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 and 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 “@”!

It Just Looks Good!

Imagine this scenario:

You put a blank piece of a paper in front of a 12 or 13 year old child and ask her/him to create an illustration that represents her/him.  A collage, a diagram, maybe a map?  Surely they’ll include a person or two (your more advanced drawers may even go beyond The Stick Man).  They may even add a little shadow or dimension. Nevertheless, unless, by chance, you happen to be working with a future Van Gogh, the resulting illustration may be refrigerator-worthy at best.

And that’s where Web 2.0 come into play.  I contend the following:  Students (and adults for that matter) enjoy profile, document, and media creation using Web 2.0 apps because it just looks good.

Students are able to create content that is neat, organized, and makes the creator appear as an artist!  Take, for example, a recent project my students worked on.  They used an internal, open source social network called elgg to create “fake”Greek Projects_ Zeusprofiles of historic Greek figures or Greek mythology characters.  The students entered “about me” info, made up contact details, explained their location, predicted “interests,” etc.  When they were finished, they “friended” me so that I can see their profiles.  The old-school alternative? “Make a poster about your Greek character.”  I’m going to predict the latter assignment’s product to be sloppier, harder to share, and I’ll go as far as predicting: boring.

Another example.

When we studied Buddhism and Hinduism and I gave the students lots of options for presenting their group’s topic, an overwhelming majority chose someBuddhism Presentaion. _ text, images, music, video | Glogster sort of Web 2.0 app.  One of my Buddhism groups chose Glogster to make what I call, “virtual posters.”  Just as if I placed construction paper and a tub of markers in front of the group, they planned, designed, and created a canvas of content to share with others.  Their canvas, however, had animations, cheesy graphics, roll-over sounds effects, embedded videos, etc.  They took their traditional (and by ‘traditional,’ I of course mean, ‘boring’) methods of conveying information to the next level.  It didn’t matter who had better handwriting or if they ruler lines were straight or even if the marker they’re using started to run out of ink halfway through the third bubble letter!  Taking their content to the web provided a cleaner, more manageable and collaboration-friendly working environment.

My seventh graders are early in this process.  Unfortunately, they’re not used to expressing themselves academically with digital media.  I’ll admit it: they get caught up in the process and the content suffers.  For now, I’ll let that go from time to time.

Next year it looks like my building will have some “guided study halls.”  Maybe I can teach a Web 2.0 class?