Professional Learning

Is Now the Right Time for PD? (Ep. 218)

With so much happening right now, some teachers wouldn’t dream of working on professional development. Other teachers have already begun to dive in. Today, AOEU’s Director of K-12 PD, Amanda Heyn, joins Tim for a conversation on the best time for professional development. Listen as they discuss summertime PD, improving your teaching, and how you can make a decision as to what type of learning is right for you. Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

So a few weeks back, my former co-host, Andrew, and I did an episode where he answered some of the common questions that I’ve been getting from listeners recently. One of the things that he and I talked about was using this time of quarantine to dive a little bit more into our own professional development. Andrew and I both, during the course of that conversation, thought that it was not the best idea of the world, and we especially shouldn’t pressure ourselves to feel like we need to do more right now.

After our conversation is over, I was thinking a little bit. I was thinking, “Hey, he and I both have kids and families and not as much time as we would like, but there are a lot of other people who are in different situations who are looking for professional development, who are looking for things to do both right now and things to do over the summer.” Yeah, I heard from quite a few of those people. They told me what their situation was and it reinforced exactly what I was thinking, like for a lot of people, now is a great time to dive in to improve their teaching, to get better at what they do, so this episode is for them.

Now, I invited Amanda Heyn to come back on the show. She and I hosted the Thursday night webinars together throughout March and April. I also received a handful of messages there saying, “Hey, you guys are so good together. You should do a podcast together.” She’s already been on the podcast a few times, but that’s neither here nor there. She is here today.

Amanda is the Director of K-12 Professional Development for AOEU, so she is the perfect person to come on and talk about professional development opportunities, options, and what might be out there for you over the next few months. So let’s bring her on now.

All right, Amanda Heyn is joining me now. Amanda, welcome back. How are you?

Amanda: Thanks. I am doing pretty well today.

Tim: Good. It’s a day by day thing these days.

Amanda: It totally is, yes.

Tim: You never know. Well, you were back by popular demand. Everyone loved the webinars. I’ve gotten requests like, “Hey, Amanda needs to come on the podcast.” So here you are. I’m glad you can make it.

Amanda: Well, great. I’m so glad to be here.

Tim: Yeah, and I wanted to just talk about professional development and, I guess, we just dive right in.

Amanda: Sure.

Tim: We at AOEU, we always recommend PD over the summer because usually it’s a great time for it. However, the world looks a little bit different right now. So I was just hoping to get your thoughts on PD over the summer. Like, what are the pros and cons of professional development right now?

Amanda: Sure. Well, I guess it would say the only con I can think of is if it’s going to be something that causes you more stress. Like more stress is not one thing that we need right now. So if the thought of taking on professional development as an extra thing makes you feel tense or it’s something that you feel like you should do what you don’t want to do, I think it’s okay to table it until you feel differently. I think that’s true with anything right now, whether … You know it’s good for you or not. If it’s something that’s going to be adding stress to your plate, then it’s probably not worth pursuing at the moment because you’re not going to get as much out of it.

However, if you are feeling like you want to occupy your time with something or maybe you’re itching to get back into something like that, or on a certain day you feel up to it, then I think it’s a really good time for it because a lot of people right now they do have more time to dive into something. I personally have two kids at home. I don’t have that much extra time. But other people, situations, if we’ve learned one thing, is situations vary, and for different people they can vary sometimes within the same week.

So if you’re finding that you do have more time, then I think it’s a really good time to dive deep into a particular topic. Like, maybe you want to watch a couple of packs even, if you have access to PRO about new classroom management strategies, or maybe you do have time to attend an all day webinar that you find somewhere online. So I think that in that case it can be a great time to dive into something that’s for you and for your profession. Yeah.

Tim: Yeah. No, I completely agree. A couple points you brought up that I want to talk just a little bit about. One is, like you said, everybody’s situation is a little bit different. My kids are a little bit older so I do have time and I’ve been able to explore more things. I’ve been able to read more. I’ve actually gone to a couple of webinars that have been interesting to me. Being able to do that is really beneficial, I guess, in a lot of ways because even though we are separated, it’s a good way to stay connected to the things that interest me and the things that I love.

That actually brings me to my question too, because I think for a lot of people, we’re going into summer, we’re thinking about, “Oh, how can I maybe find some time to relax? How can I find some time to take care of myself?” But I think for a lot of teachers, we’re just so passionate about what we do, I think for a lot of teachers they feel like improving at their job is a form of self-care. Like it’s a way to take care of yourself, a way to make everything easier. So I guess there are so many things you can do, but I want to talk specifically about PRO. Like what kind of things can people look for in PRO that can kind of help improve their teaching?

Amanda: Sure. So I think that when we look for PD, it’s really easy to look for things that we know we’d enjoy, right?

Tim: Right.

Amanda: Like, if you love watercolor, you might be naturally drawn to see what else is out there about watercolor to learn, and that’s a good strategy. Why not dig into something you already love and see how far you can take it? We encourage our students to push their ideas to the nth degree to see what else might come of that. But I would also challenge people to think about things that maybe they’re not so enamored with. What topics can you look for that would address a growth area for you? So I liken this to …there’s been a ton of talk about self-care recently, like in this time. It’s like take a bubble bath, paint your nails; like eat the cake.

But I read something that really resonated with me the other day, which was that true self-care looks like the less glamorous stuff like going to bed early to make sure you get enough rest or making a healthy breakfast so you feel good all day, sort of like parenting yourself, which I thought was really smart and really insightful and probably very true. So I think the same idea can be applied to something like this. So instead of maybe thinking about what would you enjoy the most, maybe think also or additionally about what would actually be the most helpful or impactful in your classroom. So taking some time to take, with love, but like a critical lens to your teaching practice and say, “What are some areas you know you could improve to make your teaching life easier and/or make your students’ experience better in your classroom?”

So it could be finally learning how to read and address IEPs and work with paraprofessionals to help your students with special needs. We have two packs: one about IEPs and one about paraprofessionals. That would be a really good partner packs to look at if that’s something you want to do. Or, it could be taking time to really dive into your assessment and grading system, and learning how to make tweaks to streamline that. That we have a pack called Expediting Your Grading Process, that would be great. Or, maybe you want figure out how to gather data in your room so you can better advocate for your program. Like, do any of those things sound exciting? Like the packs you might-

Tim: No.

… Choose first. Like no, however, they could have really big impacts on how your year runs for you and your students. So I think that there are a lot of really fun things in PRO. There’s a lot of great media-based packs, and I encourage people to obviously check those out. But there’s a lot of hidden gems, I think, that maybe teachers wouldn’t go to first, but that might be really surprising in the ways that they could be helpful for you and your students.

Tim: Yeah, that’s awesome. Thank you for taking all the thoughts that I was blathering about and just like putting them and giving them some focus. But no, I think that is a really good point. That has always been my summer goal is to improve on something I’m not as good at. I remember one summer back before we had lots of awesome convenient PD, I was like, “You know what? I’m really bad at watercolor. I don’t like watercolor. I’m bad at teaching it.” We don’t do anything because I don’t like it and I’m bad at teaching it. I’m like, “I need to improve on this.” So I spent the entire summer like practicing watercolor, and reading books, and watching YouTube videos, and just putting all that time in. Then all of a sudden, I don’t know if I would say I enjoyed it, but I got so much better at teaching it and my kids enjoyed it more, and it just made for such a better experience.

If you can do that with even just a handful of things, maybe it’s just one or two things, you can make your next school year so much easier and so much better. So I think that’s some really, really good advice there.

Amanda: Yeah. It’s funny, there is a … I mean this is going way back in the AOEU archives, like maybe if you were reading when it was a blog, but this idea isn’t new, and Jessica Balsley actually had a really good article called … It was something like, Do You Have A Bias In Your Own Curriculum? I think her example might have been weaving or ceramics, I can’t remember. But I think this idea that we get stuck in what we know and what we like, and that can be great because, like I said before, like you can really do a lot if you like something and you enjoy it, but addressing that whole is important because not all of your students might share your same bias. Like some students might really want to learn watercolor, and if you’re not teaching it to them, like they’re not going to have the best experience that they can have in your class. So, anyway, I’m glad you learned about watercolor.

Tim: Yeah, well no, and it works, just being able to do that because I talk all the time about how kids get excited about things that you’re excited about. I think it is important though to still realize that your opinions are not the only ones out there. So I think just giving kids the opportunity to learn about everything, whether or not you enjoy it, is a worthwhile goal.

All right, so Amanda, I guess I want to ask you next, you talked about packs on IEPs and making data manageable and some things that are intimidating or maybe things you don’t want to dive into right away. So can I get your advice on maybe how to ease in to PRO. Like, are their packs for people that just want to dip their toe in, or, like, do you have advice for people who are just wanting to get started, or recommendations for packs to begin with?

Amanda: Definitely. But first I have to say, you would think the IEP pack would not be enjoyable, but it is with Shannon facilitating it.

Tim: That’s true. It’s actually really entertaining. And people who … Yeah, people who listen to this podcast, they know Shannon, they know how she can make topics that maybe aren’t quite as exciting. She makes them really fun and really entertaining. She’s great on video, so I maybe got ahead of myself. That actually is entertaining.

Amanda: However … I understand your overall point. We do always try to make … I mean that’s the beauty of PRO I think, too, though, because you would think that would be intimidating and it’s really not, because of the structure of PRO, how it’s broken down into short videos and the downloads, like any topic can be accessible. However, if you do not want to start with IEPs, which I also understand, yes, I think I have some other things that would be exciting for you.

So I’m going to go and take away everything I just said about growth areas and say start with something you like. Like if this is your first time in PRO and you’re just trying to get a feel for what it’s all about, definitely choose something that you’re very interested in. So there are a lot of awesome media-based packs in the library.

So some of my favorites I guess would be if you’re thinking about things that could help you if you are not back in your classroom in the fall and/or you’re cycling in and out of your classroom, we just did one called Exploring Visual Journals at the Secondary Level, which I think is great because visual journaling obviously combine some introspection on the part of the student. There’s a lot of writing involved and also artwork. In that pack, Jennifer Russell talks about how to create a junk journal, which might be something that’s really appealing to students using non-traditional materials at their house. Also, just you might start a visual journal practice of your own during this time, which would be cool.

We also, another recent pack that we put out is called Collage for Early Elementary, which I think is in the same boat, in that kids could … although that pack was conceived of and shot before this all happened, there’s a lot of things that are crossover and applicable to this situation, and some project ideas and techniques that I think students may be able to handle at home depending on what they have access to.

Then the final one I think that’s really fun for this time is Creating with Unexpected Materials. Just Andrew McCormick, so again, if you’re a fan of the podcast and have been listening for a long time, you want more of Andrew. Like his brain works in a different way, I think, than even most art teachers?

Tim: Yes.

Amanda: So seeing what he does with just interesting materials could provide some really cool inspiration for you to bring to your students. Then if you are back in your classroom or when things are a little bit more “normal,” whatever that means, there are some really fun ones that maybe you didn’t learn in your teacher training. So I’m always looking for like I had to take one printmaking course. I don’t know screen printing very well. I know the basics, but we have a really great pack that goes through step by step how to do that, or a black light art if you want to do something really innovative. Or, we have one called Innovative Clay Methods that just goes through all these things that I didn’t even know was possible or were possible until I walked to that pack.

So I think all of those are great media packs. Then beyond that, I think if you’re looking to dip your toe in, in a meaningful way, some other things that we might have that would interest you during this time specifically might be things like … We have a pack called Mindfulness in the Elementary Art Room. We have one about social emotional learning and one about motivating reluctant learners, which I know a lot of us are dealing with. You can’t get kids to engage when they’re three feet in front of you and now you’re trying to get them to engage through a computer screen. So I think those packs would be great.

Then there’s also a really good one that’s yours called creativity Exercises for Every Level, which I think would be cool for teachers who might have students that don’t have a lot of access to supplies, but you still want to get them thinking in a creative way. There’s a lot of paper and pencil activities in that pack, idea generators, but things that kids could do to just stretch and grow their brains in a different way.

Tim: I was just going to say a lot of the ideas in that pack are things that can transfer online even if you’re just looking for something to finish out the year, some simple creative exercises. That’s a great place to go.

Amanda: Yep. So I think there’s a lot of really more palatable pack, should we say off the top based on their titles, that teachers would find really enjoyable. Again, we have a lot of great filters in the PRO Library, so if you’re looking for something specific, we have filters about connections, things like 21st century learning or design thinking or cultural competency. We also have a new filter that we just put out where you can actually filter based on specific media instead of all media. So if you’re looking for something specific, check out those filters at the top of the PRO Library to help you narrow things down.

Tim: Yeah, that’s awesome. Okay, just one last question before we step out of here. Can you talk a little bit … I mean you just mentioned a couple packs that had just come out, but can you talk either about things that have just come out in May or what’s coming in the next month or two that you’re excited about or you think people should look out for?

Amanda: Yeah, well, it’s a really great question: what’s coming in the next few months? As you may … I don’t know, if you follow us on social, you may have seen, I did a story about like behind-the-scenes of PRO and, in general … well, we always need to go somewhere to film someone. So, as you can imagine-

Tim: But that’s hard to do right now, yeah.

Amanda: It’s a little tricky, but we’re really trying to stay on top of things. We have a ton of shoots planned for this summer that I’m super excited about. We have some packs specifically related to distance learning because we want to be able to have something in the PRO Library to support teachers in the future if this issue comes up again or if we’re stuck in this holding pattern for the next whoever knows how long. So we have a pack about planning engaging projects for distance learning and making working from home working for you. Personally, I’d love to be able to get those out to people sooner rather than later. It depends on when we can get out and film.

But other than that, we do work months and months out so we do have some exciting content banked. One that I’m pretty excited about is Connecting with Your Secondary Students by Jennifer Russell. I just think she has so much amazing stuff to say about that. If you were at any of the, or at the webinar that she presented at, she just has a passion for really going above and beyond or thinking of creative ways to stay connected with her students. So I think that’s going to be an exciting one. We have one about growing your art program, so kind of an advocacy pack, which I think will be important in the upcoming months. Yeah, so we definitely have things that we’re excited to release and hopefully also some things that we can get filmed and get out to people so we can be as helpful as we can.

Tim: All right, awesome. Amanda, thank you so much. We appreciate all of the advice, all of the insight and the recommendations for where you can get started. I appreciate your time and, hopefully, we can have you back again soon.

Amanda: Thanks. I would love to come back.

Tim: All right, thank you to Amanda. That was a fun conversation and good insight into everything that’s available. Before we wrap up, let’s chat about some other professional development options because, honestly, if you made it this far into the episode, it’s probably something that you’re looking for. So whether you need grad credit this summer, just some PD hours, or maybe you’re even considering working on a master’s degree, check out the courses from the Art of Education University. There are over 20 online courses including eight hands-on studio courses, and they are designed to help art teachers at every stage of their professional career. This includes our newest one credit hour course called Teaching K-12 Art Online. Great course. People are very excited about it and a lot of good things are happening in them. But in addition to all of those courses, whether you’re looking to develop a new art curriculum, get help with fundamentals in your classroom, incorporate some new tech, or just brush up on your own skills. there is a course that is ready for you. So see what’s available, what interests you, and what you may want to sign up for at, and there are new sections beginning every month.

Then, finally, one last thing: check out the AOEU website tomorrow. There is a great article publishing by Janet Taylor that is called How Taking a Graduate Course is Saving Me Right Now. It’s a great article and just another perspective on how doing a little bit of PD can be really helpful to have just at this time. So if that piques your interest, the article is definitely worth your time. That will do it for us today, so thank you.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you as always for listening, and we will talk to you again next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.