Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Professional Learning--Eye Opening Experience or Energy Draining In-Service?

Professional development, in-service days, educational training.  Whatever you may call it--does it invoke excitement or dread?  If your PD days are mandatory "sit and get" sessions that don't appeal to you (and how could they?!?!) what if professional learning was more like a curated experience?  What if it was a well-planned excursion that allowed for personal choices, casual conversations and unique perspectives? 

Our district recently had an administrative professional learning day that included principals and central office leaders.  Instead of sitting in the board room for a meeting or learning through a webinar, we had a day-long experience that would help to guide our thinking as we planned for the next school year. 

There were no sessions.  No scheduled agenda.  No Power Point.  Instead, it was a series of experiences that promoted team collaboration and personal reflection with a small community flair.

Prior to this day, our team read The Starbucks Experience. (If you haven't read this one, I highly recommend it.  There are so many educational connections and insight into how we serve our students, teachers, and communities.) The book focuses on the 5 Principles that guide the company through their successful domination of the coffee industry.  The principles don't really have much to do with coffee and are applicable to any field. 

To explore these principles in more depth, we visited a local main street with neighborhood shops and restaurants.  We met that morning at (who guessed it?) Starbucks where we talked with a manager as she told us about her experience with the company.  She shared small ways that Starbucks pays attention to its customers and builds on relationships with one another.

Our learning experience continued as we strolled down the street and visited a family-owned bakery, chatting with the owner and his son about the connections they have with their customers and the importance of knowing what matters to them.  They shared stories of how they have maintained tradition while also moving forward with the changes times, adding new technologies to a 50-year old neighborhood favorite.

Next we visited a newer restaurant where the chef/owner talked about the ways his business has overcome challenges in the last year.  He recognized obstacles in his way, but worked to find creative solutions to them.  He urged us to take time to listen to get to the heart of any problems.

Our last stop was at a long-standing restaurant where we dined with a 40-year veteran of public education.  She shared the history of the community with us and talked about ways that she moved up through the ranks to become one of the first female superintendents in the area.  She pointed out the importance of knowing your community and looking for ways to partner with them to embrace new ideas during times of change.

Here we also talked with the restaurant manager about the idea of being in the business of serving people--which we often forget in education. She made connections with the way that her work aligns with the work of our school system. We have many visitors come through our doors each day (parents, grandparents, students, teachers, paraprofessionals, therapists, community leaders) just as she has diverse customers who come to her restaurant.  Each one may be seeking something different, but it is our responsibility to greet them all, welcome them in, and give them what they need. 

Much like Starbucks, we need to make personal connections with our customers.  In our ongoing efforts to move forward and be future-ready, we must remember to honor traditions, as the bakery owners have done.  We will face obstacles as the chef/owner of the new restaurant, but by listening and understanding the issues we can find success as he has.  Reflecting with our veteran educator, we have to remind ourselves that we are in the business of teaching. Teaching students.  We have to make learning personal for them, developing sincere connections, and helping them to overcome obstacles.

While our day of learning could've been spent in a workshop being lectured on leadership skills or listening to an educational speaker, instead we built connections among our team in an unexpected way-- eating, talking, and hearing the experiences of different people, which ultimately allowed us to reflect on our ability to be better school leaders. 

Things to Consider:
How might this learning experience change the way we plan professional learning for teachers?
How can we rethink what learning looks like? for teachers and students?
What opportunities to we have to reflect on education as a service and make changes to ensure that we are serving those that enter our schools?

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