21st century professional development

Blogger’s note:

This blog post originally appeared on the ASCD EDge blogging platform in July 2016. 


Modern Day PD

2016-17 will mark my 12th year in education. I’ve seen a lot change in my decade plus both in methodolgy, styles of teacher learning, student learning, the rise of social media for edu learning/connecting, etc. Considering my mother was a career eduator, I’ve literally been around the education setting my entire life and have seen a lot of changes within our profession both directly and indirectly.

One of the biggest shifts from the professional lens has been the way we receive professional development. With budget cuts to resources gone are the days often times when a large percentage of a staff could travel long distances to see speakers at workshops for PD then bring the contents back to the remainder of the faculty. This still remains to a point but most of the PD is site-based. As we shift from the traditional “sit and get” PD more and more, how do we effectively ensure our teachers, the most ones who have the most important positions in the school…the backbone of the faculty if you will receive PD effectively?

As a curriculum coach, this is one of the hurdles I’m faced with (one of the many hats I have in my position) while I’m afforded some of those traveling PD experiences mentioned above many times, I too, am not and the PD has to be school based.

I’ve learned to get creative. First of all, every school has a lot of experts in certain areas. Think about it. Coming from the elementary lens, ever school has a few teachers who really and truly excel in guided reading instruction, or introduction of CCSS multiplication methods, always on the cutting edge of classroom education apps, Daily 5 integration, 4Cs woven into literature, the list goes on. Utilizing these “in house” experts is huge! As opposed to the principal, assistant principal, myself or someone from our district central office coming out to give PD, while we can assist, teachers love learning from their peers that are “in the trenches” with them. We’ve had great success with this model at my current school and previous school as well. It’s a win-win gets some teachers out of their comfort zones by recognizing skills they have and would benefit sharing with peers and teachers are learning from eachother in personalized PD settings this way no one is learning things they already know about, have previously heard, already are experts on, etc. This makes the PD much, much more meaningful.

Being in the 21st century brings about all sorts of new technology. Example. Last spring one of our Kindergarten teachers came to me asking about the Seesaw app she had heard about. I mentioned that I had a connection on the other side of our school district who was a Seesaw ambassador and had already mentioned to me doing a PD at our school for interested faculty. I hyped it to our faculty enough that the entire staff was interested in at least learning. So…. we did a Google Hangout PD. The staff had their laptops, could see and hear my friend (45 min away) ask questions and she could see our progress in live time. It was truly meaningful PD! The link below is a tweet from the event….https://twitter.com/BrendanFetters/status/719628291074826240

Visting another workspace

Another way to grow as professionals is by visiting other educators’ workspaces, seeing them “in action.” The Science specialist at the school I serve is dynamic – always on the top of her game, asking questions, attending district encouraged Science kit PD, learning and growing. The students love learning from Mrs. Hodges and we’re lucky to have such a great educator at our school. However, she wanted to learn more. She came to me with ideas for PD beyond what she was getting. Immediately I came up with taking a day, visiting two schools within our district one middle, one elementary and seeing two amazing Science teachers in action to see how they interact in their work spaces and asking questions during down time. I spent a day with Abigail at these two schools having amazing observation experiences, discussions both with the teachers, students about their learning and eachother at the end of the day about what we saw and how Mrs. Hodges could apply what she saw into her practice. Talk about meaningful PD – she still mentions it and clearly so do I…. https://twitter.com/BrendanFetters/status/717829739734507525


Edcamps are a wonderful way for educators to learn and grow professionally – at your own pace and skillset. I’ve blogged in ASCD EDge before about the power of EdCamps and they still remain true. If there is one in your area and you’ve never attended – GO. Take a leap of faith. I promise you won’t regret. If you’ve been before encourage peers in your school and/or district to go that have never attended. Everyone gets a lot out of EdCamps and it’s always a good use out of a Saturday or Monday morning and afternoon! https://twitter.com/BrendanFetters/status/752508358398271489


Of course, in my opinion, the most powerful PD out there is your PLN (professional learning network) via Twitter & Voxer. It takes time to build and maintain an effective PLN but it’s so worth the investment. Feel free to check out my blog post from a few months back on this very topic if you’re not connected……yet.

In education today within professional development, you have to be willing to think outside the box. Both from content, delivery and being respectful of your faculty’s time. Never lose sight of the later. I truly believe the teachers have the most vital role in the school – we need to honor and respect that. Not by giving them “one more thing” in PD but rather PD that is truly meaningful for every faculty member. It takes more on the planning end but will be worth it in the end by a mile.

Risk rewarded – raising the bar with #EdCampWake

About three years ago, the great Steven Weber  encouraged me to attend my first EdCamp. I had heard of the concept but wasn’t really sure what it was about, but knowing Steven was a fan encouraged me to at least check it out. After all, it was free PD, and local. So I stopped by the Friday Institute for a few hours to check it out. What a unique concept – an unconference. I really didn’t know what was going on initially but I liked it – and did a lot of listening. I could only attend in the morning but knew I would be attending more in the near future.

From that point on I became hooked and have been to roughly 10 EdCamps around North Carolina traveling to Charlotte, Salisbury, and various locations within the Raleigh/Durham area. A few years ago our district (Wake County Public School System) began hosting EdCamp Wake at our central office. It was good but having the event in an office building chipped away at some of the “organic” feel to the traditional school EdCamp setting. With the district’s blessing, this past fall Kyle Hamstra and Melanie Farrell had the bi-annual event shifted to the campuses of Davis Drive Middle and Davis Drive Elementary. Not only had Kyle and Melanie managed to move the event from central office to a school they pulled it off as a “hybrid” having some sessions in the middle school and afternoon sessions in the elementary next year. Outside the box thinking, eh? Brilliant.

As the day and the learning went on last fall, thoughts in my head began to swirl about how great this event was but what could be done to take it up a notch for the spring edition. Where would it be held? What could be adjusted? Scraped? Added? Hmmmm.

After the event, around 15 of us, mostly friends in education around the district and surrounding areas gathered to discuss the day’s learning. Being that the event in the fall was on the western side of our district (and county) my good friend Michael Parker West and I were based on the eastern side of the district (I’ve recently switched – but that post is forthcoming) we decided right then and there to inquire about Wendell Middle School pending the blessings of the WMS principal and eastern area superintendent.


Fast forward a month – We now had the blessings of both Mr. Morrison and Dr. McFarland. Michael and I started planning #EdCampWake for Saturday, March 18 in late fall. Immediately, we wanted to go big. Knightdale High School jazz band in the morning during breakfast, WMS step team to open the welcoming, invitations to WCPSS district leadership, Board of Education members, etc. The bar was going to be raised.


Mike wanted two WCPSS educators to open the day’s events with a presentation so he called on two of our district’s finest – Bill Ferriter and Paul Cancellieri who recently co-authored Creating a Culture of Feedback. In the afternoon, after lunch I came up with the idea of having two connected educational leaders from other parts of our state speak on topics of interest in the end of lunch going into the last session of the day. Two friends of mine came to mind immediately – Bethany Gullion from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Leslie Kinard from Guilford County Schools.

I always talk about striving to #BecomeBetter. I live the actions ongoing and this was no exception. With Mr. West right along side we continued to plan weekly and as the months and later weeks to the actual event got closer gathered a leadership team of good friends from our district to tighten the “nuts and bolts” of the event – a big chore.

The ball started rolling… potential sponsors turned into sponsors. A conversation at a hockey game over holiday break with Ryan McLane and Eric Lowe turned into a pre-arranged Google Hangout session discussing contents of their book, Your School Rocks. A planned moderation of #EduGladiators chat turned into a promotion of our event and the chat thanks to Marlena Gross-Taylor’s  brilliance — a win-win. Everything was falling into place.




As the final push to the event moved along, Mike and I spent most of the Saturday before the event printing out banners, creating the day of slides, signs, sponsorship orders and commitments were in order, etc.

There is so much more involved with organizing an EdCamp than we realized – especially the higher the bar is raised. Promotion, promotion, promotion! Both word of mouth, district email, social media blasts and promo videos helped us get the word out attract over 100 educators from around our district and state to EdCamp Wake on a Saturday.

The Friday before the event I made my way to Wendell Middle to make final preparations along with the “leadership team” Mike and I assembled. Together we spent several hours preparing and staging things so they would be ready for the morning. We were ready. As Mike and said several times during the actual EdCamp Wake — everything went smoothly because we were prepared, had a plan and most of all had a very solid team assisting throughout the day.


Just as the case of the sponsors (seen above in a photo) without our leadership team of Juliette Kuhn, Karen D’Elia, Melanie Farrell, Kyle Hamstra and Chris Tuttell, there would be no EdCamp Wake. Period. Adding value to our profession and specifically EdCamp Wake doesn’t do the situation justice. Amazing people.


The day of the event – everything went without so much as a slight bump here and there. All the planning paid off despite raising that bar. The KHS jazz band rocked in during breakfast, the WMS step team opened the day, Dr. McFarland (WCPSS Eastern Area Superintendent) welcomed the crowd to EdCamp Wake, Mike and I went through the day’s events and protocols. Everything on planned….



17362844_10154817042700804_4243003267434957758_nConnected Educators welcome participants to #EdCampWake

Sessions, breakout events like the #EduGladiators chat, lunch presentations, lunch conversations — powerful, powerful. If you weren’t inspired after #EdCampWake – you might be in the wrong profession.


Always great learning and growing with edu friends Derek McCoy, Leslie Kinard and Bethany Gullion.


Your School Rocks session via Google Hangout with co-authors Ryan McLane and Eric Lowe.

17265106_10154817046110804_3299891847559155103_nPhil Echols, Mariah Walker and Gia Hoke. Some of WCPSS’ finest educators.

While it was exhausting planning and overseeing the day’s events with Mike and despite the fact we weren’t able to really attend sessions the joy of having a successful EdCamp Wake and the energy buzzing from all the learning and excitement made it all worthwhile and then some!

I’m grateful for the experience and eager to assist whomever takes the torch next. Prepare to raise the bar even higher in our ongoing quest to #StriveForGreatness and #BecomeBetter as educators and leaders. Goodbye, #EdCampWake — see you in the fall.