My first year in the classroom education was at the height of the No Child Left Behind revolution. All of the teachers at my school site, including me, had been deemed “highly qualified” so my school district decided that they could cut all professional development funds and did so for quite a few years. Sheer brilliance, because after all everything we know about how children best learn had been figured out by 2003, right?
I remember walking into my principal’s office within the first few months of school and asking if I could attend a two-week summer institute for inquiry-based science teaching. I was willing to attend on my own time and even offered to bring everything I learned back to the school site to share with other teachers in the form of afternoon workshops. I was simply hoping the school could pay my $500 registration fee.
I was fortunate to have a true teacher-leader as a principal. While she could not officially pay for my registration, she could adjust one of my adjunct-duty stipends to cover the cost and she gave me one piece of advice that still sticks with me today.
“Find a way to fund what you want to learn. It might be just enough for a few books, attendance at a local conference, or membership to a professional organization with great magazines. That is how you will always be in control of your career and your professional growth.”
Using her advice I have been able to maintain control over my professional learning and growth as an educator for the past decade. Granted, not everyone can set aside money to self-fund professional development and truthfully some years my budget has been quite limited. However, as you are planning your professional learning here are some tips and tricks to consider.
- Stay Local – If possible attend events close to home. This way you don’t have to worry about lodging or travel expenses. Connect with local affiliates for larger organizations and see what workshops they are offering. For example, here in Sacramento our National Writing Project and CUE affiliates host free or extremely low cost workshops throughout the year. Your local county office of education is also a great resource. Just check out these $20 Common Core workshops at the Sacramento County Office of Education.
- Connect Online – Some of the best professional development I have ever experienced was online and completely free! Using Twitter you can attend numerous free, engaging, and highly informative educational chats every single week. If you’re a west-coaster #CAEdChat is worth stopping by on Sunday nights at 8pm Pacific.
- Attend an EdCamp – Completely free and spontaneous, EdCamps are also an opportunity to share what you know while learning from others. EdCamps occur throughout the world and can be found on the EdCamp Wiki. There isn’t one in near your town? Gather some colleagues and organize one.
- Present or Volunteer – Consider presenting or volunteering at a conference you want to attend. Often the registration fee is waived if you’re willing to facilitate a session (this is true for CUE and FallCUE) and sometimes even if you just volunteer to stuff bags or staff the registration table (usually the case for local edtech conferences).
- Pick Up a Book & Connect with the Author – Books are an extremely valuable and inexpensive resource. However, through tools, such as Twitter you can often find online book studies or connect with authors to ask follow up questions. If you have some friends who are reading the same or similar texts it is also a perfect reason to meet up for a #brewcue or #coffeecue
- Invest in Yourself – For the past 10 years I have tried to set aside 2-5% of my salary (some years have been better than others) to fund my own professional development. Some years this has partially paid for grad school tuition or admin credential classes, while other years it has helped fund my way to conferences. Granted this is something not everyone can do, but if you can do it. Just make sure you keep all the receipts for your annual tax meeting with the accountant (or TurboTax).
While I believe it is important to invest in your own professional learning I also think it is critical to be mindful and selective. You can’t learn everything or attend every event. Instead choose a focus for the year and attend the events that will help you grow in that area. The CapCUE website has a great list of edtech events in greater Northern California. This might be a place to start your professional learning shopping for the year.
Personally, this year I am really focusing on learning more of the CTO components to my job, so I am attending the CEPTA CTO Program, CUE, FallCUE, Rockstar Lake Tahoe, and a some local workshops. I am also trying out a few new events including BLC in Boston this summer. Regardless of what you choose to do, take control of your professional learning. I believe it is the secret to a long and healthy career as an educator and I assume it means I will always be “highly qualified.”