Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Best Summer PD

Imma go ahead and spoil my Big Point right up front, then work backwards-

The best summer PD is whatever works best for you.

We go on and on about personalized learning, student-centric classrooms, getting the students where they live rather than where we want, passion-based learning. Then teachers get three choices. Teacher summer options are laid out like the In N Out menu. You can have a burger with one patty, a burger with two patties, or you can go to Wendy's.

Here's the thing about posts like this- I know you know the options are out there and they are up to you. You are a smart, savvy reader, that's why you're here. That or Google really screwed up. In which case- Welcome. I know you know that you can choose any path you want for your summer break. So why write this?

Because too often the conversation in education breaks down along hard lines. This or That. A or B. Luke or Rey. Rock and roll all night or Party every day. And that's some nonsense perpetrated by people who want to reduce education to its simplest parts and pretend that it's Just That Easy. Because education is a complex machine of an operation with a million moving parts, and teaching means driving your own machine while staying inside the larger machine. As Lord Vetinari would say, "Wheels within wheels, Commander Vimes."

There are as many ways to be a good teacher as there are to be any other kind of artist. To each their own. So what are our normal options?

There's the Education Conference. A oft-over-priced yet self-funded trip to a destination with thousands of other teachers, as well as people who won't put "teacher" in their title but slip "educator" in the list somewhere near the back. For three or four days we rush from session to session, trying to absorb as much as possible while avoiding the commercials disguised as learning opportunities. Soon we feel like the boy in that famous Far Side cartoon.
So much to take in, so much to remember, and so much time between hearing all of this stuff (are we learning all this stuff? I thought Sit and Git was bad teaching, but that's a lot of sessions) and the start of school. Little tip from me to you, dear reader, about how I deal with that last bit- I do take notes on a Doc (harder to lose that paper) but more importantly I note down one Big Idea that I really want to remember to implement when school starts again in my Google Calendar, and I set it to remind me the second day back from break. That way I'm mid-planning, mid-set up and blingidy-blingidy-bling reminder from Past Doug. Thanks, Past Doug. You're the best.

Of course, the real value of conferences is the hallway conversations. Meeting people you might only know through social media, trying to put faces to profile pictures and names to screen names. Now, I think we can absolutely have complex, detailed conversations on twitter and I think the excuse that "this platform isn't built for that" just means you're not trying to word hard enough, but there's nothing like sitting down for some coffee and talking story. Teachers talking to teachers in a free environment is, in my mind, the best professional development. Hanging out. Why even pay for the conference? Just bandit it and hang out. (Dear conferences who might at some point want to hire me- That was a joke.)  Especially if we're willing to have those harder conversations like Jose Vilson, Rafranz Davis, and Pernille Ripp, among many many others, push for. Oh, and in those conversations, shut up and listen real good. But Doug, then it's not a conversation if I'm just listening. Yeah, it still is. You know what I mean.

Oh, and as an aside from that real conversations thing- A real conversation means that when someone pushes back on you or tells you that what you said requires more thought, that's not an attack. Push-back isn't negative. But that would be a whoooole other post. Anyway...

So that's conferences sorted. There's also the Professional Reading to do. Find an education book or three, crack that spine, and bust out the hi-lighter. But what books to read? There are so many options. Here's a suggestion from me to you- Go Broader. Move away from the white guys, and yes I'm saying that as a white guy who would really like you to read his books too. Not every professional learning book needs to be about school culture. Positive culture is good. Yes, good, ok. Imma link to this list with the explicit admission that I've not read most of these books and need to also, and this is a very very incomplete list of books I should read and I want to be told more (throw them in the comments) and I will also continue to actively look for more on my own. It's not someone else's job to tell me what I should read. I'm a grow'd up, just like you. I just listened to this Ologies podcast on language (which you should listen to, it's great) and there's some great reading suggestions on that site too. English With an Accent is sitting in my Amazon cart.

Now watch as I deftly segue from that summer professional development option into my next. Check it, this will be good.

Speaking of reading, reading purely for pleasure will also reap major rewards in professional life. For example, Lin-Manuel Miranda, he of Hamilton fame, famously got the idea for his smash-hit, unfathomably brilliant musical while pleasure reading the book Hamilton by Ron Chernow on the beach. It's almost like taking your foot off the gas and nothing thinking about your job allows you brain to relax and solve problems without you standing over it tapping your foot. Let your brain work at its own pace, maaaaaaan. Give it a break.


Don't think about teaching. At all. It does not make you a bad teacher. I'm serious, try to go a week without looking at something and trying to figure out how you could use it in class next year. I know it's hard, it's hard for me too. Yes, this is what we do. Yes, this is more than a job for most of us. Yes, it's hard to turn it off. Try anyway. Great artists take breaks too. Step away from the white board, let go of the guilt, and relax. Don't do it. It does not make us bad teachers to not want to think about teaching. It makes us humans. I cannot cannot cannot stand the martyr teacher narrative or the savior teacher narrative, like we are supposed to burn on the pyre of education because that's what teachers do. That's how we get taken advantage of, by administration, by districts, by politicians. That's how we get screwed, by letting the narrative that we'd do it for free become to prevailing one. You can't bargain for better pay while allowing leaders to dictate how free time is spent. This is a hard job, a complex job. There's that cliche about teaching that it's like juggling chainsaws on a unicycle while singing opera and also you're on fire. Put down that chainsaw and listen to me. It's ok not to burn all the time.

Of course, I've set these up as three separate options as though they really are siloed, when really we're all smart enough to make the choices that are best for us. I am all about full rest, stepping away completely. But I also still write about teaching just about every week and I volunteered for a two-day and four-day training over the summer. Here's the thing though- I don't care if anyone else does this training. It changes my opinion on the teaching of my teammates not one iota whether or not they come. I've seen them bust their asses all year, I know they're dedicated. Like I know you're dedicated. Don't judge someone by how they spend their summer. It's break. Take it. You earned it.

Teaching is all about balance. During the work year and during the summer. Do a professional read, then a fun read. Read some comic books. Make with the sexy times. Watch Netflix all day for three days in a row. Learn something new. Build a thing. Play with your kids and remember that a three year old and a five year old are somehow 100x more exhausting that 31 fifth graders. Go to a conference but skip sessions for coffee with new friends, learning one on few, hearing their voices. Or don't do any of that because you've got an idea that's way better, and if you do throw it into the comments. Trust yourself. This is especially a message for new teachers who might read this- Don't Buy The Hype. Listen to your body, and trust it. You really don't need to finish that reading list you made.

Be hard line about nothing in education, except being hard line about nothing.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird TeacherTHE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher.


  1. 3 cheers for honesty. And for REAL conversation and all that entails! The summer PD push in US isnt same in Canada. I bet your post will be well-received by those scouring the PD menu!

  2. Doug, I am so thankful for this post. My heart is full. Too often we do completely forget ourselves in this process. It leads to burnout!
    Shannon Ossinger

  3. Thank you, yes! Just finished ISTE, and for the first time I didn't try to hit every single session, didn't get up early for every keynote. I had a tough, exhausting year, and while I'm grateful to be able to go to a conference (district paid), I also know that it can be an exhausting, disappointing few days. Got a few nuggets out of it, but spent more time connecting IRL with edu-peers, which was really nice.

    "I cannot cannot cannot stand the martyr teacher narrative or the savior teacher narrative, like we are supposed to burn on the pyre of education because that's what teachers do. That's how we get taken advantage of, by administration, by districts, by politicians. That's how we get screwed, by letting the narrative that we'd do it for free become to prevailing one."

  4. Laughed out loud and almost spilled by coffee over this --> "A oft-over-priced yet self-funded trip to a destination with thousands of other teachers, as well as people who won't put "teacher" in their title but slip "educator" in the list somewhere near the back."

    It's ironic how you'll rarely see teacher on the name badge at conferences like this. A lot of factors play a role. That being said, educators are often the people using the tech with the students. Thought the name badge thing was the same when I was at nctm back in April. You'd often see many titles of coach, specialist, administrator, consultant, ____ company. You'd also hear "back when I was in the classroom ..." Not a fan of those statements. Maybe it's just a title thing for that particular conference, but my gut feeling is no. This is why I'm in favor of edcamps or conferences/workshop models. Practicing what you're speaking about will always make someone more legit in my view.