Breaking Ground on a New Age of Professional Development

Insights   05 October 2017


Rather than designing from scratch and creating brand new spaces for educators to learn in, the most successful tools are meeting educators where they already are.

FOR OVER 30 YEARS, professional development in education has seen little change. Before standardization came into vogue in the 90’s, many learning environments were provided a small pot of funds from which individual educators could subsidize their independent PD—attending a local conference, seminar, or course or simply purchasing relevant reading material. Although this system allowed for a more personalized approach to professional development, it lacked funding and intentionality, not to mention any kind of community-wide growth and development.

Once the standards movement came into focus, a parallel, standardized system of professional development followed as the most logical and worthwhile avenue. Personalized professional development failed the logic test in this new scenario. If learners were going to experience a standardized curriculum, the educators leading its implementation should be supported to do so in a standardized fashion. Every educator should know the step-by-step approach to take their learners from point A to point B.

If the longstanding goal of educational efficiency had its way, we just might see the day where anyone could be handed a “Teacher’s Playbook” and provide a “quality” education for most, if not all, learners.

Climbing Out of the Professional Development Hole We’ve Dug Ourselves Into

How did we end up so far down the rabbit hole before realizing we left our humanity at the surface? The standards movement initiated a significant systems change. It launched us down this particular rabbit hole and set the education space on a journey to design within the standards context. So, at the time, standardized PD made sense.

The challenge, including when we work within the learner-centered paradigm, is to remain present to the background context driving our decisions and to keep checking if that context is still relevant for the change happening in the world around us.

As we lift ourselves back above ground and get reacquainted with the beautiful complexity of each young mind we influence, we are all slowly rediscovering our own sense of self. Through this reorientation of how educators relate to their profession, they are discovering entirely new ways to better their practice and improve the value they bring to our teams.

Tools like Chats by Participate are connecting us with educators from across the United States (and world) for 24/7 access to a dynamic professional learning network. In one day, you can wear your Ed Tech (#edtechchat), Leadership (#suptchat), and Hip Hop (#HipHopEd) hats without looking up from your phone. It’s free, it’s personalized, and it opens educators’ minds to unexplored possibilities in their local learning environments.

Instantly connecting with millions of educators, asking questions, providing answers, and exploring futuristic ideas was nothing but a fantasy a short time ago. Before 2006, a tweet was nothing but an onomatopoeia for our feathered friends in the local park. And, living “off-the-grid” wasn’t an overstated identity for simply deleting our social media accounts.

Our virtual connections, of course, can’t replace the high-value impact of in-person gatherings and PD opportunities. But, they have offered new avenues for learning and discovery and provided significant relief from the professional learning experiences tailored to the average educator.

How Culture is Driving Change in Professional Development Delivery

Social media (Twitter chats, Facebook groups, Quora forums, etc.) has proven itself to be a game changer in how educators connect to their personalized professional learning networks. And, at a higher level, it represents a new age of professional development. Rather than designing from scratch and creating brand new spaces for educators to learn in, the most successful tools are meeting educators where they already are.

What’s the easiest way to find people where they already are? Outside of simply asking them, one can look at cultural trends. Twenty years ago, blogging, vlogging, and podcasting were all terms that meant little to nothing to most of society. Now, everyday educators like Lisa Nielsen, George Cuoros, and Will Richardson are building massive followings through these low-cost mediums that have elevated their career paths to unexpected heights.

People are online. And, education leaders who want to reach their peers efficiently and effectively, are joining them there.

Wait, Can We Go Back to Podcasting?

If you were to search the term “podcast” in 2004, you would have found a measly 24 results on Google. Today, you’ll find over 300 million results in less than two seconds. There are now over 115,000 English speaking podcasts available for free listening through iTunes, Patreon, Overcast, Spotify, Deezer, and the list goes on. The topics range from politics to business to true crime to anything, really.

But, we’re here to talk about education. In particular, we’re here to talk about professional development in education. So, where’s the connection?

Education Reimagined Discovers the Power of Podcasting

Remember how we talked about professional development meeting educators where they are? Today, more Americans are listening to podcasts (26%) on a monthly basis than they are using Twitter (21%). And, the average listener digests seven episodes per week, which not so coincidentally correlates with the seven-day week.

If this is true, testing out how to expand the education professional development network to an audio format seems like a worthy venture.

Education Reimagined had this exact thought, which is why we jumped at the opportunity to team up with Randy Ziegenfuss and Lynn Fuini-Hetten, hosts of TLTalkRadio and leaders at Salisbury Township School District in Pennsylvania.

Two years ago, Randy and Lynn were ready to begin a transformational journey in leading their district toward a learner-centered future. And, unbeknownst to Education Reimagined, they used A Transformational Vision for Education in the U.S. as their inspiration and guide. Over time, Randy and Lynn cultivated a working relationship with Education Reimagined, which has led to the sharing of many resources back and forth.

All of this sharing ultimately culminated in the creation of the Shift Your Paradigm podcast—a first of its kind podcast focused on learner-centered learning and leadership. Randy and Lynn host young and adult leaders from across the country to explore the ins and outs of their local, learner-centered transformational journeys. The voices of young learners and their mentors are given equal chance to vocalize the challenges they’ve experienced along the way, how they’ve overcome those challenges, and why they will never go back to the school-centered system.

After the first 11 episodes, Randy, Lynn, Education Reimagined’s Executive Director, Kelly Young, and Quakertown Community School District’s Curriculum Supervisor, Chad Evans had an open conversation about what insights they have gathered thus far by listening to so many pioneers effecting change in their learning communities. This episode is a great way to catch up on what has already been explored and where the podcast looks to go in the future.

Who Else is Podcasting?

The Shift Your Paradigm podcast is unique to the learner-centered conversation for its focus on learner-centered leadership. But, Randy and Lynn aren’t the only learner-centered minds exploring the podcast medium.

Pioneers, Matt Shea and Courtney Belolan from the RSU 2 district in Hallowell, Maine have been “talking through the Do-Dos and Don’t-Dos of learner-centered proficiency based education” since April 2016 on their podcast, Personalized Learning with Matt and Courtney.

If you want to join folks right from the beginning, Lindsay Unified School District has just launched a more localized podcast, Lindsay Live, whose target audience is local leaders. But, the learner-centered lessons explored can be translated and uniquely applied in your local community, even if you find yourself closer to the Atlantic Ocean (or no ocean at all) than the Pacific.

Podcasting is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the innovative developments coming out of the professional development sector for educators. With so much new content showing up on and offline on a weekly basis, we’ll be sure to continue exploring this exciting shift in what it means to grow as an educator. With pioneers willing to separate themselves from the traditional standardized system in all respects, a national, learner-centered future comes closer and closer to being realized. Let us know if you’ve listened to any of the podcasts above or if you have other professional development tools you think we should know about.

New resources and news on The Big Idea!


We recently announced a new R&D acceleration initiative to connect and support local communities ready to bring public, equitable, learner-centered ecosystems to life.