Professional Development: Preparing Attendees to Re-awaken the Inner Drive

Somehow they re-awaken in me to the possibilities and opportunities that present themselves in my professional life.  They lend a rush of enthusiasm as I unplug from the day-to-day realities of my job and look more broadly at the scope of my profession and the challenges that I face in it.

I'm talking about the meaningful professional learning opportunities and conferences I am able to attend from time to time as a part of my professional responsibility and growth.  Each time I am able to truly engage in a meaningful conference or pd event, I walk away with a flood of valuable and "innovative" ideas that offer options and solutions that were somehow beyond the realm of imagination or possibility for me/my organization before the event.  To me, and to the people that I "represent" each time I attend those events, that matters.  It provides new ideas and options, new perspectives and valuable considerations, and a re-invigorated colleague that can offer new energy to the organization.

What strikes me in this reflection, though, is the unfortunate reality that most of my colleagues don't have the same experience or perception of conferences.  I struggle to suggest that this is entirely their fault.  Good professional development sessions and conferences (or should I say good professional learning experiences) -- I mean the really valuable meaningful kind that you wish were longer so you could absorb just a little bit more -- are rare.  Sometimes this is the fault of the organizers, and they should take the blame squarely on the chin for wasting an incredible opportunity to impact meaningful change in education.  More often, though, this is the result of the inability of those attending the session/conference to prepare in a meaningful way for the experience.  Whether it is a classroom teacher who is busily pulling together sub plans at the last minute and making phone calls to parents while on the way to the conference, or administrators who are able to focus only part of their attention on the presenters/sessions because their attention is being "beckoned" back to the district/building, the attendee isn't able to focus fully on what they hope to make of and take from the conference experience before, during, and after the event.  This is even more true when we consider in-district professional development that happens  before, during, or after a day with students.

We know that meaningful learning happens when learners are personally "available" and open to the concept of having a meaninful experience.  That doesn't happen when our professional educators are struggling to even maintain focus on the experience they are having -- when they can't pull away from the details that draw us into the "rut" of our daily professional lives.  That doesn't happen when they can't converse with their team, administrator, or PLC prior to attending.  That doesn't happen when they cannot take a moment to reflect on the experience and share their take-aways from the experience.

It's a lesson those who structure, develop, and authorize the attendance of professional learning need to remember and consider when we put precious financial resources into developing and/or sending our staff to these events.  As much as professional development and conference attendance can cost, considering the greater cost of not allowing these people to ready themselves to have a great, meaningful experience is just as, or even more, costly!  Those responsible for allowing staff members to attend these events must find ways to allow and encourage them to be more available to make every professional learning opportunity a transformative and invigorating one.  Those buiding and offering those opportunities for professional growth need to be cognizant of this essential element of the learning process.