Groh column: #ProfessionalDevelopment

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 9, 2015

Ever wish you could go to a professional development session for work in your jammies?

Well, I know some folks who do just that.

Every other Tuesday night, educators from across the Rowan-Salisbury School System meet at 8 p.m. for an innovative professional development session, and some of them even come in their jammies.

Rather than congregating at a central location, these teachers and administrators all meet from the comfort of their own homes via the social media platform Twitter.

During the Twitter chat, a moderator poses new questions every few minutes, allowing educators to share their opinions, ideas and input with each other using the hashtag #rsschat.

The Twitter chat is the brainchild of teachers Rachel Lawrence and Tiffany Carter, who came up with the idea after they attended the International Society for Technology in Education annual conference in Atlanta last year.

Lawrence, a self-proclaimed Twitter nerd, noticed that teachers weren’t collaborating nearly as much as they should.

“Any teacher would tell you that finding time to collaborate is the issue,” Lawrence said, adding that meetings or other pressing matters get in the way.

“Sometimes it’s not convenient to collaborate during our planning,” she said.

So, Lawrence and Carter went to Director of Digital Innovation Andrew Smith with the idea of hosting professional development chats on Twitter outside of school hours, and they’ve been hosting them every other Tuesday since September.

While some larger organizations hold chats like this to collaborate, Rowan-Salisbury is blazing a trail for school districts across the nation.

In fact, so many educators join in on the conversation that #rsschat started trending on Twitter in Charlotte one week.

“We didn’t really know of a whole lot of schools that were using it,” Smith said.

But other school districts have taken notice and started asking questions.

The chat isn’t segregated by grade level or school, which allows teachers to learn from other teachers they may not get to interact with otherwise.

Teachers are able to access “resources beyond their four walls,” Lawrence said. “It’s just absolutely phenomenal because you build relationships with people they wouldn’t normally.”

“It’s a lot of fun,” Smith said. “It can be very fast-paced.”

“It’s really a great professional development tool,” he said, adding that educators have the option of actively participating and giving ideas or simply watching what everyone else posts.

“Some just sit in the background, just watching. You could have easily been learning from that experience,” he said.

This week, Director of Secondary Education Eisa Cox led a discussion on effective instructional time.

She posed questions about minimizing down time, making transitions in learning times, using technology, making learning memorable and reimagining classrooms.

Teachers, literacy coaches, media center directors and assistant principals from nearly every school in the district participated in the chat, sharing ideas, photos, charts and articles for managing classes at every grade level.

“We really want our educators to not just share opinions, but resources as well,” Smith said.

Ideas ranged from a color-coded cup system for working in groups to mobile applications to use to activities to stimulate creativity.

“What if we eliminated the thought that our classrooms must be limited to the 4 walls we teach in, & offered experiential learning?” Lawrence tweeted during the chat.

Later, she tweeted, “Bell to bell ‘learning’ expectations and routines are imperative, too.”

“Technology allows for extension activities. An overachiever (student) may finish early and tech allows them to have additional lessons,” Smith tweeted.

“Learning happens everywhere! Let’s encourage collaboration and conversation all day! Questions should be everywhere!” Cox tweeted.

Each participant used their strengths to bring unique ideas to the table.

Many of Smith’s tweets were technology-based, while Kelly Feimster, director of instructional programs, tackled literacy-based solutions.

The biweekly Twitter chat isn’t the only way Rowan-Salisbury is using technology in its professional development these days..

“We’re really trying to be as innovative as possible,” Smith said

Now that all teachers have a laptop through the school system, they’re able to consistently utilize technology across the district.

“We’re using technology in our PD almost everywhere,” he said. “We can actually build professional development courses.”

“Professional development before was ‘stand and deliver,’ ” Smith said, but he added that these courses allow educators to learn at their own pace and share ideas.

“We’re moving from teacher to facilitator,” he said.

While technology in professional development has opened a lot of doors for innovation, Smith said he hopes online professional development never takes the place of in-person sessions.

Just like district leaders don’t want technology to be the only way teachers teach, they don’t want technology to be the only way teachers learn.

“There’s something about human interaction that is essential,” he said.