Professional Organizations Update: I Caved

Last summer, I wrote about “Professional Organizations: Friends or Fees”.  Well, I caved.  During the fall, I took a one-hour graduate class about educational readings.  When the time came to find professional articles to read, I, admidingly, went to my principal and asked for copies of her professional journals.  And before I knew it, I was stretched out on my couch with a stack of ASCD’sEducational Leadership” magazines.

So when the time came to write my letter to Santa, I added “ASCD membership” to the list.  I figured it was easy for the elves to make in the workshop.  Low and behold, I was a good boy, and my girlfriend purchased a membership on my behalf.

February is a fairly edtechy month for me, as it brings Ohio’s eTech Conference.  Even better, my first Educational Leadership magazine (of my own!) is titled “Teaching Screenagers” and focuses on edtech issues!

Okay, so there is some value in professional organizations.  I certainly won’t let it replace my PLN on Twitter, but it definitely makes a lovely compliment to it.

Professional Organizations: Friends or Fees?

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.  Microsoft Word - Round 2 ARRA Title II-D RFP2_16 - Powered by Google DocsOne 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 “@”!

Wanted: Collaboration

In two weeks, my building will be on the receiving end of something called a Technical Assistance Visit (TAV), a two-day visit by a team of local educators assessing our building’s progress and adherence to our Site Action Plan.  This two-day fury is a product of a state-funded initiative, Making Middle Grades Work, a sister program to SREB’s High Schools That Work.

As one of four members of our building’s leadership team, I’m co-charged with preparing  mounds of reports and documents for the TAV.  This process involves taking templates (unfortunately not real template files, just what some people like to call templates), populating them with the information specific to our building/district, and preparing them for publication (binders, slideshow, etc.).

So here’s my gripe:  We’ve gone old school!

In the weeks leading up to the TAV, our leadership team has covered ourselves in a nearly-unsortable web of updated, revised, changed, modified, and edited documents that have been shared, attached, forwarded, and replied.  There has to be an easier way!  And there is.

A simple Google of “top collaborative tools” yields a plethora of results.  Add the word “education” to the mix and you get even a more helpful list of tools.  There have been tweet after tweet RT’d through my PLN over the last year, offering reviews and guides to a whole slew of collaboration software.

These tools, specifically designed to connect people who are physically distanced to a single, shared document, would be PERFECT for our TAV preparation.  Simply put, we could see who edited what, when, and where.  They could even comment to tell us why! Without that tool in place, we’re left with a textbox in the footer that says “Rev. XX/XX/XX.”  Even with that, only a few of the collaborators will update it as they go.  On a bright note, I’ve used DropBox to share (and monitor updates) a folder of documents with another team member.  (On a side note: DropBox is a great solution to those of us migrating away from Apple’s MobileMe.  Another post for another day.)

When my family decided to celebrate my parents’ anniversary this past summer by renting a cabin in Tennessee, I created a pad at etherpad.com (recently acquired by Google).  It was just the right solution for helping three couples around the state plan who would bring what on the trip!  I’m confident that the same successes would be seen if our TAV team would give it a shot.

So why not?

I guess it’s easier for me to complain than it is to fix it.  Fixing it requires professional development for my colleagues and troubleshooting when something goes wrong.  It would require us to ask permission from SREB to communicate with them with these non-traditional collaborative tools.  Or does it?  What if I just…shared.  What if I just sent them invites to collaborate on GoogleDocs?  With GoogleDocs’ new “upload” feature, it’d be perfect for working on the already-existing Word document “templates.”  Would they accept the invitation, tinker with it until they figure it out, and result in true collaboration on this project?  Or is there a middle ground somewhere between these two options?

I should count my blessings.  We did use email to send attachments.  Final, no-need-to-edit-anymore, documents are being converted to PDFs for emailing/presentations.  It could be worse.  We could be sharing paper documents in manilla envelopes.