During one of those insanely early (probably 10:00AM) classes somewhere around my junior year of college, one of my education professors passed out paper applications for ASCD and explained (Charlie-Brown-teacher-style) the value in preservice teachers belonging to professional organizations. Sure, she explained the many benefits of a subscription to the organization’s magazine Educational Leadership (as if we all needed a little more late-night reading material), but we all saw through the smoke and acknowledged the fact that “Two-year member of ASCD” would look just dandy on a future resume.
Or would it?
I’d like to look at two points. 1) Does belonging to a professional organization necessarily make a stronger educator? 2) In the age of the Twittersphere, blogs, and wikis, are professional organizations still the tool to use to measure one’s commitment to personal professional (oxymoron?) development?
1) As I start to think long-term about my professional career (redundant?), I realize that there are a few steps that I need to take now to help me out in the future. One day, I hope to be sitting across the table from an interview panel for a building principal position. What happens, then, when the superintendent says, “Ryan, please give us some evidence of your belonging to some education-related professional organizations?” If the interview was tomorrow, there’d be silence. I’ll admit it – I don’t belong to any. Sure, I joined ASCD for a year or so back in college, but the membership renewal probably came and well, being a senior in college…I may or may not have had a few other things on my mind. Since then, I’ve received a healthy serving of mail and email offers from NCSS, NCTE, NCTM (give me a break, I’m not even licensed in math!), NEA, and of course, my old friends at ASCD. To each I have politely thought, “If I had the money…,” and relocated it to the recycling bin.
So what if I hadn’t? What if I re-budgeted the needed registration fees and I said to that superintendent, “I have been an active member of NCSS for four years, NCTE for six years, the NEA for four years, and ASCD for seven years.” Would the superintendent hand me a contract and say, “Oh, well he’s qualified!” What exactly does it mean to be a member of a professional organization? Technically speaking, it only means that you have paid the fees and filled out the paperwork. Typically, one can also assume that the member has received opportunities in her/his inbox for discounted PD and maybe a pretty monthly organization magazine or two in the mail.
One of the buildings in my district recently received an ARRA Title II-D 21st Century Learning Environment Technology Grant (I think that’s the full name?). One of the many benefits of the grant is the addition of a technology coach to the receiving school’s staff. In appendix E of the grant specifications, they list both the requirements and desirable qualifications for the technology coach. One of the desirable qualifications is for the candidate to have, “Current and past membership in professional organizations (e.g., instructional technology organizations – ASCD, Phi Kappa Gamma, NCTM or OCTM, SECO, OCTELA)….” Where, in that requirement, is evidence of authentic professional development?
2) Make no mistake, I get a healthy dose of professional development in the form of readings, dialoge, and exposure to innovation. Mine even comes daily. The development of my professional learning network (PLN) using primarily Twitter (Follow me @mrmalany) has increased my exposure to the education world exponentially! I can get daily, customized online “newspapers” from paper.li and twittertim.es filled with up-to-date articles, videos, screencasts, wikis, forums, and podcasts tailored to specific components of the educational community that interest me. I can participate in (or just monitor) weekly #edchat sessions and am looking forward to upcoming #elemchat sessions starting this Thursday. Although all of these collaboration networks to free, up-to-date, individualized, and are made up of some of the strongest educators from around the world, they still aren’t held in as high regard as paying annual dues to an “official” professional organization. Maybe they should be.
Take this away:
My guess is that I am likely to fire up the registration pages of some of the real professional organizations and type in my credit card number sometime in the near future. When the day comes that I am actually sitting across from a superintendent, I’ll have the answer she or he wants. And I’m sure I will get some development from these organization. But to that, I’ll be sure to add my two cents about the unique gains my PLN has given me. It’s priceless. And when I’m interviewing teacher candidates for my building: bonus points on the hiring rubric if your resume’s contact info includes an “@”!