Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Best Xmas Gift Ever: Appreciation & Affirmation From A Former Student

Three days before Christmas this year, a direct message came through on my Facebook account. It was from a former student of mine from 12 years ago named Reed when I was concluding my last year as the Leadership Advisor at Buchanan High School.

I am sharing this with you below for a couple of reasons. One, as an educator, there is no better gift than a student, especially after time has passed, reaching out to you and acknowledging their educational experience. Two, his story is the ultimate affirmation for an educator. It’s not an affirmation about me as an educator, but what works in education. His story reminds us, in a very personal and detailed way, what matters in school. And that is that our mission is to help all students find a passion and purpose and then support them in pursuit of both.

Although this student likes to attribute his success and his unique journey to his experience with me, it’s really more about the work we were both involved in collaboratively for the greater good of our school and community. It was about the environment we both helped create where ideas, innovation and risk-taking were not only accepted, but rather the norm.

12 years ago, we were not discussing in such collective fashion what a 21st century and transformational education should look like as we are today. However, it’s good to know that it is something that has existed and can exist. It takes steadfast adults determined to allow and support students as they pursue relevant, real world work that impacts their campus and global communities.

Thank you Reed Zelezny for inspiring me. Thank you for reminding me that those of us that believe that students can dream and then execute amazing and meaningful endeavors do indeed change the world. Naturally, I am very proud of your success and your reflective appreciation. But I am also proud that you represent what is possible and what should be. All students need these opportunities and these environments. And then, all students can enjoy a lifetime of eternal successes.

Reed, thanks for the incredible Christmas gift. I am proud to have worked with you. I hope all educators have this experience.
Here is that Facebook message from Reed in its entirety:

Hey Mike!

Hope you’re well and enjoying some holiday time with the family.

Earlier in the year I saw that Stephanie Rusmin sent you a message about how much your Leadership class at Buchanan shaped her. I chatted with her about it briefly and told her that I’d been wanting to send a similar note your way, which she encouraged me to do. Now months later, as the year comes to a close I’m finally getting around to it!

I can echo a lot Stephanie’s sentiments, as I’m sure a lot of students who’ve taken your class would - particularly those that consider themselves introverted leaders. For example, in the interesting social and political climate we’re experiencing, I’m frequently reminded of leadership class events like Human Relations Day.

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I also want to point out though that I took something very unique away from your class. One of the most important things I experienced in high school was your encouragement to coordinate and lead school activities which involved music and the arts, the biggest of which was probably the school CD that Kevin McDonald and I worked on. I was admittedly not fully engaged with sporting events, pep rallies, fashion shows etc. But I wanted to learn leadership skills, help people, and I loved music. Without your nudge I don’t think I would have harnessed an entrepreneurial spirit and realized that I could bring together my interests in such a unique way that created value for others.

From that experience I embarked on my college education with the idea of somehow mixing business, entrepreneurship, and the arts. I was a Business Entrepreneurship student at Cal Poly, and when it came time to do my required senior project I rejected the idea of taking the CPA exam or writing a business plan. Instead I left school for 6 months to write a thesis about how the internet and technology was impacting and helping independent musicians.

While wrapping up that project, I found myself in Silicon Valley and met the quirky young CEO of a cloud company who wanted to chat with me about digital distribution models for artists like Radiohead. A week later he threw a jack-of-all-trades job my way at his 40-person startup. It wasn’t the most glamorous way to start a career - I spent the first six months stocking fridges, putting together Ikea furniture, constantly calling repairmen as we outgrew our building, ordering food for lunches and dinners, etc.

Six years later, we’re a public company with 1400+ employees, offices around the world, and I’m the company’s Global Media Producer. I’ve had the opportunity to rub shoulders with leaders such as Gavin Newsom, Marc Benioff, Eric Schmidt, and Tim Cook, as well as artists such as One Republic, Weezer, Blink 182, and Jared Leto.

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It isn’t all blissful - the bay area is unrealistically expensive, and surrounded by some of the brightest tech minds on the planet I constantly find myself in the trap of wondering “what I’m doing with my life”. But the older I get, the more grateful I become for this path I’ve found myself on and how your class set the stage for it.

And so 12 years after taking your Leadership class, and as an adult 29-year-old man, I want to say thank you most sincerely.

Wishing you all the best and I hope you have a great new year ahead of you! - Reed

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Collaboration (Partnering) 2.0

There may not be a skill that is getting more attention than ever than COLLABORATION. Indeed, in Education, we use the word so much that it has sadly become cliche or jargon. However, that being said, it is and has been identified as the most important professional skill in the new economy (See Forbes Magazine). Matter of fact, one of the dominant reasons people often get fired is still related to an inability to work with others. I like the word collaboration, but preferred the word PARTNERING. Collaboration sounds like working with others, while partnering sounds like a long-term investment in a relationship that is mutually beneficial.
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So, if we can agree that partnering is crucial and essential. Let’s identify what it really looks and feels like in our educational environments and beyond. One, partnering first infers that we will work with our peers. Students need to partner with students, teachers need to partner with teachers and so on. And this partnering can extend well beyond our immediate or like peers, but can, thanks to technology, be global partnering with peers. Students can connect with and partner up on projects with students with similar interests all over the world via social media and other tools. Teachers can participate in professional development and dialogue with educators from around the world via Twitter and more.
But let’s focus on the partnering that can exist beyond our peers in terms of community and professional partners. For a variety of reasons, education is realizing, more than ever, that we have a vast network of potential partners in our communities beyond the school walls. Schools need these partners more than ever and these partners are interested in education more than ever. The time is right and the time is now. What does collaboration - or partnering - with community again look and feel like? Here are FIVE ways to examine further:

  1. Resources: Our community partners have tremendous resources. These can come in the form of time, money, equipment, expertise, mentoring, professional/industry standards and more. As we move more towards real, relevant and project-based work, we are going to need all of these from our community partners. They can help fill all of the gaps in transforming our educational experiences and systems. They not only have a vested interested in helping from a philanthropic standpoint, but also have a need to be directly involved in training, recruiting and inspiring their future work forces. Our students and schools need them, but they need our students and schools too. It is mutually beneficial.
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  1. Mentoring: mentioned in the list above, this is going to continue to be what students need to be successful as they prepare for 21st century careers. Their teachers, families and peers are important, but cannot take the place of professional mentors. Networking has always been crucial and will continue to be. Each student needs to develop a network of professionals that can inform, champion, inspire and facilitate professional student work. Mentors from our community partners (business, leaders, non-profits and others) can provide that final and integral link that all students need - both in the short term and long-term.
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  1. Reciprocation: as also mentioned earlier, partnerships are mutually beneficial. Our community partners need our students, educators and schools too. One, they are potentially training, recruiting and creating their future workforce right? Most leaders in all industries or trades realize that their best employees are the ones that they train and indoctrinate. Additionally, most of our community partners often need volunteers, feedback, customers, ideas and more. What better than to give our students the opportunity to give back to their partners in these vital roles. Students have time, ideas, creativity, energy, networks and more to share with the partners. They represent an important focus group that partners can truly appreciate, utilize and realize.
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  1. Problem-Solving: this is often mentioned as a skill that is also essential in success in the new economy. Much of our educational redesign is centered around the need that our students need to bigger and better problem solvers. Ironically, our world also has a host of real world problems that represent the work and opportunity for future jobs, companies and industries. Students and educators will have problems that community partners can address in a variety of ways (see #1) and community partners will have problems that our students and schools can address (see #3). Bottom line is that if problem-solving skills are vital, we will need to practice and see them in real world contexts and situations. Partnering to solve problems is a backbone of the new economy.
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  1. Public: one of the hallmarks of our educational efforts going forward is that our work - student work, educator work, etc. - is now going to be public more than ever. Students need to have public work for relevance and portfolio development. Educators need to have public work for everything from ongoing professional development to new definitions of meeting standards, having success, etc. When we partner with our community entities, all of our work will be more public. The community partners represent the public and will bring the public aspect back in new ways to public school.
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The need and acknowledgement of partnering (collaboration) is more present and relevant than ever. Indeed, it may be the most powerful component, or missing link, related to many of our educational ills and challenges. Our classrooms do have to become community (or truly public) classrooms more than ever. Our partners are waiting to be invited and involved.  We need them and they need us. It’s time to PARTNER 2.0.

Forbes. Forbes Magazine, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.

(images courtesy of Foter, Free Digital Photos)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Let's Pay Teachers $100,000 Per Year And Expect Transformative Work

I recently posed on Twitter, as well as FTF, my proposal to pay teachers $100,000 per year. Naturally, I got a mix of reactions mostly asking how, why and what for? Beyond figuring out the finances (which I admit is a daunting task), what would be the rationale(why) and the expectation(what for)? Well, here you go:

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The Rationale

There has been a dramatic decline for years, each year now, in the numbers of people choosing to enter teacher credentialing programs and ultimately the teacher profession. As an example, enrollments in teacher preparation programs in CA have declined by 75 percent over the past decade – from 77,700 in 2001-02 to 19,933 in the 2012-13 school year, the last year for which figures are available ("New California Teaching Credentials Decline for 10th Successive Year." EdSource. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.).
The reality is that too many young people, who are educated and career focused, are not seeing teaching as a viable career option - either financially or professionally. Many have the chance to pursue other career options that more than likely will initially and long-term pay better, as well as offer more autonomy, creativity and mobility. At least that is their perception. We have faced teacher shortages before, but none at this current level in terms of new people entering the career. There are many indications of a new, globalized economy and this could be one of them: smart, creative, innovative and educated people do have options. And currently, teaching is not seen as one of them - at least to many of them.
So, to fix this problem we will have to naturally figure out ways to make the professional more attractive. There are many ways to make working for an organization, or a profession, more attractive. However, in a competitive environment, nothing may matter more than financial compensation, especially if you have college debt. The idea of offering more money to get teachers may seem unusual or strange, but make no mistake it’s already happening. For example, many school districts have recently offered signing bonuses for teachers to sign with their district. During a shortage, districts have to compete. It’s a seller’s market and teachers now have, in many cases, more than one choice on where they teach or work.
But the idea of paying teachers considerably more than they make now is not just based on attracting them to the profession. It’s also about keeping them in the profession. We’ve all seen dozens of reports that about half of all teachers quit the profession within five years. And even if this is statistically exaggerated, or inaccurate, even 25% is too many. We can’t sustain professional growth and development this way. And if fewer are entering the profession, these numbers will have an even larger impact.
However, what I mean by all of this is that we need to transform the job. If we pay teachers what they deserve (and believe good ones are worth more than we could ever pay), we can truly redefine the profession - and ultimately the experience for our students.
All of us have known for a long time that great teachers do a whole host of things naturally. The problem is that many of these things are left up to those that choose to be great. We’ve allowed great to be an option and not an expectation. And the great ones have done this without compensation from the system. Indeed, they often have to work around the system in order to be great and serve students.
As we know, the world is in the process of dramatic change and transformation. Our students truly need a new type of educational experience. It is going need to be one that is more specialized, technical, creative, innovative, personalized and dynamic. In order to do that, we need teachers who are going to accept and embrace a new professional challenge.  And here it is:

The Expectation

We have struggled for years to define what an “exceptional” teacher really looks and acts like. Let’s not dance around it and redefine it for this new economy and educational demands.
Again, let’s acknowledge that the majority of teachers are hard working, sincere folks who have the best intentions in mind. However, we also know that the sometimes cliched teacher, often portrayed in modern culture through films and TV as a quintessential government employee - more concerned with their own rights vs. student success - does exist.
So, let’s lay out the expectation of a successful and well-compensated 21st century teacher. Here is at least the start of a list (feel free to add on or amend):

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  • Lifelong learner - this is an old idea that not all have embraced. Well, we’ll need to require this. All teachers will, each and every year, continue to collaborate and learn with their colleagues. This will not be an option, nor will it cost them anything. We need to pay for and provide regular opportunities (so many hours per year) to attend professional events, take FTF or online courses, work with one another and industry professionals on projects and planning, and more. One can’t opt out. Teachers will have choices on how to meet the requirement and there will be no out of pocket expenses. All teachers will have to be leaders in some aspect of their profession and not only participate in lifelong learning, but also lead aspects of it as well. All teachers will need to help train and lead other teachers. That is real lifelong learning.

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  • True Collaboration - the days of hiding out in a classroom and working in isolation are gone. No other professionals can do it and teachers are no exception - especially if you are being compensated appropriately. Teachers will have to not only collaborate with their on campus or school-based peers and colleagues, but also with professionals. They will have to regularly work with business leaders, community leaders, parents, government officials, politicians and others on how to serve their students through projects, community-based work and more. All teachers will have to have Professional Learning Networks - again online and FTF. All professionals in other industries know this and embrace this in order to be successful. Again, teachers cannot be the exception. Again, time during the school year and in summer will be created to do this. And again, they are being compensated properly to do so.

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  • Leading and Facilitating Entire Learning Experience - all students need at least one go-to mentor and advisor. Naturally, more than one is even better. But all teachers will be expected to have a caseload. For elementary teachers, this is your class and you’re essentially use to do doing this. For HS folks, many of you have seen this before with things like an advisory period. But we have to go way beyond a cursory advisory period. All teachers need to have a caseload of students that they have an extended role for throughout the student’s educational career. In HS, for example, all teachers need to have a group of 25 students that they are globally responsible for during the four years. This responsibility includes advising, counseling, mentoring, tutoring, home and family communication, career advising, internship and externship coordination and more. Some of this work has been handed off to others not in the classroom. Their positions may be reduced to help pay the $100,000 per year so teachers will have to assume the role. Many, including HS teachers, have already been doing this forever. But now, it’s an expectation of all and they will be paid to do so.
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  • Extended Work Time and Planning - the idea of three months off - without planning and creating for your students for the next year and beyond - will now be part of the past. Again, most teachers, especially the great ones, have been working in the summer - on their own time and dime - forever. Well now, they are being paid to do this. The new economy will need teachers who stay connected to one another and their communities over the summer. They will need to plan relevant, real world and engaging projects and learning experiences for all of their students. This will take time and cannot be done in its entirety during the school day and school year. This will take summer time as well. How long? I don’t know. But all teachers will have to work an extended summer contract. This won’t really be an option. But again, you’re getting paid at least $100,000 to do so. While we’re speaking about time, let’s not pretend that one can get this job done between the hours of 8 and 3 each day. Let’s have teachers on campus from 7:30 - 4:30, or something like that. Let’s have teachers on campus the entire work day so they can collaborate, meet with community and parents, etc.

In summary, this is naturally unfinished. Like most ideas with potential, it needs revision and refinement. However, compare this to our eternal struggle (s) going on now with this profession and the product (s). Additionally, I know we have not figured out out the math and how to pay for this (however it was eluded to momentarily earlier). But I guarantee you that the money is there. Anyone in education knows that it is. It will take a serious redesign of all positions (top to bottom) in order to find the money. But, rest assured, it’s there. Meanwhile, we are stuck with a system that doesn’t work for many and will continue to struggle in finding the next generation of teachers.

Works Cited
"New California Teaching Credentials Decline for 10th Successive Year." EdSource. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.

(images courtesy of Foter)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

As The Edu Worlds Collide, It's Compliance/Control vs. Creativity/Innovation

The worlds are colliding. It’s more than old vs. new or low tech vs. high tech. It’s the clash of the mindsets, pedagogies, philosophies, systems, approaches, protocols and operations. I simply like to call it clash of the ATTITUDES.

That’s right. In the end, we do or don’t do something based on our attitudes. They come from a variety of places. But our general attitude towards how we approach the world or solve problems will dictate everything.
When it comes to education, I think the divide can be seen on two simple sides. There is Compliance & Control on one side and Creativity & Innovation on the other. These are at odds.

Indeed, Harvard Professor Tony Wagner has said, “The culture of school is radically at odds with the culture of learning necessary for innovation.

We have to decide what we want. And as usual, we can’t have it all. We all have to decide which side you want to live on and error on. For me, it’s simple. All good things that have happened to me in my life, especially in education, have happened because I landed on the creativity and innovation side every time. I figured out how to work through the compliance and control vs. starting there.
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Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we don’t need any rules, guidelines, expectations or a moral compass to guide us in our decision-making. But what I am saying is that when we are posed with a question, challenge, problem, issue or need, where do we start? Do we come from a place or compliance or control or from a place of creativity and innovation? In other words, do we come from a place of “no” or a place of “yes”?
Again, I’m not saying that one can never say no or always has to say yes. But what I am saying is that you only say ‘no’, or resort to compliance and control, when you absolutely have to (and that is not as often as one would think beyond the tradition or the mindset - the ATTITUDE).
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This dilemma between the two sides and how to resolve our educational crisis has really been bothering me. I see some great things going on in education. But the folks that are aiming for creativity and innovation are constantly at odds with the systems and operations firmly rooted in compliance and control.

Here are a couple of recent scenarios:

  1. I recently talked to a high school teacher who was doing a project that required an audio recording from his students. In order to execute this, students were recording their projects in various locations in and near his classroom (outside in the hall, outside on the grass, in an empty room next door and more). Meanwhile, his site leader noticed this and told the teacher that he could not have his students working in multiple or different locations where they were not being continuously supervised by him. When I became a high school teacher, I remember this being a mindset or expectation of many. However, as a former media teacher and leadership advisor, I always had students leaving our classroom in order to execute or perform their work. I had to trust them, believe in them and allow them both the responsibility and freedom. If individuals could not or did not respect that freedom and responsibility, then that was a different story. But my students needed to work like this in order to complete their projects. So, as we continue to evolve and expect students to do public, relevant and professional work, which ATTITUDE will prevail? The one that says a teacher has to supervise their students continuously or the one that focused on entrusting them to do what is necessary to complete their work in a professional and timely manner? Again, we can’t have both. We can’t have supervision and limited work space, while hoping for creativity and innovation. To me, it’s simple. The idea of having to see your kids all the time in your class is at odds with what students truly need to be doing.

  1. An educator colleague of mine at another high school was recently approached by a local filmmaker, who has produced several feature films, to use a classroom at his school site for a scene in their current project - a horror film. This educator happens to have a film and media program at his school site as well. When he approached his district office to formally request the use of the classroom facility, they declined the request because they didn’t want the district to be associated with a horror film. There are many questions or challenges here. First, the film did not have to or was not going to include the name of the school or district in the film. Second, the classroom alone was just a generic classroom space and would not have been associated by sight with the school site or district. But way beyond these somewhat trivial points, there are greater ones. For a school that has a film program, one might dream of being approached by a professional partner. After all, after allowing them to use your classroom for a shoot location, the school could approach the film company for a variety of collaborations including but not limited to the following: (a) having students work or intern on that film or other future projects, (b) technical advice from the professionals to teachers and students on their film projects, (c) use of equipment and resources for future student film projects and undoubtedly others. Again, the divide takes place on whether we approach these types of challenges from a place of compliance/control vs. one of creativity/innovation.

Most of us could probably share similar scenarios that would illustrate these types of challenges and how they are ultimately executed.  

If we truly want to have our students, teachers, classrooms and schools be 21st century entities embracing creativity and innovation, our leaders will have to have the vision and strength to see beyond compliance and control. They will have to have the vision to find a way to say ‘yes’ vs. retreating to the default position of ‘no.’

We all have to decide. There are two clear camps here. They are distinctly different. As an educator and leader, which side do you live on and which side will benefit our students and teachers more?

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(images courtesy of Foter, Pinterest)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Evolutionary Education - 5 Things That Could Be Extinct Soon

It has often been uttered, that “only the fittest survive.” But when it comes to education, it seems things that might not even be that fit have continued to survive. However, just like in living species through time - dinosaurs, sabre tooth tigers and the wooly mammoth just to name a few - even things that have lived on for a long time eventually go extinct. So, with that in mind, it seems educational evolution is occurring too and extinction might be inevitable for a variety of standard educational pedagogy, tools and practices.
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  1. Textbooks/Single Source Curriculum: (this includes ebook textbooks too). Regardless of whether they are digital or not, depending on and surviving on one text as the foundational source of information and context - regardless of course, age group and purpose - seems almost prehistoric at this point. Information changes daily and resources are born every minute on line. Anyone doing serious academic work cannot depend on one source for all of their information. Indeed, high quality information is already, and should be, free. It would be a crime to model anything else for students other than searching for, combing through and then using the most appropriate and relevant sources/information for their respective project and learning. Naturally, this is already having serious implications on those who like to sell textbooks and curriculum. Again, high quality and diverse information is already free, so they will have to sell something else or go extinct as well (The Death of Textbooks?).
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  1. Top Down Leadership: Even mainstream publications like EdWeek have declared this dead( What's The Opposite of  Top Down Leadership?). If you want an organization to be truly collaborative, creative, personalized, customer-oriented and more, they will have to be trusted. One cannot create a policy or procedure for everything. Passion and enthusiasm have to be cultured, fostered and modeled. And then, leaders will have to allow team members to be their own leaders, to make their own decisions and to pursue the organization’s goals with their own individual vigor, rigor and focus. This is one that will sound good to most, but be hard to model and live by for many.
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  1. Compliance for Compliance-Sake: Stemming from down leadership, organizations have created dozens, if not hundreds, of policies, procedures and even practices that are simply about compliance. In the classroom, we see this in homework, syllabus signatures and so much more. In ed. organizations, we see this in things like submitting lesson plans weekly, posting the standards/objectives on the board. And in all cases, folks are spending more time complying vs. doing the real work. These compliance checks were created and evolved for all in leadership positions - whether a teacher in a classroom, a site leader or even superintendent - to do low level and cursory checks on people. These are not about real work, but about following directions and exerting authority. And because of that, they have little impact on real learning or progress. Again, whether they be students or teachers or administrators, they will have to presented with relevant, engaging and empowering challenges and then be trusted to get there. Compliance will only get you one so far, but trust with support will go far beyond.
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  1. One Size Fits All: Customization and individualization are the international pedagogy of the free world. We can pretend or deny it, but it’s futile. If you want people to buy-in and perform - again whether they are students, teachers or administrators - one will need to offer them choices on how, when, where, etc. Choice creates personal connection and empowerment. The choices need to be legitimate and even sometimes narrowed, but they need to be there. High-level learning and high-level ownership of that learning can only come from individual buy-in and pursuit with passion. This will foster creativity and further thinking. If you want to advance beyond compliance, you have to create choices, options and ways for the individual to emerge in the group or team efforts. For students, this will be about what projects and how they are executed. For teachers, this will be what professional growth goals and how they pursue them. For leaders, this will be about having freedom and autonomy to change practices in order to achieve newer and higher goals/results (Mass Customized Learning They Key To Real Education Reform).
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  1. Depending on Delivered Professional Development & Learning: Traditionally, just like classroom learning for students, educators have learned to depend on other educators leading them through various professional development. Don’t get me wrong, spending quality time with people that have unique perspectives, experiences and insights will never go away or not be potentially productive. Attending professional events like conferences and other gatherings will always have their place, but professional development has now gone grass roots and organic with educators, and other professionals, connecting, sharing and learning from one another through Twitter and other social media networks (Twitter for Professional Development, Social Media Transforms Professional Development). But even beyond all of the free and varied online means for educators to connect to educators and determine their own professional growth journey, we really have a departure going on  in the world of learning and professional development. Even face-to-face gatherings have gone beyond the traditional conference and moved towards the unconference model or Edcamps (Insider's Guide To Edcamps, What Makes Edcamps So Popular With Teachers?). The point is that adult learners or professionals(again just like our students), have the desire, and now the power or potential, to guide their own development. They need time, connections to various networks of like-minded professionals and professional passions to pursue. Their professional development experiences will not have to be purchased, packaged or presented.

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(images courtesy of Pinterest and Foter)