No-podium PD, Lounger Learning, or my favorite: PD in your PJs. These are some of the labels I’ve seen top educators use to brand their services. What’s going on here? Whether you are a teacher, administrator, or someone who has stumbled upon this blog while online surfing for sleepwear, here are 4 suggestions for taking these clever spins seriously for what they say about how humans learn, and what that means for professional learning.
First, a disclaimer or street cred—you decide: I am a literacy editor with 25 years of experience. I have edited many of the greats: Regie Routman, Donald Graves, Laura Robb, Carol Avery, and a bevy of younger talent now gaining top marquee billing. I say this not so much to brag but to declare that my unique vantage point as an editor of all these luminaries over time allows me to see what they all have in common, and what this means for powerful professional learning. It’s warmth. Heart. Connection. They emanate an aura of “children first.” They’ve built a following because teachers picked up on their genuine love of teaching, and because all of today’s most sought-after educator/authors make us feel intimately connected to a larger community of good rather than education commerce.
- Anchor your professional learning on the warmest luminaries. I know, that sounds so touchy-feely, but gosh, that’s my point here. We are all in need of nurturing (think about all those cute animal videos proliferating our Facebook feeds!). We need experts who teach us with equal doses of clarity, content, and cheer. So if you are looking to bring an author/consultant to your school, who do you and your colleagues like? Who lives in the same region to make it cost effective? If you’ve suffered through PD with wildly mismatched content or lack luster experts, it’s time to get more vocal about what you want. Go online and on Youtube and you often can find short video clips to sample. And even if you can’t afford to hire the person to fly in, their books “bottle” their charisma and voice, and many authors like being hired to do customized webinars. Yep, the pajama PD!
- View professional books as Post-it Note perches. When I first started editing, I’d take a book manuscript out of the mail and weigh it in my hands, like an expert butcher might hold a chicken, to guess at its final page count. Back then, books were written with a higher degree of narrative, and were organized to be read cover to cover. Today, authors write books so they will be used—immediately. What this means for professional learning are two things: First, a book is a center of gravity for teacher growth. When a professional book is not a part of professional learning, well, we become a field of slick Powerpoint slides cobbled together. The warm social bond that a book creates between author and reader cools. Second, it means that anyone engaging in PD has license to use the book creatively with others. Read and “do” single chapters; binge-watch the videos first; just run with the books’ lessons and do classroom coaching with one another. Like that movie Bad Moms, it’s time to start embracing the power of going off road in how we use traditional resources to learn and thrive in our jobs.
- Design short experiences over the long haul. Twitter, Youtube, Tedtalks, Instagram— Even a 1970s era gal like me is getting into the groove of learning through these venues. These platforms are more proof that the future of professional learning as a business model is frankly in a Wild West stage, but while publishers and PL companies scramble to figure that out, it’s clear there are more ways to bring high-level experts into your faculty room or living room for free. So be rigorous but scrappy in designing professional learning time that fits into faculty meetings and includes a blend of brief potent Twitter chats, video views, book study, and more.
- Remember, we humans are pack animals. My father, who was a gifted educator and artist, once remarked that we are like dogs—we live and hunt in packs. We are social animals. So my last point and the one I believe most deeply of all is this: As an editor, I want you to buy professional books often because page by page they represent many thousands of dollars worth of PD, so they are a good value and more important, if books don’t thrive then the teacher of tomorrow will have nothing to look up to, or build upon. And as human being, I want you own the power of your own pack. Find a warm author/luminary or two to get you going, but then develop your own lights. Get collaborative learning going in twos, or three, or districtwide, but the important thing is to advocate for PD that can be sustained from within your community, however you define it.