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Offering Thanks for Professional Development

The past few weeks CTQ bloggers have been exploring the theme: How Do Teachers [Really] Learn? We invite you to join us in this conversation by posting thoughts and questions here on the blogs or on social media at #Love2Learn. 

The culmination of our series on How Teachers [Really] Learn coincides with our entry into the Season of Thanks, so it seems like a good opportunity to write about the professional development opportunities that I'm most grateful for. 

The first goes back maybe twenty years. Our librarian, Burgess Needle, led the session. He had us draw a rough map of the neighborhood we grew up in, think a little, and then write some memories. After a bit, Burgess asked for volunteers to read their pieces. No one who was there will forget the two hands that went up. They belonged to two cynical, set-in-their-ways veterans who would normally have nothing to do with such an exercise. But if we were surprised that they engaged at all, we were shocked at the depth of emotion both of them had put into their stories. In fact, they both choked up as they read them. 

Sometime later my students were working through a unit on construction. I modified Burgess's prompt a little, having students sketch their current neighborhood and write about a construction-related change they had seen and how it affected them. After all this time I still remember some of the stories - the recreation center that raised its membership cost so my student couldn't go anymore, the fire that burned down the neighborhood store  leaving everyone worried that the elderly owner had not survived (she had), the housing development that came in and took away my student's ATC riding area.

Next, I’m thankful for all the professional development that I received during my 21 years as facilitator of my School's MESA program. Advisors from around Tucson and the rest of the state would be treated to lectures and activities from professors of STEM-related fields. We also had "Trainer of Trainers" events to share our best projects and best practices. As I write this, I'm looking ahead to next semester and making some plans. I think I'll dig out some of those activities and bring them back to life. Megan Allen writes about finding your tribe. That's exactly what I had done with MESA. The advisors bonded as a community of educators working to prepare underrepresented communities for college majors in technical fields. Working with MESA and participating in all the attendant PD was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.

In 2010 I earned my National Board Certificate. The process taught me what it means to be intentional in my practice. No longer do I count the rationale for a decision as evidence of its efficacy. Until I can support or reject my choices with concrete observations about their impact, the work is incomplete. A candidate support provider put it best when she was coaching me during the process. She would read something and ask, "That's a powerful claim, how can you show it's true?" 

Earning my National Board Certificate put me on a path to more professional development opportunities for which I am grateful. It also changed my role from being primarily a participant to being primarily a facilitator. That started with my own training as an NBCT candidate support provider for the Arizona K12 Center, which focused on Cognitive Coaching. The "maps" I learned in CC to plan, reflect, and solve problems continute to have far reaching applications, from working with individual students to working with whole classes to planning my own work and, of course, to working with National Board candidates.

While working as a candidate support provider, I was invited to apply for and was later accepted to the Arizona K12 Center's TeacherSolutions® 2030 Team which brought me into the teacher leader movement and introduced me to CTQ. CTQ then invited me to a Rising Leaders Retreat at which I met teacher leaders from around the nation. Between the TeacherSolutions® Team and the CTQ network, I understood for the first time what students mean when they say, "I've finally found a place where everyone is just like me!" 

Moreover, through those networks, my career has a taken on new meaning by helping to facilitate the Teacher Leader Initiative, the Teacher Leader Institute, blogging for both CTQ and the AZK12 Center’s Stories from School Arizona, and taking advantage of writing opportunities for national magazines.

So, at a stage when many teachers count the years left and say, "Only eight more, I can make it." I look at the same eight years and say, "I don't think that's enough. I’m not done." 

It'd be easy to wrap up with a summary of what features made all these events so profound. But today that's not the point. The point is to simply say thanks for so many opportunities to mature in my areas of expertise, which, in turn, is the point of professional development. 

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