Got a problem, issue, or question in your classroom, but you don't quite have the resources to understand what to do? Self-directed professional learning (SDPL) might be your answer! Teachers are life-long learners, reflecting on practices and seeking insight into how to hone their craft. I love to go to conferences- not only to present and to see my professional colleagues, but to LEARN! There's always something new to learn. Self-directed professional learning should be systematic, sustained, purposeful, job embedded, aligned with goals and data-driven. Ideally, if you can tie in qualities of collaboration, reflection, and active learning through various modalities, you're hitting on additional best practices in professional learning.
In the first volume of Dr. Christine Weber and my edited book on professional learning in gifted, our friend and colleague Dr. Laurie Croft describes the QUEST model for professional learning for the sole practitioner in gifted education (2018). QUEST is comprised of developing (q)uestions about the topic; listing (u)nderstandings currently held, while acknowledging that some understandings could be misconceptions; considering (e)motions related to the topic, both the practitioners and others’; researching any published (s)tandards to provide guidance in the research and course of learning; and finally, and (t)hinking about a plan of action, including developing goals, that will help thoroughly explore the topic (Croft, 2018). This is a fantastic chapter, as it sets forth a method of SDPL that is systematic and effective.
While you're waiting for your copy of the book to arrive (or your copy of her chapter to arrive through Inter-Library Loan), here are a few of my tips to get your started on your journey to self-directed professional learning.
Establish goals based on current questions. The world of gifted education is extensive; and administrators can’t learn everything overnight. In order to focus in on priorities, a principal might conduct a needs assessment of staff, stakeholders, or a personal inventory. Establishing priorities and setting goals are helpful in determining what path of professional learning research to follow first.
Acquire understandings through multiple modalities. Research journals and library sources are available and accessible, if you know the right places to look. Did you know that many university libraries offer cards to local educators? And that your local library might have a database collection that has access to the gifted journals? But journals are not the sole sources of knowledge. Seek out new understandings through a variety of modalities and methods! University collaborations with your district (that will be its own blog post, coming soon!), and local, state and national gifted organizations are robust sources. Conferences and institutes are offered throughout the year, depending on one’s location, and several organizations, such as NAGC and SENG offer webinars on a regular basis. Social media can also be an informative outlet. The Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (TAGT) facilitates a weekly chat on a new topic every week, in which experts and beginners chat together, responding to the same prompts, using the hashtag #gtchat in order to consolidate responses.
A Few Resources in Social Justice Issues in Gifted Education
Classic, and Oh-So-Relevant Books
Multicultural Gifted Education, by D. Ford
Culturally Diverse and Underserved Populations of Gifted Students, edited by A. Baldwin
A New Book- Not Yet in Press
Overlooked Gems, edited by J. VanTassel-Baska and T. Stambaugh (available as a free download from NAGC)
What is the Excellence Gap? (available on the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation website)
Unlocking Emergent Talent, by P. Olszewski-Kubilius and J. Clarenbach (available as a free download from NAGC)
In Search of the Dream, edited by C.A. Tomlinson (available as a free download from NAGC)
2e Dilemma, a report by the NEA
Videos or Webinars
The Psychology Podcast with Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman, ep: The Excellence Gap with guest Dr. Scott Peters
Giftedness is Not a Number: A Conversation with Nancy Hertzog
2e: twice exceptional and 2e2: teaching the twice exceptional documentaries
NAGC Webinars on Demand, such as
Guiding Gifted Programming from a District Leadership Perspective
Identifying and Serving Gifted Students of Poverty
Beyond Color Blindness-Effective Instructional Strategies for Culture-Sensitive Classrooms
Question, connect, reflect. Key components of meaningful professional learning are questioning the knowledge you are receiving, questioning your previous knowledge, making connections to current and past practices, and reflecting on all of the above. In a second chapter from the same volume, Dr. Mary Slade (2018) highlights several essentials in reflective practice in gifted professional learning: reflection-in-action, in which one reflects during a situation, thinking and doing concurrently; and reflection-on-action, in which one considers the outcome of changes made. Dr. Slade, of Towson University in Maryland, indicates, “professional learning is enhanced when there is buy-in from participants, which occurs when one is empowered to take charge of his or her own personal learning. Reflection allows educators to take control of their growth and development” (2018, p. 46).
Seek out or begin a PLC on topics in gifted education. Collaborative reflection benefits the individuals seeking professional learning, as well as has an impact on the organization and community, Dr. Slade reminds us. Thus, rather than learning in isolation, consider seeking out a group of like-minded teachers in your district, or neighboring districts, that have similar questions or concerns, and establish a professional learning community (PLC). While they can exist in a variety of forms, PLCs generally involve a cyclical approach, based on a common problem or topic, often implementing action research of some kind that is brought back to the group, the community to reflect on and discuss. A book study or discussion group would also be an opportunity for collegial reflection.
Repeat. Professional learning is iterative. It is sustained, ongoing, cyclical. This is partially due to the research-based best practices of professional learning that embody these very characteristics. One book is not sufficient; nor is one meeting with an expert, one video or webinar. Learning is ongoing, it is a lifelong process. When cultural responsiveness is the subject matter, a continuum exists; individuals strive to move forward on the continuum of multicultural pedagogy, but there is always more to learn.
Check out Best Practices in Professional Learning and Teacher Preparation: Methods and Strategies for Gifted Professional Development. Both of the chapters referenced in this blog post are found in this book.
Croft, L. J. (2018). Professional learning in gifted education: Challenges for the sole practitioner. In A.M. Novak & C. L. Weber (Eds.), Best practices in professional learning and teacher preparation: Methods and strategies for gifted professional development (pp. 137-150). Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.
Slade, M. (2018). Reflection as an essential practice in professional learning for gifted education. In A.M. Novak & C. L. Weber (Eds.), Best practices in professional learning and teacher preparation: Methods and strategies for gifted professional development (pp. 39-50). Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.