Some thoughts on professional development

[Image: Flickr user Denise Carbonell]
I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about professional development. Over the past month I have presented at the DLTV conference, ran an all day workshop on transformative learning to staff from around Victoria and have completed numerous training sessions with staff from my school. After the exhilaration of such challenges, some amazing conversations and plenty of reflection I was left with a few lingering thoughts. So what better way to flesh out my thoughts than to jot them down in a blog post.

“It’s all about the networking”
It wouldn’t be a conference without this line being spouted numerous times. Are conferences merely vessels for networking? Are the sessions just background noise while we chat amongst ourselves or through back channels? For me, yes and hats off to DLTV for providing a conference where you didn’t need to go to a session to be inspired, learn and connect. I spent time in the Games space and the Scootle lounge lost in Lego poetry, discussions with Kynan Robinson about theories of knowledge and listening to Eleni Kyritsis talk about Genius hour. All the while I was hanging out chatting with my good friend Aaron Davis. It seemed the richest conversations happened on the way to a session so sometimes we just kept walking even if that meant we missed out on a session. Sessions can be hit or miss. Looking at the crowd at our session, there were definitely people that would have felt like our session was a hit or a miss. So if the conference is all about the networking and the sessions can be a hit or miss, then what does the conference look like? Can you build a conference around networking or do we need the sessions to amplify the conversation? Is school like this for our students? As usual I’m left with more questions but I would love for some thoughts and feedback from others.

“What are you prepared to give?”
One conversation that really got under my skin was with a colleague who felt she had to justify to the other teachers at her school why she was speaking at DLTV. “Why are you presenting?” “How come they asked you?” “You’ve only been teaching for a few years, what could you share?” This mindset infuriates me. Within a PLN that spans the globe, this teacher is revered but within the walls of her own school she is questioned for speaking out of turn. Her response to the situation was right on the money…”I wasn’t asked, I asked to present!” The best professional development requires giving, whether it be your opinion, your story or your skill. The more that I give to my PLN, the more I grow. Whether it be contributing to the #aussieED chat on Twitter, presenting at a TeachMeet or having a beer and banter at #beerpedagogy, the contributions that I give grow me as a learner.  Preparing my perspective for a blog post or planning a workshop helps me to evolve but it also contributes to the evolution of other learners. One of my favourite quotes is “without contribution, we don’t have true collaboration”. In a classroom, we strive to have everyone engage and contribute however, there are times at PD sessions where we simply rock up and sit back. My challenge to you is to throw your hat in the ring. Give your two cents, reach out and connect with other perspectives and challenge your learning. Aaron Davis wrote a great post on whether or not PLN was a verb or noun in your world.  Make PLN a verb and like my colleague said, just ASK!



10 thoughts on “Some thoughts on professional development

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  1. Great post Steve. As I have shared in my two responses to #DLTV2014 and I feel that one of the key ingredients to making DLTV a great experience was an openness to new ideas and possibilities. The very act of stepping out and presenting with yourself was the start of that Along with coming in and consuming, some enter such spaces doubting and believe that it is your job to persuade them otherwise. I think that this was a part of Corrie Barclay’s point in his recent post about taking a horse to water
    I was really challenged by Dean Shareski’s post about going to conferences to look for people not resources This is a really good point, because one person can share so many more resources. I often find myself following people at conferences, feeling that I can often get the ‘resources’ on offer later. That is what I liked about our idea of having a space to continue the conversation afterwards I also feel that the ambiguity associated with this space means that we can roll it out again and again.
    Lastly, thank you for sharing my PLN post I think that it really sums up the whole problem. I think it comes back to Carol Dweck’s mindsets. If you can change the mindset from being fixed to one of growth I reckon the rest follows naturally. Problem is that that is often easier said then done.
    Look forward to continuing the conversation.

    1. Thanks for once again providing great perspective. The “air of doubt” and fixed mindset are the real challenges for professional development. I’m more enamoured by stories and journeys and I think that Dean Shareski is on the money with looking for people, not resources at conferences. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy discovering new tools but I am actually more interested in how you decided to apply it and what you learnt. I want to look through the lens that you looked at when you embarked on your journey. This has often left me new ways at looking at things. As Kynan wrote in this post, the knowledge is in the relationship. My perspective and knowledge grew because we connected and worked together. As a result, I think differently. My perspective may not have changed but I have greater understanding because you have helped to provide a different vantage point. Apologies for not adding a link to your great post straight up, I have amended this now. It is a reflection that I often refer to.

  2. Great post Steve.

    I like your points about conferences and people- the networking. When I was at ISTE this year, some of my favourite moments were found in the networking areas, people deliberately don’t go to sessions so they can catch up with their PLN and have quality conversations they know will interest them…I know I found this to be a much richer experience than most of the sessions I attended. The conference space was designed with specific areas for this purpose- and there were always people there!

    I think we almost need to transform the purpose of the ‘conference’ The Scootle Lounge at DLTV was great, comfy beanbags, good people…but many just walked in and out, only the few stayed for the conversations. It is all very interesting. Maybe we need less focus on the sessions and more of the connections and idea of the ‘PLN’…but as Aaron mentioned Corrie’s point about ‘leading a horse to water’- I wonder if people who go to conferences to sit in a room and be ‘given’ ideas would find the networking spaces as beneficial as you or I and so many other connected educators?

    Like you said- always left with more questions than answers!


    1. Thanks for your comments Bec! You are right on the money when it comes to the networking experience of conferences. I have often changed the session that I had planned to go because I want to continue the conversation with a member of my PLN. Reaching out helps the conversation grow and through mediums like Twitter, Google+ and blogs, this conversation continues on well after the conference has finished. DLTV really tried to change purpose of the conference and there were times that it really worked. On the flip side of that, there were also times when it didn’t. I really enjoyed the Scootle lounge sessions but like you said, many just walked in and out. I really enjoyed the short snapshots that were presented there and I really liked the engagement with your story that resulted. People asked questions, commented and were really supportive. I guess that’s why I love TeachMeets, Beerpedagogy and the like. I know I’ll always have a great conversation and leave inspired. I’m not looking for the latest tool, I’m wanting to hear the who, what, when, where, why and how of your story. More questions indeed!!

  3. To me, Professional Development is about the conversations. I enjoyed reading this post because you have highlighted the fact that the networking is very important. It’s not enough to just attend the PD and stop the conversations when you leave. It’s what I’ve done previously and I’m trying to change that. Twitter has definitely made me more confident in voicing my opinions and hopefully that will help me at conferences and PDs.

    1. Thanks for commenting Lisa, I too have evolved as a networker as a result of continued conversations through Twitter and the like. I used to be reluctant to share my thoughts for fear of ridicule but now I am inspired by the challenge and subsequent debate and banter. It is amazing how reaching out and putting yourself out there grows you as a learner.

  4. Thanks for the stimulating post. In your words and in those of the commenters I sense a move away from attending a conference to gather ‘stuff’ But is it still all about me? I’m there to connect with mates who agree with my views? Maybe at the next conference I won’t hang out in the lounge, but make an effort to attend presentations from newcomers? And maybe I’ll go armed with a few questions and reach out with ‘help me with my problem’. Making an effort for a genuine, humble connection.
    So, who did stay and hang out in the Scootle Lounge? The usual suspects? Maybe those people who did walk on felt shy or intimidated rather than unimpressed. Hey, I wasn’t there to tell. Maybe they just needed a stronger personal invitation to stay and connect: a ‘collect your lucky prize’ in the conference showbag!
    Do you think your colleague is hanging with the wrong ‘older teachers’ or do all of us ‘older’ teachers have an infuriating mindset?!

    1. Thanks for your comments and I have adjusted my post to reflect ‘other’ teachers and not ‘older’ teachers. Does the format of professional development cater for networking? In most cases, no. We sit and listen and then we move on to sit and listen. Networking needs breathing room between sessions, needs scaffolding to cater for those who may not know anyone or are shy but needs to be factored into professional development sessions. Beer Pedagogy is all about networking and I was not one of the usuals then but challenged myself to reach out. I haven’t looked back since. Maybe the challenge for TeachMeet, Beer Pedagogy and the like is to ‘bring a friend’ and grow the conversation. As for the ‘older’ teachers in relation to my colleague, I fall firmly into that category myself but like yourself Brette, I don’t consider myself an older teacher, I consider myself an older learner first and it is this mindset that I was referring too. A growth mindset is ageless

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