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Character Education

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Digital Learning

Plan a Teacher PD That You Will Love!

You know the feeling. You are trapped in yet another useless PD that has been planned to fill your time while your classroom to do list is growing along with your anxiety. Your eyes glaze over as your ears and brain fill with "Yada yada yada." Have you struggled to imagine how the topic or strategies offered will have any practical use for you? Have you ever wished that you had some choice in how the PD was planned?

This summer, three teacher friends and I made that wish come true. Our podcast group ("We Teach So Hard") made plans last winter to create a summer PD getaway that would be uniquely useful to the four of us in the teaching, creating, blogging, and podcasting year ahead. Coming together from Connecticut, California, and Michigan took some advance planning. Plane tickets had to be purchased, a location determined, and of course a target list of tasks and presentations had to be established.

The very first step is find your tribe. Don't just put out a district wide message about planning your own PD and wait to see who raises their hand. Actively seek out like minded teachers that you know you would enjoy learning with and just hanging out with. A great place to look is right around you. Those hallway planning sessions and mini PDs that happen every day? I know those have been some of my best inspirational sessions! Ask those colleagues and friends that you regularly discuss pedagogy with. Who are the people that you call to consider a new idea or practice that you'd like to put into place? Maybe your PD soulmates are part of an online group that you participate in. Our group was originally formed by two district colleagues and two teaching friends that we met in online groups. We found so much common ground just through those online interactions that led to true and lasting friendships. So start your list! Where is your tribe? Look at school, look around at district PDs, and check out the members of your online groups. They are just waiting for you to find them!

Our first task was to decide where our PD would take place.  We wanted to spend some time together in a place that would be comfortable both indoors and out. Summer was clearly the best time for all of us, as two are full time classroom teachers who can't easily get away during the school year. The two Michiganders in our group suggested Northern Michigan, where the Summer days and nights are more like early Spring in most of the US. Low 70s in the daytime and high 60s at night. Like having air conditioning inside and out! Aaahhhh.... We selected Mackinac Island in particular because of its rich history and uniqueness. No motor vehicles are allowed on the island. We arrived on a ferry, and all island travel is done by bicycle or horse and carriage. So peaceful!

I was in charge of finding a location on the island where we could work and still have opportunities for play! I started out this time on Trip Advisor and found a condo rental pretty quickly that was perfect for us. High on a bluff, with a great view and comfortable places to work and to find some alone time when each of us needed that. Three bathrooms for four of us? Yes, please! All images on this post are actual photos of our trip, so you can see how beautiful the site actually is!

Equally beautiful might be a park or coffee shop right near where you live. The people that you are with are far more important than where your mini conference is held. Choose and agree on your location according to the budgets and interests in your group.

We decided to focus our PD on our strengths as teachers, and added in some social media lessons to move us further along as bloggers and podcasters.  We all agreed that we learned so much during just three short days that we actually spent onsite. Day 1 and Day 5 were set aside for travel. Of course, you and your team will decide on the most meaningful topics for you. After all, isn't that why you are doing this in the first place?

I spent two years as part of a leadership academy with the purpose of developing teacher leaders. We received one book on leadership each month. Some were connected to education, and some of the readings caused us to imagine and create as we found a relevance in our own search for educational leadership. At the end of the month, we had a two day retreat at a local hotel. The author of the book we had read was also a part of our retreat and led one of the sessions! Anything is possible with a great budget. This one was accomplished through grant writing. Grant writing is a great option when you start to plan your own PD. Just allow plenty of time for that whole process to play out.

Some questions to get you started:
What do you teach? What would you like to learn more about? What strategies  would you like to explore? What have you already spent some time researching that you might be able to teach to the others?

Think about and then discuss these questions with your team as you plan the curriculum for your mini conference. If you are planning to hold your mini conference during the school year, bring your administrator on board. You might ask for release days and/or funds to make it all happen. Grant writing and Donors Choose are also options to find funding.

Some possible overall themes:
Adding Art to STEM or to other subjects
Focus on Test Taking Strategies
Integrating Social Studies into Reading, Writing, and Math
Building Better Classroom Citizens
Making Use of Online Resources for Students
Integrating PBL

This list could go on and on. Make it your own and make sure it matters to all of you!

The image above is a view from our condo at sunset. It's also a reminder not to let the sun go down on your conference without accomplishing part of your working agenda. This takes self-control and perseverance! We did make sure to get our entire agenda accomplished in three days though. We held ourselves and each other accountable. A typical day started with a morning run, bicycle ride,  or indoor Chi Quong (think yoga, standing up) for each of us. Or maybe it started with sleeping in or washing hair. Whatever each of us needed. We were gathered with breakfast by 9 and at work on our agenda. We would generally work until 1:30, travel into town for lunch and ice cream. (Yes, we had ice cream every day. I know.) We stopped at the market for fruit, salads, and nibbles for the evening and headed back for a working dinner. We all changed into jammies for a work session then that lasted until bedtime. We did one dinner out, but worked before and after.

The schedule we came up with worked for the four of us. Yours may look very different. The important thing is to make sure that you accomplish the goal you set when you decided to have this experience together.

I have an overpacking problem. I admit it. You can probably guess which suitcase in the image above is mine! I'm sure that I took three times as many clothes and shoes as I needed. Dragging that thing around was a nightmare, and I needed to depend on everyone else to help! The next time, I will realize that simplicity is the key. Don't bring choices. Bring exactly what you are sure that you will wear, and then just wear that! Having swag tees (Thank you, Tracy!) also gave us several days of no choice dressing. We wore our tees for part of every day!

If you see me at a conference or at the airport in the future, hold me accountable! Did you only pack what you needed? Did you leave something at home?

Totally unexpected, totally unnecessary, and totally fun! Tracy surprised us all with a swag bag containing a notebook, stickers, pens, sunblock, lip balm, snacks, and cute matching t-shirts. I admit that I was not on board with the shirt at first, but I'm loving the pictures now that we are back at home. Our shirts also attracted lots of vacationing teachers to us, making for some fun conversations with people from all over the US and Canada.

I highly recommend packing some fun swag bags. Make some shirts for your tribe!

Having chosen a real vacation spot to hold our mini conference, achieving a play/work balance could have been very challenging. Already knowing that we work well together, this was fairly easy to accomplish. This is another reason to choose your attendees carefully!

Our conference was the perfect combination of work and play, travel to a place of natural beauty, and time well spent with dear friends.

So what are you waiting for? Get started planning your own mini conference today! Keep a planning page in your notebook in case you happen to be stuck in a mandatory PD that doesn't fill a need for you!

Be sure to listen to our podcast on iTunes that we actually recorded together during our time on Mackinac Island!

For more about our DIY Professional Development getaway, be sure to check out the blog posts from Deann, Kathie, and Tracy below!

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