If You Need it, Get it! Do-It-Yourself Professional Development in the 21st Century

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By Rita Platt
In my work as a teacher-leader, I often hear teachers lament that they need more training on various methods, strategies, ideas, and initiatives before they feel prepared to teach using them.  While it would be wonderful for each of us to get all the training and support we need during the school day, that simply does not seem to be in the realm of any school district’s hope or promise, if were even possible.

KEYTeachers, as professionals, it is up to us to get what we need, to be self-starters, and autonomous learners, much in the way, most of us hope for our students to be. As state departments of education and local districts continue to call for “proof” of professional development in the form of renewal credits, CEUs, and professional learning logs, call on the resources below to get you the training you need.

Graduate Credit on the Cheap

If you need three credits but don’t want to pay university fees or find the time for face-to-face, meat-in-the-seat classes, try an online course. Most are easy to navigate and asynchronous, which means you can work on them when and where you choose. (Which for me, often means at midnight in my jammies with a glass of wine at my side.  If that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right!)

Professional Development Institute (PDI)


With dozens of online courses in educational topics including literacy, math, technology, classroom management, and more, PDI is a long-time favorite for practical teachers.  Total cost with 3 graduate credits from the University of California, Sand Diego is approximately $375! I must divulge that I write and teacher courses for PDI. I have also taken many PDI courses and can personally vouch for the quality of content of resources.

Learner’s Edge


Learner’s Edge is another resource for low-cost graduate credit with both online and old-fashioned correspondence courses. Two interesting options offered by Learner’s Edge are “custom-independent-study” classes and “book studies.” Both allow teachers to explore topics in education using nothing more than high-quality books from scholars in the field.  If you can’t find a course you like from PDI or Learner’s Edge, you can build your own course with a custom study. For example, I once had a team who wanted to study the scholarship on engaging African American middle schools boys in reading. We choose our own text and off we went! Look here and here to see some of the fruits of our labor.

MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses)

MOOCs are an amazing gift of the 21st century! If you have ever wanted to take a course from a master professor out of Harvard or Stanford or Yale but didn’t think it was possible, you were wrong! Not only is it possible, it is FREE!!! Many universities are offering online courses or learning modules free of cost to teachers. They mostly consist of videos, readings, and online discussions. While credit is not always available, it certainly would count as evidence of professional development in whatever form of so-called “teacher accountability” or “educator effectiveness” program imposed on you. Not to mention that sometimes, as professionals we need to learn not for the sake of credits or credentials but because we need to know something to make our teaching more effective. The best part about a MOOC is that you can participate in the parts you are interested in and ignore the parts that don’t seem to pertain to your learning needs.

The flame of learning  is burning all over the internet, it’s time to warm yourself by the cyber-fire!



With courses in character education, teaching English language learners, learning a new language, assessment, and emerging techniques in teaching with technology, there are many, many choices.



Similar to Coursera, this MOOC clearinghouse offers a range of classes of potential interest to students. Learn how to engage families, about emerging technologies, how to speak Spanish,  or use principles of gaming in education. Some courses are even offered in Spanish.

Digital Promise/BloomBoard Microcredentials


Short course “stacks” designed to help teachers learn about and show proficiency in a variety of educational topics. If teachers are concerned with completing a stack and earning  microcredential, they can work on a single module. The one I tried was on using wait time and it was truly helpful!

Social Media

Facebook and Pinterest have helped teachers connect, reflect, and learn from each other in ways us oldies could have never predicted a mere ten years ago. But, by far, the biggest boon for personal professional learning is Twitter.


If you haven’t yet, get yourself a handle, use TweetDeck or HootSuite to make a free account and start tweeting in a chat today! A chat is a focused hour of tweeting with teachers all over the country on a given educational topic. Find a frequently updated list of education-oriented chats here.

If you’re not ready to tweet just “lurk” (a somewhat creepy twitter-term for observing a chat.) Or start even smaller by following an edu-favorite. You will be amazed at the level of interaction that you can achieve with some of your edu-heroes. I have been able to converse with Dr. Mary Howard (@DrMaryHoward), Larry Ferlazzo (@Larryferlazzo), Kylene Beers (@KyleneBeers), Gail Bouhey and Joan Moser (@gailandjoan), Stephan Krashen (@skrashen), and more! While you’re finding folks to follow, add me (@ritaplatt) and We Teach We Learn (@WTWLedu)

To get you started, Scholastic offers a great primer for the beginning Twitter-teacher, click here.

On a similar note, if you ever have a question you need answered by a leader in the field, drop them a tweet or an email, I am continually shocked by how many respond and how quickly they do. Sometimes I wonder if these folks are sitting at their desks just waiting for someone to ask them to talk about their favorite topics!



Simply put, edcamps are free conferences for teachers by teachers. Topics and sessions are generated on the spot and attendees can present, listen, and converse in as many or as few as they would like. Although they don’t happen in cyber-space, the topics are often tech-heavy. Two things are virtually guaranteed if you go: You will network and you will learn! Edcamps are sweeping the edu-world, get out there and attend one near you.

Google (Yes, I said, “Google!”)

Honestly, the go-to place for me when I need to learn about a new topic in education is a Google search. When I wanted to learn more about Response to Intervention, PBiS, and standards-based learning  (three hot topics in my district), I googled them, saved the links that looked promising in a folder on my tool bar and read them at my leisure. Of course, the internet is not called “the web” for no reason. One resource led to another and another and soon, I felt like I had a good handle on each topic.

Socrates is often quoted as having said, “Education is a kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” Teachers, in the 21st century, that flame is burning all over the internet, it’s time to warm yourself by the cyber-fire!


Rita Platt (@ritRita Plattaplatt) is a Nationally Board Certified teacher. Her experience includes teaching learners of all levels from kindergarten to graduate student. She currently is a Library Media Specialist for the St. Croix Falls SD in Wisconsin, teaches graduate courses for the Professional Development Institute, and consults with local school districts.