This is my latest article in a series on owning your professional learning.
When we think of professional development, it’s easy to think of skills you might acquire, concepts you might learn, or ideas you might explore. However, professional development is bigger than this:
Professional development includes your attitudes, beliefs, and habits. It’s about your professional identity. This includes sharing your expertise and your experiences with the larger community. In other words, sometimes you might be reading books, blogs and articles but sometimes you might also write those pieces. You might listen to a podcast but you might start one of your own. You might attend conferences, webinars, or courses but you might also share your craft learning experiences for others.
Regardless of your approach, the idea is that one of the best forms of professional development is to create content that you share with others. When this happens, we move from a top-down model to a more connective, democratic model of professional learning. Here, we are able to honor the expertise of fellow educators.
The more you share with others, the more you grow in your own professional learning. Here’s what I mean. The more you blog about your experiences, the more reflective you grow in your practice. This can help improve metacognition and help you refine your approach to teaching. The more you advocate for change, the more likely you are to share better insights, affect local policy, and ultimately bring awareness to critical issues. As you share new perspectives, you gain a more nuanced understanding of what you believe and a deeper understanding of your values and beliefs. The more you share practical strategies, the deeper you’ll understand the craft of teaching. After all, sometimes the best way to learn something at a deeper level is by teaching it to others. Moreover, as you engage in the act of content creation, you grow more empathetic to your students as they engage in design thinking and project-based learning. You can empathize with their fear and help provide stratgegies for creative risk-taking. You gain a deeper understanding of the creative habits students need to form.
You might be thinking that you’re not “enough” of an expert to share your voice with the world. But it’s not about being the ultimate expert. It’s about sharing your ideas, insights, and experiences with others. What you have to offer is a unique lens based on your unique experience. The world needs your voice.
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Contributing to a Participatory Culture
With digital tools, it is easier than ever to share your voice with the larger world. This might include providing practical tips or even free resources for fellow educators. It might involve teaching concepts. But it might also be about sharing your experiences and simply telling your story so others can know that they aren’t alone in a profession that often feels solitary.
Henry Jenkins describes these as “participatory cultures.” He includes the following elements:
- Low barriers to participation
- Strong support for sharing
- Informal mentorship
- Members who believe their contributions matter and value the participation of others
- Social cohesion
Participatory cultures are often creative and open rather than consumer-oriented or closed. They are multi-age, interest-based, and centered on shared interests. Participatory cultures remind us that creativity isn’t a solitary endeavor. It is nearly always to and from a community. Great ideas rarely happen in isolation. Instead, they are a part of the constant sharing back and forth of what we are learning, doing, and making. This is why it’s so valuable to show our work.
Nine Ways to Share Your Voice as a Teacher
There are so many different ways for you to share your voice with a larger education audience. Here are just a few:
- Write a book. This option takes a significant investment in time. However, when you write a book, you take a deep dive into a topic and gain a deeper understanding of the ideas and their implications for educators. Often, you have a more nuanced understanding of the research and theory and how those apply to specific teaching strategies.
- Write an article. If writing a book feels too daunting, consider writing a single article for a larger educational blog or magazine. I’ve written for Edutopia, Educational Leadership, and Education Week. In each case, the submission process is pretty straightforward. You could also go more academic and write a journal article.
- Create a blog. Figure out a set of topics that interest you and begin blogging. You can go more personal or more practical. There are many options on platforms. However, I prefer going the self-hosted WordPress option for the flexibility and functionality in design.
- Start a podcast. You could do an interview-based podcast or you could simply record yourself speaking. My podcast is essentially me reading my blog posts aloud with some improvisation mixed in. It doesn’t have to be super complicated or highly edited. If you have a self-hosted blog, you can set up the feed to go to Apple Podcasts and have the whole thing set up in a day or two.
- Launch a YouTube Channel. You could create instructional / how-to videos using screencasting or annotated slideshows. Or you could share your thoughts in a daily or weekly vlog that you shoot with your smart phone. A more complex option would be to create sketch animation videos.
- Create and share resources. You might not feel like doing a podcast or writing on a regular basis. However, you might want to create classroom resources that you share with others. It might be as simple as a rubric or as complex as a full curriculum.
- Conduct online trainings. You could create online courses, webinars, or meet-ups where you share specific teaching strategies with fellow teachers.
- Participate in a professional organization. There are so many great educational organizations you could join and work with as a form of advocacy and professional development. Here, you could share your voice through things like community organizing or policy work.
- Engage in social media: We’ll be taking a deeper dive into this topic later in this series. But with social media, you can connect with the larger educator community and create groups on Facebook or chats on Twitter. You can share and advocate on platforms like Instagram, SnapChat, and TikTok.
In all likelihood, you’ll find multiple platforms for sharing your voice. But the key thing is to find a few that work for you and give yourself the permission to avoid platforms that aren’t a great fit.
Sharing Your Journey
When I was a kid, I loved watching reality TV. Okay, it wasn’t really reality TV. It was PBS. However, I would watch an entire season of This Old House, as Bob Vila walked viewers step-by-step through a cumbersome restoration process. This never included a “choose these three options” or “surprise ending.” Instead, the homeowners were part of the process; and, on some level, so were the viewers. Although the progress was slow, I felt like I actually learned how home improvements happen. True, you didn’t get the “big reveal” that you get on HGTV shows.
This was the same way I felt watching Bob Ross paint happy little trees. I knew there were better artists out there. My mom had taken us to museums with famous paintings. But I loved watching Bob Ross. The more I watched Bob Ross, the more I wanted to paint on my own.
The same goes with the segments on Wonderful World of Disney, where I got the chance to see how they animated the films. I loved seeing the painstakingly slow process of animation. I also loved watching the field trips with Mr. Rogers, when we would leave his neighborhood and visit a factory or a shop to learn about how they made crayons or built a table.
You would think this demystifying element would destroy the magic, but that’s not what happened. Instead, I realized that making is magic.
I felt inspired.
I remember as a child looking around my house at one point and realizing, “Holy crap, someone made this stuff. Someone started with an idea and made a design and now it’s in our house.” I wanted to learn more about how things were made. And, ultimately, that curiosity inspired my creativity.
The same is true for teachers who share their experiences on blogs, videos, podcasts, and books. When teachers share their stories and give a “behind the curtain” look into the classroom, it can help inspire other teachers.
Austin Kleon describes this as “showing your work.” It’s the idea that we should share our creative journey with others. It’s what happens when you make videos showing your creative process or when you share snapshots of your work on social media. It’s what happens when you put yourself out there in a creative community. I love this quote from Kleon’s book Show Your Work:But it also goes much deeper than simply showing how something is done. Educators who openly reflect on their journey can also help fellow educators make sense out of their own beliefs, values, and practices. When teachers are vulnerable, it can open help fellow teachers internalize the idea that it’s okay to be imperfect. In fact, we can all grow from our mistakes. When I read certain reflective bloggers, I leave feeling less alone; like there is someone out there who gets me and who understands my experiences. This is what I love about Pernille Ripp’s blog and Pocketful of Primary’s vlog. It’s why I love the way Jon Harper shares his mistakes and models vulnerability on his blog and podcast. It’s what I loved about Jed Dearybury’s read-alouds and Sarah Thomas’s inside looks at being an educator and a publisher. I have always loved reading Jose Vilson’s blog where he reflects on being a math teacher in New York City. As you share your experiences, you often end up advocating for what you believe — which is true of each of the aforementioned educators.
Advocating for What You Believe
There are so many stories of how awful schools are and how out-of-touch teachers are. However, when students share their learning journeys with the community, it changes the narrative by showing evidence of the great things happening in your classroom. Before the quarantine, my friend Tim Lauer walked around taking snapshots of the creative work his students were doing. As a principal, he advocated for his teachers by engaging in visual story-telling. This affirmed the creative voice of the students but it also honored the creative work of the teachers who worked as architects of innovation in his school. It wasn’t self-promotion. Nor was it branding. It was simply storytelling at its core. And it was awesome. It’s unclear what this will mean amid distance learning but the visual storytelling has been powerful. This is just one example. However, there are countless other principals and teachers who share the amazing work they’re schools are doing.
There is a powerful narrative right now telling the world that our schools are all broken and teachers are merely powerless pawns in the system. Cogs in a wheel in a factory style education system. It’s a popular theme in articles and news stories and even keynotes. But I don’t buy it. I think there are amazing creative things happening all around us if we’re willing to look . . . and when we’re willing to share.
Advocacy also means advocating for the changes we want to see in education. I love the way Jennifer Binis pushes my thinking on gender and power by relentlessly advocating for these issues. I love the way my former principal Raul Piña uses his platform to advocate against racism and for the rights of the most vulnerable in his community. I appreciate the way Ken Shelton and Sabrina Joy Stevens advocate for the dismantling of racism and white supremacy in our schools. And, as mentioned before, I love the way Jose Vilson shares his experiences while also advocating and organizing for social justice in schools.
So, sometimes you begin with reflecting on your learning and sharing your journey. But sometimes you share your values and beliefs and then advocate for change within the system.
Sharing Your Expertise
As mentioned before, sometimes you are a storyteller sharing your experiences and reflecting on your learning. Sometimes you are advocating for what you believe. However, sometimes sharing your voice is all about sharing your expertise. This can be hard for teachers to admit that they are experts on a particular aspect of teaching. But if you have insights and experiential knowledge, it isn’t arrogant to say, “I’d like to share what I know with you.” It can feel really arrogant but it’s actually deeply humble when you share your expertise. It takes a certain level of vulnerability to share practical resources with others because it’s automatically open for scrutiny. I love Jackie Gerstein’s blog because she provides specific practical resources on maker education. I love how Ross Cooper, Charity Parsons, and Trevor Muir, all share great resources for PBL. I regularly read Cult of Pedagogy by Jennifer Gonzalez.
My favorite bloggers, vloggers, and podcasters share their expertise with an approach that says, “I want to share something that worked for me. I can’t promise it will work for you. I’m not claiming to have the ultimate cure that will fix everything in education. But I thought I’d share this with you and you might find it useful.”
You might share big ideas, frameworks, or blueprints that other teachers can use. Or you might create actual curriculum or classroom resources that teachers can use with their students. You might even share your expertise on a particular topic and help teachers develop a deeper conceptual understanding while also learning new specific strategies they can use.
Edward Clapp, a researcher at Project Zero, reminds us to look at creative ideas as stories with their own biographies. Instead of focusing on a single founder, what you see is that great ideas are often the result of a network of information in a community of transparency. When you share your ideas and resources with others, fellow educators can build on those ideas and refine them. For example, AJ Juliani and I developed the LAUNCH Framework. I have created free design thinking challenge videos that go with them. However, a group of teachers in Australia developed a LAUNCH rubric that students can use as a self-assessment tool. I created the Wonder Day project and gave it away as a free resource but then a group of teachers tweaked it and improved it and added even better language support tools that they use in their districts.
Note that many educators blend personal reflection, advocacy, and practical resources. You don’t need to find one single approach and stick to it. After all, sharing your voice is deeply personal and idiosyncratic. Your voice is about your expertise, your values, your beliefs, and, ultimately, your identity. In some cases, it might not always be safe to share certain thoughts in certain spaces. However, when you do share your voice with the larger community, you are able to grow professionally while also helping others in the community.
Free Course: Create a Blog in a Week
If you’re interested in creating a professional educator blog, I’ll be offering a free course in August. It will be 100% self-paced and 100% free. Each day, I’ll walk you through the Blueprint for Blogging (a framework for professional blogging) and provide step-by-step instructions with the final goal of having a finished blog by the end of the week. If you’d like to pre-order it, please share your email below and I’ll send you all of the login information once it goes live. You’ll also be signed up for my weekly newsletter where I share strategies, ideas, and resources.