How Maryland is Putting the 'PLAY' Back into Professional Development

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Back in July of 2015, it was an employee of the Maryland State Department of Education named Angie de Guzman who saw an opportunity to make a specific, personalized professional development opportunity available to Maryland’s educators. There’s a big issue at conferences, as she had seen--a lot of information was given, but there was rarely any time to find or explore the new tools and ideas.

But being a mother of two little girls, de Guzman had other ideas. She was going to plan a “P.L.A.Y.Date.” And it was going to focus on giving teachers time to learn how to use digital tools that they wanted to learn more about.

P.L.A.Y.Dates: Not Just for Children Anymore

A P.L.A.Y.Date is a simple enough idea. It stands for “People Learning and Asking Why (Y).” A date and place are chosen, a website is created, and educators sign up and receive PD. However, a Playdate requires a promise--self-motivated work. Like an Edcamp, there is no expert in the room or planned agenda. There are simply rooms where specific tools are being used for a specific purpose and educators are given the time to explore and ask questions. There is a facilitator in the room and for the first time in history, he or she is solely a person to help educators ask the right questions and search through the bevy of educational tools available.

After reading “Personalized PD,” a collection of professional development ideas that have been used around the country, Angela took the idea to Cecelia Roe, the head of Instructional Assessment and Professional Development for the Maryland State Department of Education. Considering the success of last year’s statewide Edcamp, along with the faith she has in her staff, Cecelia took the idea to the Office of Digital Learning, and together, they formed a committee, headed by Erin Senior, an instructional technology specialist.

And with that, a date was chosen, breakfast was provided by Panera, and a social media campaign was launched to invite as many Maryland educators as possible.

How to Play

When we talk about “play” in PD, we mean time to explore. Most conferences move at a fairly rapid pace and don’t allow for exploration. The theory behind the PLAYdate is that all time should be dedicated to exploration. Instead of an expert in the room, you have a facilitator, moving with you when need be, but also stepping back to your comfort level.

The day--servicing nearly 200 educators--was broken into a breakfast (always feed educators!), an introduction, two breakout sessions, and a Slam at the end. The Slam served as a time for teachers to share what they learned and to thank the various participants who helped make the day possible. And, of course, there was a happy hour afterwards.

For the purposes of “PLAYDate MD,” there were five rooms--each labeled clearly--for breakout sessions to help an educator find the tools he or she was looking for. And to keep educators from feeling stagnant, the infamous rule of two feet applied. Educators were encouraged to find what worked for them without the awkward feeling of packing up and walking out of a room--free choice is encouraged. The topics?

  • Collaboration: Teachers practiced blogging or using Edmodo
  • Assessment: Kahoot and EDpuzzle were big hits
  • Creativity: VoiceThread and Prezi were discussed and experimented with
  • Organization: This discussion centered about Google Drive vs. One Drive
  • Audio/Visual: Educators played with iMovie and Plickers

Why It Works

Throughout the day, teachers seemed happy to combine networking with learning. The space was welcoming, and allowed teachers to move freely. Many of the teachers came with specific projects in mind and learned from others on how to advance their goals.

“I feel like everybody walked away with something.” Says de Guzman of the event. “There was a lot of positivity. Our biggest complaint was that it should have been longer… and that there was no decaf coffee!”

Also, it must be noted that though there were facilitators, they were by no means an expert in every single web 2.0 tools delivered. Of course, some educators who were more familiar with certain tools than others entered rooms ready to share their knowledge and that was accepted, by and large, as a good thing.

Comments made in a final Google Form survey sent to participants made one thing clear: the educators appreciated being given options. One participant wrote that the opportunity to "talk, wander, ask questions and leave sessions when ready made the event worthwhile.” Others made it very clear that the networking that took place during the event was also valuable. “I loved learning from people who are doing the same kind of work as me. It makes for a comfortable learning environment.” 

But one thing's definitely for sure: letting educators play with their professional development certainly injects them with a feverish energy, as demonstrated by one last participant comment.

 “I walked away with motivation to try new app and programs that I can’t wait to explore!” she wrote.


Emmanuel “Manny” Andre (@MrEAndre) is a STAT teacher for Baltimore County Public Schools. 

This post is part of the EdSurge Fifty States Project (representing the state of Maryland). The project is supported in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the individual contributors alone and do not reflect the views of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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