What is Powerful Professional Development?

I have a passion for learning.  I was a curious kid.  A risk taker. A reader.  As a beginning teacher, my learning was fueled by the plethora of professional development opportunities to learn that were available in the system, including district and school based professional development.  The British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) provides a structure and funding for vibrant, Professional Specialist Associations to organize groups of like-minded teachers into Local Specialist Associations.  I jumped in feet first and became actively involved as participant and executive member of The Primary Teachers’ Association.  My first principal invited me to attend my first meeting of The International Reading Association (now the International Literacy Association).  I would go on to become the president of the local chapter, The B.C.Literacy Council, and then provincial coordinator.  Human Rights Education.  Special Education.  English Language Learning.  Outdoor Learning.  I had a wide range of interests and the encouragement from colleagues and administration.

There is no shortage of professional development opportunities for curious educators.  In fact, the big question, is how do we take the front-end loading and personal passions and incorporate the ideas into educational practices that support our students in their learning?  The focus on “Make and Take” or “ideas to try tomorrow”, were often novel but not necessarily transformative in my practice.

I was fortunate to cross paths with Maureen Dockendorf.   After 5 years of teaching in Abbotsford,  I began teaching in Coquitlam.  I promptly signed up to participate in a Teacher Inquiry group led by Maureen Dockendorf.  We defined areas of interest.  Clarified our question.  Came up with a plan to work with our students and colleagues to find possibilities and sometimes, answers.   Reported out on the learning to keep us accountable for doing the work and integrating other sources or learning.  The added bonus was it was fun.  It involved collaborating with colleagues.  It caused us to carefully considering the questions and responses of our students.  It led to reflection of who we were as educators in the class and how we were meeting the needs of our students.  It allowed us to go deeper in our learning.

The work of Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert has been instrumental in the inquiry process becoming an influential force in the learning of educators and students in British Columbia.  The Spiral of Inquiry they developed has been instrumental in shifting the way we think about learning.

  • What am I learning and why is it important?
  • How is my learning going?
  • What am I going to do next?

Professional development expectations have shifted.  The merits of a powerful speaker conveying ideas based on solid research and practices continues to be inspirational.  The New and Aspiring Leaders Program designed by the Harvard Graduate School of Education is masterful at bringing together inspirational speakers and facilitating with educators from all over the world.  Collaborative structures were built into the program to facilitate the sharing of ideas with educational leaders from all over the world.  Educators were astounded by the implementation of Universal Design in education for all students in Canada.

A number of strategies have become common place to facilitate conversation about the ideas.  Think Pair Share, sitting in table groups, focus questions, and mixer activities have become common strategies to encourage even diverse audiences to talk about the ideas being presented by the speaker.

Social media has become a tool to present, learn and engage with colleagues about ideas online.  I have seen this as a way to get people in the same room to engage with each other and the speaker.  Twitter has become my newspaper and educational magazine.  On a daily basis I will read articles, blogs and magazine stories that are recommended by the people I follow.

I also participate in twitter chats, some regularly scheduled like @BCedchat on Sunday nights at 7 pm PST, other slow chats over the course of a month, like @perfinker.  I share out things I’m excited about and sometimes plan to meet face to face with online , like annual Edvents facilitated by @Edvent247

I have been asked how I have the “extra” time to blog.  For me, writing is my effort to make sense of the ideas percolating in my mind.  Having worked as a faculty associate at Simon Fraser University, I developed a strong appreciation of sitting with ideas over a period of time before making a judgement.  It was not learning that came easily to me.  One of my colleagues in Coquitlam nicknamed me the Tasmanian Devil back in my SD#43 days.  Reflection takes time.  If I can reflect before formulating and articulating an idea in writing, then I am in a much better place to engage in a discussion.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to participate in the inaugural year of Short Course II offered by the British Columbia Principal Vice Principal Association.  The design of Short Course II  for experienced principals and vice principals incorporated the three elements I believe are required to exist in an infinite loop for professional development to be powerful enough to implement personal and systemic change.  The elements continue on throughout a lifetime, although not necessarily in the same order.

  1. Inspiring big ideas to consider
  2. Opportunities for meaningful collaboration with peers to occur
  3. Time to reflect on the ideas

Leading, learning and innovation was the focus of the four day summit offered by BCPVPA at the University of British Columbia – Okanagan campus in Kelowna, B.C.  The input was inspirational on so many levels.

  1. The Indigenous people in the area, welcomed us to the land and shared their teachings.
  2. David Istance not only presented but engaged with each of the groups. As many of you will already know, he was one of the authors of the OECD 7 Principles of Education that have been the catalyst of educational change around the globe.
  3. British born, Amelia Pederson, presented the doctoral work she is doing at Harvard and actively engaged with the group, table groups and individuals throughout the week.
  4. David Weiss, President and CEO of Weiss International, gave us his perspective from working with organizational consultants who lead innovative consulting and training projects.
  5. Innovative business owners in Kelowna welcomed our BCPVPA groups into their companies and engaged in conversations about their inspiration, their process of developing their innovative idea, the skill set required of their employees and their goals moving forward.

Opportunities were structured for collaboration with colleagues throughout the province over the course of the four day program and throughout the year.

  1. A facilitator was assigned to each group and welcomed us into our table group and posed discussion questions and processes to keep us on track.
  2. We sat in the same daily table group and had the opportunity to get to know each other and engage with the ideas and questions together.
  3. We also had the opportunity to meet with other people with similar interests to develop our own inquiries to focus our work throughout the year. I was able to connect both professionally and personally with colleagues from Delta and Richmond to tease out my ideas.
  4. Informal opportunities to collaborate were part of the program, such as the wine and cheese at a local winery and the Open Deck time on the roof of FreshGrade.
  5. Online opportunities were provided to meet with our table groups over the course of the year.

By the time I had finished Short Course II, I had defined the first of my professional growth goals.  This is a management requirement for principals and vice principals in the Vancouver School Board in in British Columbia.  However for me defining an inquiry goal has always been part of grounding me in my practice.  Doing it prior to the start of the next school year allowed me to reflect on the previous year, consider new learning and thoughtfully plan my year so I could act deliberately rather than reactively.  During Short Course II, we agreed to meet with other SCII participants and participate online with our table groups.  It being the inaugural year, the anticipated challenges with technology presented themselves.  However it provides a pathway forward to continue to engage with colleagues over time.  The more we got to know each other, the better the conversation.  The inspiration, the collaboration and grappling with the ideas over time, provided an amazing model for powerful professional development.

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Brave Enough To Try

Over many of years as an educator, I have presented to many audiences in many capacities.  I’ve presented to students from Kindergarten to secondary, students at the university level, educators on staff and at professional development events, parents at PAC meetings or on school tours.  I have informed and entertained individuals to large groups.  I can throw a good party where everyone is invited.  I can fill in uncomfortable silences and make my guests feel welcome.


I was invited by Gabe Pillay to present at EDvent2017.  An event framed around the words of Cicero, “Learning is a kind of natural food for the mind”, promised an entertaining and thought provoking event.  The ideas came fast and furious.  What makes a fabulous restaurant experience?  What makes an optimal learning experience?

I had 5 minutes to quickly enlighten and inspire my audience.  The challenge from my friend and SFU colleague, Linda Klassen, was to try the Ignite format based on the Japanese PechaKucha .  Twenty slides advancing with a timer.  She did warn me about the challenge of maintaining the timing with the slides and the talk but assured me I was up to the challenge.

I loved the thinking around the idea of a menu for meaningful learning.  On Spring Break, the ideas came together on the beach in Vietnam.  Choosing the slides was fun. The big challenge for me  was being concise.  As I’ve told many of you, when my Auntie Myrna said “What’s your story, Morning Glory?”,  I included a well developed plot with all of the details.  Words had to be cut right, left and center.  Every word that was uttered, mattered.  Of course, it didn’t help that the slides and timing were submitted long before I finished changing the script.  If only I had followed the advice frequently given to my students to leave lots of time to practice.  I stopped scripting talks long ago because I thought it made me sound stilted when I talked.  In this format, I needed to relearn the art.  Scripting was imperative to maintain the timing. My Grandmother singing Rambling Rose was in the forefront of my mind.  I needed to focus.  To be specific yet still…inspiring…entertaining.

With every risk comes the chance of failure.  When self doubt triggers, it multiplies exponentially.  I am a big picture thinker with imagination which in cases like this does not help.  I am on the slate of presenters who I respect. I step up to the podium with a real sense of regret I hadn’t finalized in enough time to memorize the talk.  Why am I doing this again?  I scan the room and consider the worst case scenario.  Yes, I was that nervous.

In 5 minutes, it is all over and I am free to truly enjoy the rest of the event complete with inspiring speakers, yummy appies, hilarious Iron-EDU-Chef challenges and the infamous Candy Bar.  This risk taking endeavor has perhaps not been as inspirational as I had hoped for but has allowed for a connection with the audience and an experience to reflect on.

As school leaders we welcome, encourage and prompt our staff to take the risk to try something new on a regular basis.  The new curriculum in B.C. commands not only new ways of approaching established curriculum  but new ways of thinking.  Yet, it is easy to forget the range of emotions engaged by the process of taking risks.   It is an act of courage to try something different.  It is an act of bravery to do it repetitively.  Every now and then I think we all need to try something that scares us enough to remember the extent of that bravery!  Kudos to our teachers who do it everyday!

Let the Blogging 2016 Begin

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I love the new possibilities that come with each new year.  I have been blogging for several years now for a variety of purposes:

  • to discover unexplored terrain- the world of blogging
  • to share my adventure teaching and traveling in China with friends and family at home
  • to explore my own ideas and thinking
  • to develop my own writing skills by sharing with an audience
  • to share food, wine and experiences I love
  • to share subject specific information with literacy educators
  • to provide content with students
  • to encourage student writing and development of skills
  • to develop reading -writing connections
  • to share my ideas on a broad spectrum of educational issues
  • to develop a sense of community with my readers

It was interesting when I first looked at the WordPress stats and realized that people beyond my friends, relatives and acquaintances were reading my professional blog.  It was flattering but also gave me the sense that there were many like-minded people who I’d like to connect with.  I just don’t quite know how to do that.  My quest for 2016 is to figure that out.

I have a three pronged plan to develop a online community of people to challenge my thinking with divergent opinions, affirm my “ah ha” moments and shared realities, and provide information and thoughts on their own educational contexts.

  1.  I signed up to be part of School Administrators Virtual Mentorship Program (#savmp) in fall
  2. I signed up for Blogging 101 offered by WordPress. Thanks for pushing the card on this post, Josh!
  3. I’m scheduling time to respond to other bloggers.

The focus of my professional blog has morphed from a singular focus on literacy development to encompass a broad spectrum of professional issues and concerns.  I hope you’ll join me in my efforts to develop an online community of learners.