Professional Learning

What Do New Teachers Need to Know About PD? (Ep. 321)

In the fifth of an ongoing series of podcasts for new teachers, Janet Taylor joins Tim to discuss what new teachers need to know about their professional development. Listen as they discuss some of their best and worst PD experiences, their favorite types of professional development, suggestions for new teachers, and how you can adapt to try to make any kind of professional development worthwhile. 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.

Today’s episode is another one for new teachers. Over the past few months, Janet Taylor and I have been working to put together this series. We’ve done episodes on curriculum, classroom management, organization, and evaluations. Today, we’re going to talk about professional development.

One of the points we talked about repeatedly last time is that good teachers have the capacity and the curiosity for growth. And that’s exactly why we want good professional development!

So we’ll talk about where to find all of the best PD today. And as always, the disclaimer, if you know any first year, any new art teachers, even pre-service teachers, send them our way, we would love for more people to be listening to these episodes. AOEU has PRO Packs and FLEX resources, articles, YouTube series, guides, so many other things that can really be of assistance when you’re first getting started as a teacher. So, please send the new teachers you know to AOEU to check everything out. And maybe encourage them to attend the NOW conference in July, my very favorite PD for art teachers. And it may be the big event that I’m in charge of a couple times per year, which is why I like it so much. But Janet is here, so let’s bring her on now.

Janet Taylor, welcome back to the show. It’s great to have you back. How are you?

Janet: I am doing fine. We are moving into summer. It’s looking good.

Tim: All right. Good. I love summer, first of all. And then secondly, I always used summer as the opportunity to either get better as a teacher or get better as an artist. And I know a lot of people are very tired and very burnt out after the last couple of years. So, they may not be quite as ambitious, but that being said, summer is still the perfect time for professional development. So, I want to talk all about PD and what, I guess, new teachers need to know about PD. So, I guess before we begin, not even a great story, can I just tell you a story about my very first day of teaching and the professional development that that involves?

Janet: Please do.

Tim: All right. So, I am a young teacher, just out of college, 22 years old, and showed up to my first day of school. Well, not even school, the kids weren’t there yet, but first day of teacher training/professional development. I’m at an elementary school. I’m the only art teacher. I’m sitting with the other specials teachers with PE and music, and the principal is having them go through reading data from last year and figuring out how that reading data can be used to inform instruction. And then he looks at our table and says, “Oh, I forgot about you.”

So, the principal on my first day literally forgot about the special/elective/whatever you want to call us. And so, we had to just “collaborate,” I’m doing air quotes with collaborate, on maybe how reading instruction could apply to PE and music and art. And we just looked at each other and me being new and ambitious, I was like, “Hey, we could talk about collaboration.” I’m getting very excited about the possibilities and the PE teacher’s like, “I’m just going to focus on my coffee right now and just take the sip of it,” because he didn’t want anything to do with this. And I was like, “Okay,” but I was undeterred. And then I started talking about collaboration again and he looks at me again. He’s like, “Do you need me to get you some coffee too?”

Janet: Oh, wow.

Tim: I was like, “Oh, I got the hint. We’re not doing anything here.” And so, that was my very first introduction to what professional development was like for art teachers who are all alone in the building. And so, yeah, a principal that forgot about me and colleagues that had no interest in doing anything whatsoever. So, I guess that informed a lot of what I thought about PD at the beginning and gave me a lot to think about, about what we can do better. So, after monopolizing the first three minutes of the podcast, anything that you want to share? Do you have any terrible stories, any terrible experiences, or just thoughts about your PD experiences as an art teacher?

Janet: Well, what you said is pretty common, I think, amongst schools. Nope. I will say, you know how we say, we should always model what we want our students to do, right? You go into class and you’re teaching them pair share or whatever. And so, you’re like, “Okay, everybody, we’re going to do this.” A hundred percent of teachers in professional development do not want to actually participate in that, in their own professional development. I hate to say that.

Tim: No, teachers are the worst audience of all time.

Janet: They’re the worst. We can say that because we are teachers and so we are part of this, right?

Tim: Yeah.

Janet: For sure. So, I would say that in general, PD is challenging at the school or district level, right? Because most of the time, they are focusing on very specific data from very specific core subjects, English, math, science, whatever. And it doesn’t relate or translate to us, right? I think that’s our biggest heartache as art teachers. And so, they don’t always think, they being administrators or whoever’s in charge of that, they’re not always thinking about ways to connect it to different content areas in a creative way, even world languages, right? They struggle with the same thing. We’re all in the same boat with that really, right?

So, I would say the biggest heartache or frustration with PD is the exhaustion and fatigue that comes from sitting in day long or couple day long or whatever it looks like in your school PD, because you’re sitting there. You’re listening to what they’re saying. You’re trying to understand what’s being taught. And then you have to somehow figure out how that actually applies to you. And it might truthfully not or not in an authentic way.

So, I was recently in a training for student teachers where we were given how to observe student teachers, right? And so, they gave us this… No joke, it was an AP science class lesson. I think it was AP. It was very high level. And I as an art teacher was like, “I don’t even know the language that this is written in for me to then take this and say, I can apply the strategies that you’re talking about.” And I think that is a big problem for art teachers. So, I would say in general, it is important for us always to find PD that’s relevant or find ways to get out of the school PD, so that we can do what works for us.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s really hard, I think, sometimes to take that learning or take those examples and apply them to the art room. Sometimes there are natural fits. Sometimes you can stretch things a little bit, but yeah, there are times where you can’t do anything with the data that you’re given, just because it doesn’t apply to what we do. So, I guess, can we talk about strategies for how to deal with that? Can you maybe give me an example of sometime that you have or something that you have done to translate that PD between subjects from whatever you’re learning about to the art room? What does that look like for you?

Janet: Yeah, so years and years ago, so I was teaching in Chicago public schools and at the time, our focus was literacy, right? It was reading and getting students at grade level reading and whatnot. And so, that was a good example where across the board, the whole school was like, “We are going to focus on reading,” right? And in art, we didn’t have curriculum. We wrote our own curriculum, right? We weren’t given anything. There wasn’t a textbook to work from or maybe there was but it was super outdated or whatever, right?

Tim: Or just being an art teacher, you just ignore the textbook, because yeah, that’s just what you do.

Janet: That too, that too. So, I’m like, “Okay, how do we bring reading into our classroom?” And so, I was looking for articles on art and that’s impossible to find, articles that are, or at least at that time, at a readable level for high school students or below, right? It’s like super high level that sometimes I don’t even understand what they’re talking about, right? You’re talking about an artist or something like that, right? So, I tried to integrate this and we’re trying to do these reading strategies so that it was common, right? I want to say that I’m saying like earlier, it doesn’t even relate. We don’t even want to be part of this, but it does.

And so, it’s like, “How do you take what they’re doing so that it aligns across the school?” Because when students go from class to class to class of different subjects and they’re using the same strategies, it really does reinforce that learning and help them understand. So, that is important. I’m not saying disregard what your school is doing.

So, then as a department, we took information about this and we worked for literally, I think, two solid years to create this amazing visual literacy content that aligned with the claim and evidence that was the strategies being used across the school, right, in ELA and other areas. So, we used the critique process and we talked about how you can describe and analyze and interpret and how those turn into your claim and your pieces of evidence, which is funny, because I still use that today with even my AP student, right?

Tim: Yup.

Janet: But if you remember, there was a change and I think this was pretty a trend in education where then they started shifting from, “Oh, we’re going to integrate reading into every content in the same strategy,” and they changed it into this disciplinary literacy program across the board. And so, I started seeing that shift and we were very pleased because we’re like, “Well, this is exactly what we just did. Our text is now our artwork, right?” And so, we were like, “We are ahead of the curve. We got this.”

And I just have to plug and say that I feel like our teachers really should be consulted when addressing new PD topics by administration, because truly, we’re really good at unpacking the information and then repackaging it in a way that’s more applicable in a universal way across contents. Okay, but I digress. So, I just think it’s important to remember our capacity as art teachers to not sit in those meetings, like you said, where we’re like, “Oh, this doesn’t apply. I’m not going to do this.” But there is a piece of the fatigue that we have to be aware of. So, it’s like, “How do I translate it to make it work for us? And then how do I share that back out so that others can benefit from it?”

Tim: Yeah, that’s the thing. And I think, like you said, there’s the opportunity for our teachers to lead in this space, because not only are we good at amalgamating all of these different ideas and figuring out how to present them to our kids, we can share what we’re doing with colleagues. And so, for those people who don’t have a direct line from what the PD is into their classroom, we can share, “This is how I adapted this. This is how I use this with my students.” The teachers in other subject areas can learn from us. So, I would just encourage people if they have something good, like you said, to share it out with your colleagues and figure out how you can show them what you’re doing in the art room, because it can help across all kinds of different subject areas. Okay.

So, that actually leads me into my next question, which is a little bit about connecting with colleagues, connecting with other teachers. And I think one of the best ways that we can get professional development that’s specific to us in art is by connecting with other teachers around us. That can happen in a lot of different ways. It may be something very close to us, maybe something in the district, maybe something that you just do online.

So, I guess, let’s start with just the building level or the district level. How can we do that as teachers? How can we connect with other teachers in our building? How can we connect with other teachers in our district to find the right type of professional development and find what’s going to work for us? How can we connect with those colleagues that are close to us?

Janet: Well, so first of all, I would say it’s important to speak up to your administration and say, “This is what I need in order to be a good or excellent art teacher and to serve my students.” And so, sharing that I need time with my colleagues, during maybe an institute day, maybe there’s an hour where they’re focusing on another topic or something like that. And you can say, “I am not saying that this information isn’t important, but also or and also, I need an hour with my colleagues so that we can really take time and share.” I mean, that’s super important and you deserve that, right?

But in general, I think it’s important to get to know each other, whether at your building or in your district, however that works or different people, like you said, your other elective areas and it does take some work, right? You can’t just keep yourself in your own little bubble, in your own little room. That’s not going to help you. It’s not going to help your students. You actually have to make the effort to reach out to people and get to know them, right? I think getting to know what everybody values and what they’re really good at, because we all know that we have strengths and weaknesses.

Those are the people that you want to write down in your brain or on a piece of paper or something and say, “I know that this PE teacher is really good at managing a lot of different things going on at once.” And I’m thinking about adding stations to my classroom and I’m going to call on them to say, “Hey, how do you juggle all of this? What does that look like?” And PE teachers are masters at that. They have 90 kids in the past. It’s ridiculous, right?

Tim: Right.

Janet: So, that’s just one example, but of course, within your building, if you have multiple art teachers or in your district, I think it’s important. Again, I always like to come from a lens of humility and recognize that we don’t know everything and we’re not the best at everything. I mean, it does feel a little vulnerable to go up to somebody and say, “Hey, I know you’re really good at this. Can you help me with that?” But I think that’s an important thing to be able to do and connect with your colleagues in that way. As far as district, I think it’s really important to understand… For example, I teach a high school and in my community district, it was K through 12.

I think it’s really important to know my fellow teachers at the elementary level and at the middle school level, so that I can understand what they value, how they’re teaching, what kind of information that they’re providing students, and they in turn need to know what I’m doing, right? How am I starting off my students’ freshman year? What building blocks do they need to get there? What areas or holes that we’re not hitting as a whole district to support our students through AP and beyond or whatever your goals are, right? So, I think, sometimes our district will put us together for one time a year or something like that.

Tim: Yeah. You get 9:00 to 12:00 one day for everybody to meet.

Janet: And half the time, you just want to say “Hi, hey, how was your family?”

Tim: Right, just catch up. Yeah.

Janet: But I think those moments are just as valuable, right? I think when you talk to somebody on even a non-teaching level, you’re getting to know them and what their interests are so that you can call on that later. So, yeah.

Tim: No, I think that’s all really important. I would just echo the point that if you are in a district that has multiple teachers, you’re going to have all of those different strengths and you need to not be afraid to ask, like you said, for help or for guidance and you need to not be afraid to lean on those colleagues for their expertise. And it just worked out for me. In my district, I’m pretty good at drawing and teaching drawing and a good friend of mine is excellent at painting and somebody else was great at ceramics. And so, we just play off of each other and help each other out with those things. And you may come to find that everybody has a weak spot.

Nobody’s great at printmaking, for example. You can each research little parts of that and then collaborate on learning together. And I think just, like you said, getting to know everybody and making use of everyone’s strengths is always going to be worthwhile. Okay. So, outside of PD days, outside of what’s happening in your school or your district, there are still a lot of opportunities for development. I know when I was a few years into my career, the State Art Education Association was a great resource for me, not only for learning, but also, for sharing out and sharing some of the stuff I was doing. I really appreciated all those connections.

And then the same thing at the national level, I was finally able to go to a national NAEA conference and it was an incredible opportunity, again, to learn from people and also share some of the things that I have been doing. So, I guess, have you had similar experiences for state level, for national level things? Has that been worthwhile to you throughout your career for development?

Janet: Yeah, I think at the state level, it’s usually pretty great, because it’s more cost effective oftentimes than at a national level, right? You’re not traveling super far. I live in Illinois, so we’ve got a lot of dense Chicago area, but a large part of our state is pretty rural, right? And so, it’s also interesting because you get all of those same perspectives or different perspectives within that same community, but the conference might travel between South Central and North. And so, you can go maybe every other year, every couple years, whatever works for you, and still get that access or webinars, right? That’s happening a lot now especially because of the pandemic.

One of the silver linings has really opened up our online opportunities, I think, right? But at the state level, it’s great because you get to meet up with people that typically, you might see even at art shows around, competitions, et cetera, that you don’t normally get a chance to talk to or see and hear what they’re doing in their classrooms, right? And so, that’s a cool thing. And a lot of times, you can then collaborate with them, right? You bounce off ideas or working with students. A lot of times, I’ll be like, “Hey, can you critique my student’s work for AP and give them feedback?” And we do that vice versa either at the state or national level. In general, when it comes to going to conferences like that, I always feel a couple things, right?

So, when I first started off as a new teacher, I remember being like, “There’s so much out. There’s so much content.” I was a sponge, especially at the national level, because you’re getting so many different perspectives, which is pretty exciting. And then you can fan girl or whatever at different people and be like, “Okay, I really align with their views and I’m going to keep track of them and go to their presentations later or follow them on social media or whatever.” And then the other piece is as I’ve grown through my career, I go to these presentations and a lot of times, they’re aligning to what I am interested in, of course. I’m picking that, but I think I’m doing a pretty good job. Yes, I am a good teacher.

And I think, that’s important is to always not feel like a failure, because sometimes we can feel like that for great sense of time and to witness other teachers doing something similar or on the same path. It’s like a validation, right? Okay, I should have said this from the beginning, right? I know, you are like this too, but you and I love to learn. And so, I always feel like there’s just so many cool things going on in classrooms that I’m not privy to, that I can always find nuggets of information. So, even if I’m going to a presentation that I’m like, “Oh, I’ve seen this a million times,” or “I know all about this,” or whatever, I can always glean something from somebody else to bring back into my classroom or to think about in a different way, which I really love. Yeah, I guess that’s that.

Tim: Well, no, I have a couple things, that last thing that you said where I’ve been to a lot of presentations where I know the content already, but I’ll go to support somebody I know or to meet somebody I’ve been talking to online or whatever. And a lot of times, there is just that little bit of learning that can really help. Yeah, I know how to teach contour drawing and have that lead into cross contour and just whatever your curriculum is for drawing.

But then all of a sudden, you see this one thing that you maybe think about differently or this one thing that causes you to present a little bit differently in front of your classroom. And you can just pick up, like you said, those little nuggets of information that may not seem like a lot, but after you’ve been teaching for 10 or 12 years, you find new things all the time that can really help what you’re doing. And I think that’s always worthwhile.

Janet: Yeah. Sorry, there’s a couple things that made me think of this. So, I want to say also at the national level, because I was thinking more generally speaking, right? But at the national level, I also want to say that it’s very exciting to see bigger trends in art education, especially as you become a veteran teacher and are aware of what’s going on more. That is really interesting to watch and to take back and reflect on of, “Where were we 10 years ago? Where are we going now?” It’s fascinating to be part of that, right? Sorry, were you going to say something, Tim? I didn’t want to interrupt.

Tim: No, go ahead.

Janet: Okay, okay. And then of course, I also feel in the same regards that I’m not alone in how I’m feeling in my classroom, right? We’re always in a bubble. And so, I might be like, “Oh, my gosh. My students are really struggling with engagement this year,” and they’re like, “Oh, my God, me too.” Okay, what are you doing about this? And so, that brings me into the other piece that I want to make sure I make a point about is because PD for me has become not just about absorbing, being that sponge, and taking in information, but a lot of it is about talking about it with my colleagues and peers, right?

So, people that I might have met all over the nation, we might have lunch together or something and be like, “What did you see? Oh, I saw this. Oh, me too,” or “Oh, I wanted to see that and I didn’t get a chance to,” and then being able to talk about it is really, I think, the most valuable part of PD experiences, because it’s about synthesizing that information and figuring out where you lie on it, right? It helps you clarify what you’re trying to think about, what your decisions or pathways that you want to go, and consider different perspectives that you might not have otherwise, right?

Tim: Yeah. And just to tie this all together because a lot of thoughts running through my head and one of those is that national conferences seem very unattainable to a lot of people, especially when they’re first starting out. And we can talk a little bit more about that later as far as budget and what you’re paying for and all that. But circling back to what we said about state level things, it does give you an opportunity to make those connections and share ideas and play to each other’s strengths on a more local level.

And even if it’s not just the annual conference, whenever you have that in the fall or in the spring, a lot of times, state organizations will also do once a month Saturday workshops or every other month Saturday workshops, where teachers can just come and present different things they’ve been doing in their classroom. You can learn, you can share, you can make those connections that you’re talking about on the state level too.

And so, I would encourage everybody, if they’re looking for good PD, especially at the beginning of their career, look into what your state organization is doing, because not only are those state conferences every year really, really worthwhile, there’s a lot of other opportunities for meet and greets, for get-togethers, for Saturday workshop learning or whatever else. And so, there’s a lot out there and I think that can be really worthwhile for people. So, like I said, I would encourage everybody to check that out. Okay.

And then the last part of that, we dropped in a little bit about connecting online. You and I are both on Twitter a lot. A lot of people are on Instagram, great places to make connections. And we also both work for AOEU obviously. So, we, by default, find online professional development to be worthwhile. So, I guess thinking through all of that, like the connections you’ve made online over the past few years, the work you’ve done with AOEU, what has your experiences been like? Have your experiences been like online, connecting with other teachers, and I guess, how do you bring that into your classroom? Where do you find worthwhile learning when you’re online?

Right. So, obviously, we’re a little biased and I love what we have here at AOEU. I mean, I specifically work with you on the professional development team. That is what we love to do.

Tim: Yeah. That’s what we do.

Janet: Yeah. So, the first part of this is really all of the free resources that are pretty amazing, right? So, our online magazine, I’d started actually as a co-facilitator, then moved into a magazine writer. And then obviously, I do a lot of podcasts with you, but what I love about all of those pieces are that there’s lots of vast voices from varying and different backgrounds and experiences, life experiences that have either hosted, guested, written, whatever. And so, it’s not just your bubble. And again, PD to me is about learning and growing about education, but also reflecting on the bigger picture, right? And so, we don’t always just want to stay in our bubble.

And so, what’s great about those online free resources is that you can really tap into what you are interested in or needs are in that moment, because there’s such a wide range of topics that we cover. I wanted to give a quick shout out to my recent strategy, which has been to make a Google Classroom. And then I start organizing all of my links and resources for later, because a lot of times I forget about, “Oh, right. I can look up this.” And I start looking it up again. Oh, I’ve read that article six times. And so, I just want to keep it in there. So, I want to put that out there that that’s a great opportunity to do that or even a document where you just put a bunch of links and organize it that way. That’s really helpful.

I love our in-the-moment PD that we also have, which is IG Live and YouTube. And the IG live is, I mean, great, because it’s like, “What do you need right now?” And you can access that. And if you want to look at it later, great. If you don’t want to look at it at all, great, no big deal, right? And then our PRO platform is a subscription base, I have to say again, little bias, but I think it’s really incredible, because it’s consistently growing based on what we find is needed or what holes we can find that teachers need to fill, any relevant content that is happening right now. But it also gives you that straight up foundations and topics that you can access whenever, right?

Tim: Well, I was just going to say about pro, I think, what’s great is, like you said, just the breadth of topics that are there. Because when I first started teaching, I was like, “Oh, I want to try etching,” and you find three random YouTube videos. One sucks. One’s okay. One’s good. And then you’re scouring all over for different resources and vocabulary. You don’t know where to go, but then all of a sudden, you step into PRO and you see this entire PRO pack on etching with everything you need to know, beginning to end, plus a dozen different resources on everything that you need. And same thing for encaustics or for experimental glazing or just all kinds of different things.

Janet: Or portrait drawing, just like anything, right, anything that you need. And I also like your point is that you go onto YouTube and you find it. And sometimes it’s taught by somebody who’s been doing etching forever. He’s a serious artist. Sometimes it’s like resources or materials that are not safe or accessible to you. And you’re trying to figure out, “How can I make this work in the classroom?” And I love that with our pro, it’s art teachers teaching, right? And so, they’re sharing what their experiences are in their classrooms, what is feasible for you to do, and giving you that foundation. It’s always exciting when we can have art teachers leading, I think.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. Okay. So, let’s circle back to things that are free, because again, we’re talking to new teachers here. Not everybody can pay for PRO and not everybody can get their schools to pay for PRO for them. So, let’s chat about Twitter. Well, I mean, we’re old, so we remember what blogs were back in the day.

Janet: Those things are still out there.

Tim: Some great connections way back when and Instagram and just other social media. What kind of connections have you made there? What kind of things can people look for if they’re looking online?

Janet: Okay. So, I love because you said we started off with that. Before I even started with AOEU, I got with AOEU because of all these other avenues that had formed, right? And so, I’d say, my PLN or professional learning network of people has been really valuable to me. So, I think it’s really important to find your people wherever that is in social media or other aspects, right? So, on Twitter, I started with K12ArtChat and the Grundler’s and getting involved with them and seeing what other teachers… Whenever you can be with art teachers, you’re drawing more art teachers, right?

And so, the conversations are pulling from all these different areas all over the globe, which is pretty exciting. And it just helps you think about similar ideas and processes, but I want to also say, because Facebook is also a great resource, I have personally tried to stay away from it as much as possible now. There’s all those Facebook groups and they can be really great and resourceful too, right? You don’t even have to ask for something. You can search.

Tim: Yeah. You can just search and you know that conversation has happened before.

Janet: Yes, a million times, right? But I do want to warn people because it can be super triggering at times if things are not aligned with how we’re feeling about everything. Sometimes you have to be a little careful about what you’re talking about. You don’t want that to get back to administration, things like that. I was recently in a conversation with some friends who pointed out this person on Twitter talking about how class sizes don’t matter. And I was literally like, “What?” I found myself like-

Tim: I was going to say, people can’t see this, but my jaw just dropped. I was like, “Wait, what?”

Janet: Right. I mean, this was written by a school administrator.

Tim: Of course, it was.

Janet: Of course, and it was super triggering for me, right? And I found myself going off the deep end. And so, the good thing about social media, if you can control yourself, is to be able to also read that information and be able to try to look at it from a different lens without being so confrontational of somebody right in front of you talking about that, right?

So, even though I don’t agree with that in any regard, it helped me to understand where this person was coming from and also gave me some space to flesh out and clarify my own values and why those things are a certain way. And so, social media is the most powerful tool right now for us to connect, but it also can quickly divide as we know. So, you just need to be aware of that for your own. I mean, I think about when the pandemic hit and we had the whole shutdown and we started doing the coronavirus webinars that we organized.

Tim: The webinars. Yeah.

Janet: And I remember how amazing it was to have Libby Beaty and Kit Lang, because they were overseas.

Tim: They were living it already before it came to us. Yes.

Janet: Yeah. And so, that was really neat to, I mean, not neat, not neat, but it was cool to see how they were able to navigate it. So, we could use that as a resource in our own classrooms. And so, without that, without our connection online like that, we probably would not have been able to see that.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. And I don’t know, it was just powerful to have those connections. And like I said, literally, thousands upon thousands of people are watching Libby talk about her experiences in South Korea and what they were living through, what it was like in her classrooms. And I feel like that just gave everybody a leg up into moving into online teaching, because they were seeing and they were hearing about how they could do it, and then like we’ve talked about for the past 40 minutes here, how you can adapt that learning to your own classroom. That’s a perfect example of that.

Janet: Yeah, that’s pretty amazing.

Tim: Yeah. So, I guess moving on to just thinking more about all of this different stuff and figuring out what PD is best for us, I’m in a position now as an experienced teacher that I know what types of professional development are good for me. I know what’s worth paying for. I know what my goals are, but as a new teacher, that’s super overwhelming. That’s really hard to figure out. So, I guess, can we talk about the professional development that you can get for free versus the PD that you have to pay for? What are people looking at and what kinds of things can they access with paid stuff versus with free stuff? What can they find?

Janet: Right. So, as far as free, of course, we’ve been talking about that quite a bit. The great thing about that is it’s available anytime anywhere, right? And so, you can access what you need when you need it. It just takes a little bit of legwork to find exactly what it is that you’re looking for. I had a student teacher who was asking about professional development opportunities and he said, “I go and teach a class with little kids. And then our colleagues, we hang out together and spend time together. Is that professional development?” And I’m like, “Well, do you talk about art teaching and do you bring it back to your classroom?” A hundred percent, that’s professional development, right?

So, free is a great thing and it’s how you look at it, right? The downside of free is that it is learning on your own and you have to have some self-discipline. So, if you don’t know what it is, like you said, if you don’t know what you don’t know, right? If you don’t know what you’re looking for, then a lot of times, you just don’t do it, right? Or even if you know what you need, but you don’t have time for it, if you don’t allot that time, it’s just not going to happen. I also think opportunities free that could happen are talking to your colleagues, like we talked about earlier, but maybe swapping skills, right? Maybe you’re setting aside a time where you’re like, “Okay, we’re going to have once a month where we get together and teach each other something different.”

That’s free professional development and you’re all benefiting from it. And then of course, like I said, all those other areas like podcasts and YouTube and magazines and stuff, but also, TV shows and books. I mean, those are all free professional development. And then in terms of paid, there’s a lot of that out there. And sometimes you have to be careful about what it is that you’re paying for and just know that the benefits of a paid program is that it’s oftentimes aligned to standards and expectations. It’s typically curated for teacher’s needs, usually thinking about administrators as well in mind of what they want you to learn or need from you.

Oftentimes, it can provide credentialing or certification in different areas. You’re going to get lots of resources and take homes. So, with free, oftentimes, you have to figure it out yourself a little bit, but paid, oftentimes you’re provided those resources. There’s a lot of opportunities, both online and in person. So, you have to think about what’s accessible to you and affordable, like we talked about. And then of course, I just want to remind people that you can get grants. You can ask for your district to pay for it. You have to be your best advocate for that. And then also something to consider is, “Will the professional development actually help me with salary advancement if I pay for the class or not?” And that’s something else to consider too when you’re doing that.

Tim: Yeah. I feel like that’s a whole additional conversation about salary advancement, but I will say that don’t be afraid to ask for your district to pay for things. That would probably be my biggest piece of advice with paid professional development. You can just find what you like, whether it’s PRO or FLEX from AOEU or a different conference that you go to or some other platform that works really well. And just talk to your principal, talk to your decision makers in your building and say, “This is what I’m looking at. This is how it’s going to help me.” And don’t be afraid to say, “I’m just not getting the PD that I need here at school.”

For me in my first year, I could have said, “Hey, remember when you forgot about us? That PD is not working for me.” And more often than not, the principals know that what they are offering is not great for the art teachers, but they don’t know what the solution is. So, if you can come to them and say, “Here is the professional development solution for me. This is what I want. This is what I need. Can you pay for it? Does the district have funds to pay for it?”, worst case scenario, they just say no and you continue on with your free PD. But if you find something that you think is worthwhile, ask your district to pay for it. Like I said, there’s no downside in asking and the potential upside is huge.

So, again, I would encourage anybody to ask your administrators or ask your district to pay for professional development that you think is worthwhile. And then I guess also, beyond just the curricular things we’ve been talking about, can we talk about what else is available? I’m thinking about studio-based professional development, just different ways of learning new techniques, new art making ideas, different things like that. Other alternative and non-traditional opportunities? What are you familiar with there? What have you done before?

Janet: Yeah, so I mean, I think we all often love studio-based PD, right? It’s really important because we teach so many different media and techniques that have contents we don’t have to think about necessarily. And so, great places to look for that could be an art center near you. I had this great opportunity with our countywide institute. Our teachers were able to go to an art center and take workshops all day long. And that’s a great opportunity for you to try different techniques or media that you normally wouldn’t be exposed to. So, for example, we had an opportunity to do basket weaving and felting and then they had floor looms that we could weave on. And of course, I’m like, “I don’t have a floor loom in my classroom, but how can I bring this back?”

And maybe I want to get a grant to get a lap loom or whatever it is or table bloom or glass fusing. Okay, I had a tiny little kiln in my classroom. Now, I’ve been feeling a little uncomfortable doing some glasswork. Now I can start bringing that into that. So, that’s always a pretty exciting opportunity. I also have to be honest, I love taking foundations courses, because even though I’ve been drawing forever, I mean, am I the best drawer? No, I’m not like atelier or whatever. So, I took a few classes at AOEU for example, and I don’t think I’ve ever learned some of the tricks or processes that I learned in those courses in college, right? Because I was taught as an artist, not as an art teacher to teach art for me. That was me, right?

And so, it’s always interesting to glean that information on how to teach foundations even better. Another great opportunity to look at is your park district. When I started our jewelry metals program at my old district, there weren’t any classes available at the time near me to do metalsmithing. And so, I was like, “Where can I find this? ” And there happened to be a small little lapidary society, who knew, and then they were giving classes through our park district. So, they were very cost effective. It was local, more flexible. The downside is again, because it wasn’t a college, my district was like, “We are not going to pay for that.” And I thought, “Okay, well that stinks because I’m 100% bringing those back to my students, but okay, great.”

And then I would say the other option to think about is how many other art teachers there are out there offering workshops and courses for lower cost or whatever, but the idea is me personally, I love to teach online courses or in-person workshops on different topics. And I know a lot of other people do and the idea is learning from an art teacher being an art teacher, right? So, the content is usually focused towards you as a teacher and your needs, but also specifically, how are you going to teach that to your students? So, those are great opportunities, outside the box maybe opportunities.

Tim: Yeah, I think that’s all very worthwhile. I do have to say, I have no idea what a park district is. We don’t have those around here.

Janet: What? I don’t know what you mean. It’s like, “What?”

Tim: I’ve literally never heard of a park district, so . . .

Janet: Oh, my gosh.

Tim: Anyway, I feel like it would be an online poll. Do you know what a park district is?

Janet: The park district runs the pools and art classes for kids. You guys don’t have any of that stuff?

Tim: Well, just the city runs those things where I live.

Janet: That’s what it is. It’s a park district just through the city. So, it’s the same thing. Okay. All right.

Tim: Good enough. The point is for those of you listening that don’t know what a park district is, just look locally, local classes, local groups, community colleges, anything like that. There’s a ton of opportunities out there. Okay. I think though, Janet, it’s probably time for us to wrap things up. So, just to put a bow on things, to synthesize all of this information, as we talked about before, how do you make the most of the opportunities that you have for professional development, whatever form that might take, good, bad, or otherwise, the professional develop that you’re in? How do you make it worthwhile?

Janet: Okay. So, my key takeaways, it’s important to reflect on where you’re at and figure out what it is that you need or you’re interested in, right? Make sure that whatever it is, you’re going to be able to take back with you and apply it elsewhere, right? Whatever PD you choose, try to look for the nuggets. So, even if you’re in a very boring PD in your school, for example, like we talked about from the beginning, there’s always pieces to take away.

Another piece is to take notes. So, a lot of times, we are jotting down notes on the topic, but don’t just do that. Think about things that you’re wondering or questions that you have about how it can connect to your classroom. So, that later you can take that information and try to reflect on it and then actually plan what you’re going to do. So, make an action plan and stick to that. The professional development isn’t just there to take the information and be like, “Okay, I did it.” The idea is that you’re applying it to your classroom and you’re actually making goals to come back and figure out, “Is this working? Is it not? What other professional development do I need to support it? Oops, I forgot that I actually need more support than what I got.”

And then lastly, always consider giving the PD back, right? And what I mean by that is whether it’s a presentation, whether it’s sharing with your colleagues, just from classroom to classroom, the idea is that when we can take what we’ve done or what we’ve learned, apply it to the classroom and then take that information. It really helps us to actually reflect on it if we’re giving it back to somebody else and figuring out what it is that you need to do next.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. I have just a couple takeaways that are similar to what you’re talking about there both with taking notes and reflecting and planning. And basically, anytime I go to PD or learning session, I just have a single piece of paper with me. You take notes or whatever. On the top half, I just write, “Explore more.” And basically, those are all the ideas that I want to look more into, thoughts that I have while a presenter is talking. Maybe it’s about my classroom. Maybe it’s about my personal work, but I want to look more into that. And so, I’ll just take notes there.

And then on the bottom page, I have a, “Do now, do soon, do later.” And anything that I think needs to come into the classroom right away, we put that under the do now like, “Oh, I can do this on Monday. Let’s do that there.” And then do soon, something that’s worth doing in the next month or so. Maybe it’s a new type of reflection or artist statement that I want my kids to try and I’ll write that down. And then do later is just things that I would like to eventually get to. Hey, this would be really cool to try at the end of the school year or this would be really cool to start the school year with next year, things like that, and just thinking long term.

That setup gives me the opportunity to reflect on what’s happening in my classroom and how to implement these ideas, but it also gives me the opportunity, like you said, to plan ahead and figure out how those ideas can translate into my classroom or what I’m trying to teach. And so, yeah, just explore more and then the do now, do soon, do later. And I think just organizing my thoughts like that is really helpful for reflection and processing and it keeps it simple for me, because I’m not somebody who takes really good notes all the time. So, the simpler that I can make it, the better it is for me. All right. I guess we can wrap it up there. Janet, do you have any other thoughts that you want to share?

Janet: No, I feel like we talked a lot about this topic and there’s a lot of information. So, hopefully, people have a lot of information to take back with them.

Tim: All right. That sounds good. Thank you as always for the conversation. And yeah, we’ll have to do this again soon.

Janet: All right. Thanks so much.

Tim: To summarize, the whole random discussion about park districts notwithstanding . . . There are opportunities for you to learn. You may have to seek them out, you may have to put in a little bit of effort to make them relevant to you. But there are opportunities for you to grow, get better as a teacher, and to improve what you’re doing in your classroom. You can start with the NOW conference in July–check out everything you need to know about that online conference and register on the AOEU website–and start thinking about what else you might want to be doing for PD throughout the coming year.

Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you for listening. And we’ll talk to you 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.