Collective Wisdom

September seems to provoke lots of open dialogue on the topic of professional development and professional learning. In some circles, “PD” seems to have become a four-letter-word.

You don’t have to be in the education field long before you can speak in detail about “the worst PD” you’ve ever experienced. It’s a sad phenomenon that flies in the face of the many prevailing positive things happening in our classrooms, our schools, and in public education. But why?

A few themes associated in historically “bad PD”:

A laser-light focus on…proving you were there. This includes signing in, signing out, and collecting a piece of paper that shows you attended.

One presenter, one voice, one clicker.
This expert generally stands at the front of the room and uses a power point presentation for the better part of seven hours, while attendees sit, trying to resist daydreaming…or checking email.

A binder full of “really important papers”. Historically, these papers wind up in a file folder, a file cabinet, the circular file, or a binder. Binders wind up on a bookshelf, never to be touched again, collecting dust and taking up space.

A one-size-fits-all desired outcome.
“We need to do this, so we get that.”

And…a burning essential question for the recipients:
What’s for lunch? (And will there be cookies?)

Now for the PD purists out there, rest assured not every PD, every training, or every workshop is bad PD. The intent here is not to knock traditional PD. Rather, I’d like to to challenge readers to find a way to make your next PD session relevant and one that exceeds typical expectations.

But how? Well, I’d suggest you begin by attending an edcamp!

On Saturday, October 1, Edcamp Long Island returns for the third year. We expect 700 attendees. As one of the founding team members, I’m proud to be associated with a group of people like this who value a movement like this, a movement that’s about one thing only: learning.
You may think you can see where this is headed next – a sales pitch to attend an edcamp. Now I could easily sell it, and before you know it, you’d be registered for Edcamp Long Island. Your life would be forever changed. You’d be spreading the word, telling others about it, inviting them to join you next year.
instead I’d like to issue a challenge: to exchange your traditional PD mindset for a Professional Learning (PL) mindset.
The difference? Collective wisdom.

Let’s be honest. For those of us who have been around long enough to see how we’ve “done school”, traditional PD is likely here to stay. So rather than try to change it or become frustrated, why not try to change how you interact with it…and at it?

How to Embrace Collective Wisdom:

Before your next organized learning experience, be it professional learning at edcamp or the more traditional professional development option, here are five things to consider.

DO begin with the end in mind. Remain firmly anchored in results. Heading into a day of learning, set some desired outcomes for yourself. Keep in mind, it’s not about the devices as much as it is about what they can accomplish. Technology encompasses a wide array of tools – for designing rigorous lessons, fostering meaningful engagement, and high-impact formative assessment to inform teaching and learning.

DON’T make it about your devices. If you are a connected educator, you’ll likely have an iPhone, an iPad, and a Chromebook ready for action. But don’t fall prey to looking down at a screen instead of looking up, looking around, and engaging fully in face-to-face meaningful dialogue.

DO approach learning with an open mind. Be ready to try something new and to consider how it may fit into what you’re already doing. For example, three years ago, I struggled with the idea of fostering high-impact school-home and home school communication. So I connected with people who value this priority and are even also challenged by this. Because I gave myself the space to admit this is an area in which I struggled, I learned more about how others perceive this struggle, modified suggested practices to match what works in my school community, and I graciously accepted the resources and support shared. And I remained patient, as I anticipated the positive results that followed. These conversations, in a room full of people, created these conditions for collective impact.

DON’T make it about trying to do everything. You will encounter lots of amazing people who do lots of incredible things. Keep in mind, however, that we are each members of a unique school culture, with varying District priorities, and avenues of opportunity. We can find strength in celebrating our differences and our similarities, because having a value for learning is universal.

DO remember that everyone has something to learn and something to contribute. We are all at varying stages of learning, of growth, and of progress in our relative personal-professional pathways. With this in mind, sit at lunch with someone you’ve just met, grab a cup of coffee together, or catch up at the last session. Stay connected by phone, email, Twitter, Voxer, and Google Hangouts. You will find the people you meet at events like Edcamp Long Island also frequent other more “traditional” local and national events. This is where the collective wisdom lives, grows, and thrives – in our ongoing interactions.

DON’T make it about who you want to meet. If you’re attending an edcamp, you’re likely, on some level, a connected educator. This mindset will naturally afford opportunities to interact with some of the best and brightest educators in the field. These are innovators and learners, who are passionate, knowledgeable, and you will find, extremely generous with their time and attention. Getting caught up in a game of “who’s who” may lead to feeling unfulfilled.

DO treat yourself to some quiet low-tech or (no-tech) reflection time in the hours and days that follow. Jot down your takeaways and a “to-do list”. Include things you can test out in your classroom or your school on Monday. Add to your list things you’ll talk to colleagues about this week. Add to your list things you’ll meet with your Principal about this month, or your Central Office supervisors this quarter. Create a wish list for yourself to revisit this year. Just do it.

DON’T make one day of learning…about a single day of learning. Remember, it’s an incremental process, not an isolated event. Don’t leave your learning where you found it. Take it with you. Share it. Celebrate it.

DO remember: It’s about one thing and one thing only: learning. And best of all, it’s happening right alongside others who share the same priority.

This post is dedicated to my friend, mentor, and 2016 Principal of the Year, Dr. Donald Gately and our Edcamp Long Island Team. 

Read Don’s most recent blog post, entitled “Edcamp is the Better Way”:

Hope to see you on Saturday, October 1 for Edcamp Long Island:

In the summer of 2014, I took a leap of faith and started a blog called Learning Leadership

In the summer of 2016, I have eagerly taken another leap of faith – involving a blogging project through the BAM Radio Network.

Thank you for reading 26 Days of Learning Leadership. Comments and feedback are welcomed and appreciated.

26 Days of Learning Leadership