Hacking (verb) [hak-ing]- Creative problem solving. Finding an unconventional solution to a difficult problem.

There is no shortage of contentious issues in education. You can debate instructional methods, how to arrange a classroom, enthusiasm vs experience, the value of whole language strategies and so on. But educators agree that traditional professional development (PD) doesn’t work very well.

Nothing gets a faster eye-roll from a teacher than being told that there’s a PD session you must attend. Teachers would rather stay in the classroom teaching than be forced to do a round of ice-breakers before listening to a consultant reading Powerpoint slides. This should concern anyone involved in education. Advancements and new ideas are announced daily and more than ever educators need to be armed with the latest research and methods.

Increasingly, educators are solving this problem by hacking their professional learning. Teachers have always stayed ‘current’ with professional journals, an occasional conference or a course in the summer but hacked PD is different. Hacked PD puts teachers in charge, is immediate, immersive and leverages the power of social media to create Personal Learning Networks (PLNs). It’s a change that’s attractive to many educators.

Last week’s Google in Education Summit in Waterloo, Ontario sold out early, forcing hundreds of others to ‘attend’ from home over the internet. On May 4th hundreds more will attend EdCamp in Hamilton, Ontario. On the same day there will be EdCamps in Boston, Birmingham, Detroit, Fort Wayne and North Carolina, and that’s the case on most weekends. There’s no requirement or incentive for educators to attend these events. They do so to become better teachers and to help others do the same.

Want more useful, meaningful, self-directed and convenient professional learning? Here’s how to “Hack Your PD”

  1. Begin With Twitter: The most accessible way to take charge of your professional learning is by using twitter. Fifteen minutes a day reading tweets will introduce you to more useful ideas than you can shake a stick at. The problem isn’t finding new ideas, it’s figuring out how to manage all the new ideas you have.

  2. Follow Your Passion: Whatever you love about teaching, find others who love that too and follow them. Established tweeters regularly share amazing resources and their own thoughts and questions about teaching. They’ll tweets things that make you think and reflect, which helps you grow. You’ll encounter ideas from outside traditional education channels. Experts, parents and passionate citizens have useful and helpful ideas and different perspectives.

  3. Share: Once you feel more comfortable you’ll want to share. It may be as simple as a tough day you had or something amazing that happened in class. From there it grows. You begin to share your thoughts, opinions and ideas. You find something cool and want to share it with others who freely shared with you. You’re now a member of a fully functioning Professional Learning Network (PLN).

  4. Attend An EdCamp: EdCamps are locally organized gatherings of people who want to share and learn about education. Many attendees come to just listen and learn. There’s usually no cost and the only expectation is that you participate as best as you can and share what you’ve learned (back to your PLN). The topics discussed are often determined by what participants are interested in on the day. It’s a fun, relaxed atmosphere unlike a traditional education conference. If a session you’re in doesn’t engage you, you’re encouraged to move on and find something that does.

  5. Attend A Workshop or Conference: Every weekend this month there are conferences and workshops I want to attend. There’s no shortage of opportunities to learn, and once you look you realize that the problem isn’t where to go, but what to miss. Going to workshops on something you’re passionate about is more engaging than a mandatory PD session. It’s also a great opportunity to meet those you’ve been sharing with on twitter. Face to face is always better than virtual and it helps cement your PLN. If you can’t make it to a conference participating via a twitter “backchannel” is the next best thing. Many at the conference will be madly tweeting via the hashtag, allowing you to think and discuss from home.

  6. Present: Presenting is a wonderful way to further your personal learning. It gives you feedback on your thoughts and ideas and helps to refine them. The motivation presenting to your peers provides is like a fire that purifies your thoughts. You learn which ideas are useful and which you need to rethink. Conference presenters are often given free entry, so you also learn from other sessions.

  7. Repeat: After each step return to twitter and share. Share your thoughts, opinions, questions and ideas with your PLN.  Feed it back and give to those who helped you along the way.

There are thousands of educators on twitter, hundreds of edcamps (all over the world), hundreds of conferences and workshops and more being added all the time. The potential of hacking PD to transform teaching and education is unlimited.

Aside from the personal benefits the most important reason to hack your PD sits in front of you every school day. Your students deserve the best and latest teaching methods and ideas you can find.

Teachers are the only ones who REALLY know what they and their students need. You should be the one in charge of your professional learning. Get hacking!