March 25, 2016 by

Nerd Out: Finding Professional Development Opportunities That Inspire Lifelong Learning

Learning for Life: It's Not Just for StudentsBy Tamera Musiowsky-Borneman

Lifelong Learning: It's Not Just for StudentsRemember when the term “nerd” was one you didn’t want to be associated with? Well, now I spend a lot of time “nerding out.” I’ve always been excited for a new school year to start, as a student and as a teacher. New supplies, new ideas, new students, new learning. I’m still the nerd I’ve always been. I loved school my entire life, and after 16 years in education, I’m still learning every day. I’ve been a student, teaching assistant, classroom teacher, instructional coordinator and coach, grade team leader, and school team leader, and every role required its own set of learning experiences.

Because I’ve moved around in my career, I’ve experienced different types of professional development (PD). Each was valuable in its own way, but some were far better than others. In recent years, there has been a shift from “sit-and-get” PD to professional learning communities (PLCs) or professional/personal learning networks (PLNs). The shift is inspiring. Now I get even more excited to nerd out with my colleagues and read, share ideas, plan, and reflect.

When I think back to the sessions I would attend years ago, I realize that they were very program specific. Although some strategies were general enough to use across disciplines, there just wasn’t enough of that for me. I would get excited to implement programs and put my own twist on things. But the sessions seemed to be more about teaching programs rather than kids.

I knew I had to be open minded about programs I was learning about and morph them into something that would work for my kids. Did professional development make me want to go and learn more about a certain program? Yes and no. Yes, because I wanted my students to benefit from a program I invested my time in learning. And no, because the learning was quite narrow. Did learning a program set me up to learn for life? Not really.

It’s like teaching concepts versus teaching topics. From which do you get more bang for your buck? Research and my pedagogical beliefs say that concepts win. Just as I want my students to engage in deep learning, I, too, want to be engaged in professional learning that makes me want to nerd out. I want my PD experiences to get me to think big and transfer my learning across disciplines, school settings, and cultures.

In the last three years, a shift in professional learning opportunities has motivated me to go far beyond what I do during school hours or in the school building. I’ve always been involved in after school activities or school events, but I didn’t feel overly motivated to learn much more than I had to for a variety of reasons.

A big reason why I felt resistant to extend myself professionally was because I didn’t have a choice in what I was learning. I wanted the opportunity to learn something because I wanted to, not because someone told me to. Isn’t that the way with our students, too? Don’t our students become more invested in what they are learning when they have a choice? I’ve always been driven to take professional learning opportunities when they are presented to me, but I’m even more passionate and driven when I find something that interests me. The interest alone makes me want to nerd out. And now, because our lives are filled with devices and social media, professional learning opportunities are so accessible. Nerding out has become a larger part of my life in a much easier way.

If you’re looking for a few ways to nerd out and take part in professional development that can set you up to learn for life, consider the following suggestions:

  1. Participate in a variety of learning opportunities that are accessible within your lifestyle–that is, Twitter chats, webinars, and other things you can do from your couch in your sweats.
  2. Attend sessions, conferences, workshops, and edcamps that are aligned to your pedagogical beliefs. Why? Because you’ll drink the Kool-Aid! You’ll buy the books. Trust me, I’ve never left an edcamp or workshop without my Amazon cart full.
  3. Read! Deepen your understanding of concepts and how to teach them, rather than learning how to teach a program. You will be amazed at the amount you can learn from these kinds of reads—and how much you will learn from your kids when you teach this way.

Don’t be afraid of being a nerd. We all have a little in us. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be teachers.

Log onto the ASCD website for additional resources to help you strengthen your professional practice.

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Tamera Musiowsky-Borneman currently teaches primary school at ISS International School Singapore. She is an active member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders Class of 2014. Previously she worked as a preK instructional coordinator and coach for NYCDOE’s Division of Early Childhood Education. She also taught elementary students and lead teacher teams at Alain L. Locke Magnet School for Environmental Stewardship in Harlem.