It’s almost Summer! If your students are anything like mine, you can sure feel it in the classroom. Contrary to popular opinion, most educators don’t have their summers off. However, if you’re like me, your schedule gets a little more flexible and there’s some time to think “big picture.”

In fact, summertime is often when we look to get some quality professional development done. However, with budgets (both in school districts and at home) tight this year, money is a front concern. Fortunately, there are a lot of inexpensive and even free options for doing professional development. Here are some great activities I have used in the past to increase my skills and boost my connected educator quotient.

Start a Blog

indiana-jen-254I started my blog IndianaJen.com one summer as a place where I could think about ideas in history, explore lesson plans, and reach out to my professional community. It had been on my to-do list for a long time but I just didn’t have the time or energy to build one. In the summer months, I was able to sit down and really think about the direction I wanted to go as an educator and then write it up in short posts. My blog enabled me to broaden my PLN and really develop and build off of those ideas I had swimming around my head. Here are three free blogging options: WordPress; EduBlogs; Blogger.

Explore a Tool or Idea Using YouTube.

If you have a project, tool, or idea you really want to explore, YouTube is a great repository of information. For example, do you want to learn more about Evernote but haven’t had the time to sit down and play with it? Browse the Evernote YouTube Channel for quick how to’s and instructional videos. Want to see what the new Google Maps can do and get some great ideas to explore in your classroom? They also have a YouTube Chanel. What makes these resources so great is that they’re visual, at a basic level, and brief. If you can devote just 10-15 minutes, you’ll be surprised at what you can learn!

Focus on Building your PLN!

josh-stump-twitterYou know you need a PLN (Professional/Personal Learning Network). You just haven’t had the time to really focus on building one. Maybe your school blocks Facebook or Twitter so you haven’t been able to grow out your professional network while on campus. Summer is a great time to join some hashtag groups and begin to cultivate virtual colleagues. If you haven’t started a twitter account, do it now. Here is a short video about the basics of Twitter. Twitter also has a great getting started guide. And if you’re ready for an longer tutorial (12 min), try this one by classroom teacher Josh Stumpenhorst, whose presentation strategy is memorable.

In addition to Twitter, you can use Facebook, a Ning and other tools to make PLN connections. Just make sure that you are connecting with people you want to learn from. Who should you follow? Start looking for people you already know: fellow educators, authors you like, leaders at your own institution or within a professional association. Learn about hashtags. You’ll be able to build from there.

Take a Webinar

I love webinars. They don’t require you to travel, they are generally short (some webinars are a one-day event; others are offered as a series over multiple days or even months). Webinars are often interactive, and they are often very inexpensive or even free. You can select your webinar based on your schedule and flexibility.

ASCD, one of the world’s largest education PD organizations, has free webinars with authors and other experts all summer (and archives of past events). Education Week and Education Week Teacher also offer free webinars about education policy, leadership and teaching practice, which are also archived.

PLP_blogging101Some webinar presenters may ask you to pay a fee, but if the quality is good, it’s an investment you may want to make. Powerful Learning Practice has a series of webinars and courses this summer that can even be taken for credit, including Blogging 101, The Flipped Classroom, Common Core & Technology Integration,  Designing Quality Projects, and many more.

Summer is a great time for educators to hone their classroom skills, deepen their content knowledge, and grow as professionals. With computer access and an Internet connection, you can bring professional development to your own living room at little or no cost. I hope you will share some of the great professional learning opportunities you know about here.

About the author
Jennifer Carey is Director of Academic Technology at the Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove, Florida. "I am a lover of new technologies and their ability to share knowledge." She blogs at Indiana Jen and you can find her on Twitter @teacherjencarey