As you take a short break in your teaching to enjoy the winter break, I want to say to every reader "thanks and lots of love" for all your efforts in and out of the classroom.
Every week I talk with teachers face-to-face and virtually. Even at conferences, when I ask teachers to talk with me about their work, so many say, quite frankly (when I tell them I'll keep their name out of it), that they are up to their eyeballs in staff development:
too much of the wrong sort,
too little that is meaningful and
expectations that teachers will be able to absorb what they need from a conventional presentation when they have already been in class all day or feel pressed for time.
I also hear that too often, these professional development settings are designed and solicited with little input from the teachers receiving the training.
A few resources I have found that will help you discover valuable information to enhance your teaching while allowing you to set your own timetable, accessing when it is convenient and meaningful for you:
IRA READING RADIO - I was thrilled to see that the International Reading Association has partnered with BAM! Radio to provide the first resource from IRA that you can listen to anytime. The initial show features Peter Johnston, professor and Chair of the Reading Department at the University of Albany (NY), talking abou the need to redefine literacy in modern terms, and is hosted by IRA's executive director.
NINGS, Networks, and Listservs:
Social and professional networking are growing by leaps and bounds. Just look at your students who are blogging, responding on Facebook or Twitter, connecting with those who have common interests. Teachers can do the same. With a commitment of only minutes a day, you can create dialogues, ask questions of peers or more experienced teachers, all without the worry of "what will those I work with every day think".
Check out these and share others you know about in comments on this blog:
The National Council of Teachers of English's ning (a virtual, member-based platform for setting up a venue for interaction on the Internet)
IRA, NCTE, NAEYC and many other professional teachers' groups have their own groups on the Linkedin network. Although Linkedin contains people from all walks of life, you can choose those you wish to interact with. You are alerted to news, job offerings, and postings from other members on any level you wish. It does require you to sign up, as do most online communities, but you control how much you interact. The advantage to Linkedin over Twitter is that you can actually write a sufficient amount of test to thoroughly explain your question or comment. Others join in and share information, based on your post. I don't know about you but I don't have time to idly chat online; I need to have a purpose for the time I devote and I sometimes need a pat on the back, a voice of understanding and support from outside my immediate world, a confirmation of my professionalism and expertise. You can get all that from these sorts of interactions.
Yahoo also provides a variety of discussion groups including one for IRA as well as specific groups for teachers who use various teaching strategies like Four Block or the 6+1 Traits of Writing.
CAVEAT: As with any networking on-line, there are a few cautions:
Set personal guidelines to limit your time on these sites (it's too easy to loose time surfing "eternally")
Decide ahead of time what you want to gain from this sort of interaction and let that guide your involvement.
Ask others about their experience or visit as a guest initially until you are satisfied it is the group for you.
Consider whether starting your own blog or ning is positive for you.
My use of blogs is two-fold:
I have three blogs to serve those whom TLA supports (one for preschool teachers, the one you are reading for K-12 teachers, and one for families). I post occasionally now but in 2010 will be ramping up to share content at least three times weekly.
I also spend a bit of time each week searching out great resources that others are providing in a blog format. Do you know that there were 112.8 million blogs as of 2007 (no telling how many there are now)? That means there is probably a blog out there that contains just what you need. Here's a half dozen samples to get you started:
Picture Books to Teach the 6+1 Traits of Writing
A Blog from Real Teachers Who Love Reading
The Dream Teacher
If Bees Are Few (inspirational)
The Reading Tub's Blog (bringing reading home to families - and a great resource for teachers)
I.N.K., Interesting Nonfiction for Kids
I encourage you to let one of your new year's resolutions be to grow as a professional and not depend solely on what you might have access to through your school or school district. You're likely to become a better teacher for the effort!
Remember, we always love comments. If you've had a great experience with some personal "PD", share what you learned with the rest of us. Happy holidays (and well deserved rest during the winter break).