That PD feeling…

Like many educators around the world, I recently attended a Professional Development Conference. For me, it was literally this past Thursday-Saturday. It seems that Conference season is upon us and educators are hyping up, as this first semester is beginning to wind down. Do not get this confused though, although it may be “winding down” the energy level is steadily increasing as the holiday season is also in full effect.

Enjoying vendors and holding an alligator!

This week, schools around the United States will enjoy Thanksgiving Break. Some will also celebrate Grandparents Day, filling schools with several generations of families. Schools all over the world are heading into high holidays whether religious or secular, which in turn has an effect on students’ energy and anxiety levels as well as varying emotional states. Educators still have full plans for each day, standards to cover, intended learning outcomes, and culminating projects and activities. This is a high-stress period of the year on so many levels.

Educators take varying approaches to tackle the unique challenges the late autumn and early winter months bring. Some will throw their hands up and call many days a loss due to “the students’ behavior”. Some will maintain a tight ship, limiting any extra excitement, staying to the original course. Some will use this as an opportunity to use students’ heightened energy levels to envoke student voice and choice in their pedagogy and adjust their sails to the new waves of energy and excitement. No matter the avenue chosen by the educator, they are all risky for different reasons.

To me, with heightened stress for all parties within the schoolhouse, I would suggest this is one of the best times to participate in professional development short courses or conference sessions. Any time I participate in a self-selected professional development opportunity, I find my educational spirit renewed and a new wave of energy to take on the world with my students. Maybe I have just had 13 years of luck when it comes to professional development, but notice I also qualified it was self-selected. I will need a different post to delve into that intricacy though.

Each year, I attend and present at the Virginia Association of Science Teachers Professional Development Institute. I attend AND present. I think everyone should do both — every single educator has something great to offer. Yes, you do, and we all need to hear and experience it.

I want to learn from you. I’m serious.

Presenting and attending are both full of learning opportunities and definitely a source of professional growth. Maybe you aren’t ready to present, YET — but I challenge you to get there or just throw yourself in. Believe me, you will grow and those who attend will as well, whether you are aware of your influence or not. You have one, and I am betting it’s a positive one. If it isn’t — if you KNOW that, let’s dive in and make a change.

Back to the PDI, though. With each session I attended, I learned countless new ideas and exposed myself to the practices of several other educators within the same room. I have a sheet in my notebook dedicated to each session I attended with notes on things I heard, ideas it sparked for my classroom, a new collaboration, or to accomplish one or more of the goals I have for myself as an educator. This year, I presented three different sessions on three different topics within science. That’s the blessing and curse of teaching all disciplines of science. I currently teach K-5 Science and write/modify the curriculum for our PreK-5 program. That’s a whole lot of science and a large age span. I have a lot to learn and improve, but I also have a bit to share with others, so I do both of those any time I possibly can.

Learning new, engaging Chemistry labs!

Now, this is again, a season of high stress within schools and the perfect time to get a little renewal, refreshment for your educational soul, just in time to take advantage of your students heightened levels of excitement.

Yes, take advantage of that. That is my stance as an educator. This is an AMAZING time to tack on to what your students are thinking about, talking about, and daydreaming about and connect it to your content standards. If they WANT to talk about it — USE IT for goodness sakes. Let’s take an example from the last couple of years.

Fidget Spinners.

Wait, did I just hear you groan? I did. Let me tell you how I handled THE FIDGET SPINNER OUTBREAK of 2016–2017.

As I began seeing them trickle into the schoolhouse and hands of students, I began hearing the complaints from adults. This happened in my school and all over the internet. Laments about them being more distracting than helpful, memes popped up about “the fidget spinners of our time…”, articles appeared defending the use of fidget spinners, which were then countered by other articles lamenting their appearance. The point being, more than not, lamentations about them were everywhere. It’s comparable to the “No Skateboarding” signs in shopping centers and “Skateboarding is not a crime” bumper stickers that contended the signs banning the activity.

What does this have to do with anything? I’ll tell you, friends. I embraced it. honestly, a little bit to be contrary, a little bit to challenge myself, and a little bit to see what would happen if I turned the beloved toy into a STEM challenge in my laboratory. I began creating different fidget spinner models with legos for myself then decided — students want fidget spinners? They can totally make them and we will make this a “thing”.

The next day, my fourth-grade engineers came to the lab and all of the fidget spinners I made were on display. I walked around showing them off and they wanted them. I told them, they could absolutely have a fidget spinner — if they made it themselves. They had to plan, sketch, label, and have their design approved before touching the legos. That ALONE was enough to motivate most students. You always have a few that your initial enticing just isn’t good enough for — don’t worry, I would totally get them too. First, they did NOT want to be left out. Second, I added a component of making an advertisement for their models and the original hesitators were now on board. They wanted nothing more than to have the most exciting advertisement, but they could not do it without a model, so off to work they went. This was one of the most perfect design and engineering challenges to date. The secret: I used their own interests against them. Okay, that sounds bad — I think you know what I mean. This meant something to them, they wanted to be involved, and best of all — their conversations were now actually on topic! This is a big win. Shortly after beginning, I was combating those negative “kill the fidget spinner” lamentations with engaged students. That’s the power of using student voice and choice.

For some, ideas like this aren’t a natural part of their thinking or brainstorming. They need others to help with that. This is the beauty of self-selected professional development and is most useful when received at opportune moments.

Like, when it’s about to be THAT time of year. Each school is different, perhaps this isn’t a high-stress point of the year for you or your school. When it is most stressful? When would you best receive fresh ideas and a renewed educational spirit? I challenge you to seek our PD opportunities at those points. It is a common practice to load up on PD during the summer months which is great, you aren’t actively teaching then but you also do not have an active class with which to test your newly found spirit. I could actually argue both sides of this — but for now, let’s just use this as an opportunity to capitalize on the feelings that professional development give you at the moment and for a time just after it is complete. That renewed spirit and readiness to tackle the world with your students.

When was your last professional development? When is your next opportunity? Not soon enough? That’s okay.

My challenge to you, if this is a high-stress point for you in the schoolhouse is to find a way to renew yourself. This is for you AND your students. They deserve the very best you and YOU deserve the very best you.

So, friends, what will it be? How are you going to SOAR through this holiday season of heightened energy?

It’s not good enough to survive.

Let’s SOAR.

You deserve it.

Your students deserve it.

Join me THIS WEDNESDAY at 9pm EST for #KidsDeserveIt chat! @schnekser

Myself with Pam Northam, First Lady of Virginia. Fun Fact: when she left the classroom to support her husband in politics, I replaced her in the science laboratory. Talk about BIG SHOES to fill!



#ExpeditionSchnekser #OutdoorEdCollective #BoilingRiver #EducatorExplorer she/her #scitlap Founder @OutdoorEdColl National Geographic Grantee

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Becky Schnekser

#ExpeditionSchnekser #OutdoorEdCollective #BoilingRiver #EducatorExplorer she/her #scitlap Founder @OutdoorEdColl National Geographic Grantee