Teaching Teachers: Professional Developments that Work!

I am a PD junkie. No, correction: I am a good PD junkie. There is nothing better than coming together with teachers from different schools, backgrounds, and views on education to improve our craft. These great PDs encourage me to continue learning new content. They make me excited to try new methods and ideas in my classroom. They make me want to be a better teacher.

And there is nothing worse than a one-size-fits-all required PD. If I have to sit in an auditorium with hundreds of other teachers and get a “pep-talk” from one more person (with no background in education), I just might lose my mind. And those online, mandated videos…. They are the worst.

But let’s keep this positive and focus on the good PDs. The ones that make my heart do little cartwheels…. Data shows that teachers need PD that is tailored to their specific situation (whether that be grade level, content, student demographics, etc.). Think of all the changes we as educators are facing today: new standards galore across multiple content areas, technology out the wazoo, and new information (climate change, anyone?) just to name a few. So teachers should be allowed (and encouraged) to choose the PDs that they need. Depending on the size of the district, some teachers might have great PD opportunities in their building. Others might have to go off campus- neither has been shown to be more effective, so don’t stress over that. However, many teachers have expressed that either way, they don’t want their PD run by their own administrators. Many do not see them as experts and the stress of evaluations takes away from the sense of “just try this and see how it goes”. There are also tons of great online opportunities for PD, allowing teachers to work at their own pace and tailor it to their personal needs and interests. But there are also some less than wonderful online options.

The beauty of PDs is that they really depend on teachers to make them better. Bouwma-Gearhart explained that “quality increases future involvement” and vice-versa. If there are great PDs out there, we need to make sure that other teachers know about them. And the more teachers that attend the PDs they want to, the more encouraged these organizations will be to improve what they are providing. That’s why I’m writing this post; to share quality PDs.

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I have been so lucky to have had some amazing PD opportunities, but it was definitely work on my part to find them. And every time I return and tell my colleagues about these amazing experiences, they always ask the same thing. “How did you find out about this?” Like I said, I’m a junkie. I am on a ton of email listservs and social media sites and apply for any PD that involves travel (my other weakness). So here are some great PDs that you should check out!

CDC Science Ambassador   

This one is seriously amazing. I attended this week long PD in the summer of 2015. You spend 5 days at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta working with other teachers and CDC scientists to develop curriculum you (and any other teacher) can use in your own classroom. You also have the chance to sit in on training for the EIS officers (some of which truly changed to way I teach!). This program is open to 6th-12th grade teachers and the application deadline (for the 2017 program) is February 15, 2017!

Wells Fargo Regional Sustainability Teachers’ Academy (with Arizona State University)

This program comes highly recommended from a fellow teacher! These two-day workshops are open to teachers in grades 5-9 who are looking to implement improved curriculum in sustainability that can impact not only their schools, but the entire community. Workshops are held multiple times a year in different locations throughout the country and participating teachers are eligible to receive up to $300 to get the program started at their school. Application dates vary depending on the location and date of the workshop.

Teacher Classes at Brookfield Zoo

Another highly recommended program from several teachers I know in the Chicagoland area. These 2 day programs are aligned to NGSS and offered twice a month. They cover a variety of topics and grade levels. Each program is $160, with the option of grad credit for an additional $100. However, they run several discounts throughout the year. I haven’t attended one of these… yet. But they are definitely on my to-do list! They sound like an amazing way to get content knowledge from the experts, plus I’m sure your students will think you’re some kind of rock star when you share your experience with them!

Teacher Courses at the Museum of Science and Industry

Are you ready for this? FREE PD! I know some of us are fortunate enough to have PDs paid for, or at least get reimbursed for them. I also know some teachers have to use their sick days to attend PDs (not to mention pay for it themselves). MSI Chicago is so teacher friendly. These free programs are aimed at teachers in grades 4-8 and are aligned to NGSS. Courses are offered year round, and application due dates are in May and August.

I hope this gives you a place to start (or continue) your great PD search. I would love to expand out to other topics and locations. So if you have other suggestions for PDs that you’d recommend, please leave them in the comments!

Teachers Travel, Too!

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This summer seems to be flying by… even faster than most! I’ve been fortunate enough to travel a lot and visit places I’ve never seen before. But the highlight happened at a professional development last week. That’s right, a SUMMER PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT.

I spent five days at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta for their Science Ambassador program. I joined 31 other high school and middle school teachers from around the country (and 1 from Canada) to build curriculum aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards. The curriculum will be published (after revisions and the final clearance by the “powers that be” at the CDC) sometime in the future, but in the mean time feel free to check out the work that previous Science Ambassadors have done here.

We worked in teams of 4 and each team had a CDC Subject Matter Expert (SME, the CDC is huge on acronyms). My team is working on a lesson on radon and its link to lung cancer. We had an incredible expert from the CDC Comprehensive Cancer Control Branch.

While the curriculum building was the main goal, here are some of the other highlights from my week:

Dr. Harold Jaffe and Dr. Jim Curran reliving the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Have you seen "And the Band Played On"? These tw are the real life CDC guys!

Dr. Harold Jaffe and Dr. Jim Curran reliving the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Have you seen “And the Band Played On”? These two are the real life CDC guys!

Dinner and downtime with teachers from around the country. Not only are they brilliant, creative teachers but fun humans too!

Dinner and downtime with teachers from around the country. Not only are they brilliant, creative teachers but fun humans too!

Public Health Panel of Experts: The CDC includes such a variety of career fields. It's so much more than M.D.s and lab researchers.

Public Health Panel of Experts: The CDC includes such a variety of career fields. It’s so much more than M.D.s and lab researchers.

Tour of the CDC Emergency Operations Center with my teacher team. CDC is really strict about no pictures on campus, so we were thrilled to get a pic with the sign!

Tour of the CDC Emergency Operations Center with my teacher team. CDC is really strict about no pictures on campus, so we were thrilled to get a pic with the sign!

My team's presentation of our lesson at the end of the week. Pretty cool to be able to say I've presented at the CDC!

My team’s presentation of our lesson at the end of the week. Pretty cool to be able to say I’ve presented at the CDC!

Closing remarks from Dr. Josh Mott, Chief of the Epidemiology Workforce Branch.

Closing remarks from Dr. Josh Mott, Chief of the Epidemiology Workforce Branch.

Nothing's official without a certificate, right? Seriously, cannot wait to hang this one up in my classroom!

Nothing’s official without a certificate, right? Seriously, cannot wait to hang this one up in my classroom!

All of us Ambassadors!

All of us Ambassadors!

The whole week was a lot of work, and at the end of it my brain was exhausted (as were my feet, Atlanta is hilly!). But this was such an inspirational experience. Everyone we met there is so passionate about their work and you truly get the feeling that they are in it for the greater good. It also made me realize the influence that us lowly teachers have when it comes to public health. We really have a chance to make a positive change. My very strong suggestion to you is to keep an eye on this program and when applications open for next summer, APPLY! Here’s the info: CDC Science Ambassador Program