Recently, while on a trip to Washington, DC, I experienced one of the best professional learning opportunities of my career. My classroom was located in one of the thousands of taxi cabs that travel the floor of the city much like a colony of ants in the Brazilian rainforest.  The teacher; an Indian cab driver from Bombay.  His lesson centered around the importance of people learning how to overcome the barriers of racial divide to address the needs of humanity.  The message was powerful.  Components of the discussion will find their way into my classroom this fall.  I only wish there were more people in the car with me to hear his story.

As a 30-year teacher leader, I understand the importance of educators having access to high quality professional development.   Unfortunately, in the early years of my career, I naively thought it was the job of my school district to be the sole provider of the content.  To be fair, that’s the way the system worked.  In the past, teachers were expected to show up on institute day to receive a healthy dose of one size fits all professional development.  And just like cough medicine, the worse it tasted the better it was supposed to be.  At that time high quality personalized professional development was like a mirage in the dessert.  Broadband Internet found its way inside the walls of my school around 1994, and helped usher in a change of mindset.  It didn’t take long for me to realize the value of the information highway.  I merged onto it bound for the knowledge express as quickly as the mouse and my index finger would take me. I never looked back.  The deeper I dug the more I understood the importance of teachers owning their professional development journey.  Don’t get me wrong.  I believe that districts have a moral and ethical responsibility to provide meaningful professional development.  However, its critical that teachers become vested partners in the process.

Overtime, I grew to understand that professional development was happening all around me.  I just wasn’t noticing it.  The world is filled with brilliant people, just like my cabby, and they all have stories to share.  I love the Internet, social networking sites, virtual reality headsets, and etc.  However, all of them dim in comparison to the world’s greatest gift; its inhabitants.  It took me awhile to understand how to take the tidbits of information I gleaned from the countless conversations I have had and package those stories in such a way they could be used in the classroom setting.  My teaching took a quantum leap forward once I learned to do so.

Now days, I talk to almost everyone.  I have learned from some of the best professional development providers in the world.  Cooks, janitors, and cab drivers are all sources of inspiration.  I learned valuable lessons on collaboration from an Amish farmer while waiting at a train station in Chicago. A seamstress in an upholstery shop shared her position on grit.  Some times the best learning experiences come from the most unlikely of places and people.  It’s important to be vigilant as they are easily missed.

I have grown to understand the freedom and liberation that comes from owning my professional development journey. I am no longer inhibited by the constraints as to what is given me.  That information is only supplemental.  I am constantly searching for new ways to grow as an educator.  My professional learning community is over 7 billion strong.  Interested in joining?

Joseph Fatheree is an award winning author, educator, and filmmaker. He has received numerous educational awards, including being recognized as a Top 10 Finalist for the Global Teacher Prize, Illinois Teacher of the Year, and the NEA’s National Award for Teaching Excellence.  He currently serves as the Director of Strategic Projects for the National Network of State Teachers of the Year in Washington, D.C. and is the Instructor of Creativity and Innovation at Effingham High School in Illinois. His opinions are his own.