today.
In his article 8 Steps to Flipped Professional Development, Heick proposes a new structure for teacher professional development that differs from a traditional method which depends on external training being handed down to teachers after having identified their weaknesses as a professional. In his model, Heick capitalizes on the fact that teachers are already seeking out professional development through social media. Using a professional development cycle, school districts work with teachers to identify the “big ideas” for their professional development needs and then work with teachers to set ground rules, identify resources, connect the teachers to them, celebrate teacher strengths and interests, and keep the cycle going. His concept could lead to a professional development model that is more timely, teacher-centered, and personalized to meet the needs of all teaching professionals in a school.
As a school administrator I often find myself using social media like Twitter for my own professional development. Each time I open my Twitter feed I see an endless supply of resources that are relevant to the work that I am doing in education. Often, I run into some great articles that I share with my followers. The articles by Swanson and Heick have inspired me to think about the ways that I could be using social media to unite the professional development efforts of the teachers in my own school as we work on some major reform initiatives together. A great place to start will be the article that New Zealand teacher Stephen Baker wrote last week on School-Wide Twitter Chats. Although his article focused on student chats, the process can be mirrored for teacher chats.
Imagine if your school had its own teacher professional development hash tag or closed Facebook group. There, teachers could be free to share articles and engage in professional dialog with their colleagues on a schedule that works for them. Principal Eric Sheninger refers to this as a Professional Learning Network (PLN), a term that he expanded on in his co-authored book Communicating and Connecting with Social Media. Digital learning is anywhere, anytime learning. It is the future, and the future starts now. How are you going to make the most of social media as a professional development in your school?