“Learning is not done to you. Learning is something you choose to do”
This Seth Godin quote (part of his brilliant manifesto “Stop Stealing Dreams”) was in response to a question he posed about what schools are for but I think it equally fits in the debate about the role of professional development in the careers of educators. As I continue in my latest role in education as a consultant and author, I often think about how I can continue to learn and grow as an educator while also contributing to the learning and growth of colleagues.
One thing that is certain is this – when I facilitate a workshop for educators I learn as much as I present. Each visit brings a different context to an issue in education and each colleague offers an insight that adds to my knowledge. I love this form of professional learning, particularly as I don’t have a full time job in a school or district. I also know that not everyone in the audience benefits in the same way and so a variety of formats for professional learning seems the most appropriate.
I have always enjoyed attending conferences and have tried to take something beneficial from each one. I have to admit that there were times when the benefit was not as tangible to others, but the break from the ordinary was what I needed. I know I always returned more energized and eager to get back to my role. Conferences, however, need to change from simply being experts presenting for two or three days with little formalized time for sharing to more interactive forums. But, I firmly believe there is a need to have conferences headlined by some of the best thinkers in education. I also know that I enjoyed the edcamp I attended and think this might be a piece of the new conference model. I envision the keynote address being followed by a chunk of time where topics generated by that keynote could be debated and facilitated by interested participants. Follow-up could take a variety of forms but a recording and sharing of the information would be a key component with the possibility of the keynote presenter offering some feedback to the gathered information.
I have also enjoyed other informal forms of PD such as conversations with colleagues through venues like book clubs, breakfast meetings, or coffee chats. The ebb and flow of both the participants and the topics are inspiring and prompt future conversations. Recently, I have also taken advantage of visiting schools and appreciate the welcome extended by teachers as I sit in their classes. Teachers are incredibly thoughtful about their lessons and passionate about promoting success for kids. One area of PD that I fell behind in, and am now trying to recapture, is reading journals, books, and current research. I admire many of the leading thinkers in education and like to have my thinking challenged as I move forward. As an aside, I often take full advantage of some of these thinkers when I have the good fortune to share the stage with them at conferences.
One area of sensitivity that seems to be emerging is the notion of who “owns professional development”. I think it’s the wrong question and I refer you back to the Godin quote above. PD can’t be done to you, it has to be something you choose to do and see value in. I also believe that PD can’t be done entirely in isolation and benefits greatly from collaboration and pursuit of collective, as well as individual, objectives. As you move forward in your careers, commit to highly effective, quality professional development. The type of PD that comes with a variety of approaches.