6. Energizing (The ‘E’ in CHOICE)*

The proof is not in the pudding, or the eating. It’s in whether or not I want to go out and make my own. After I’m part of professional development, I want to be energized and ready to go.  After the best PD, I feel uplifted, energized, and ready to tackle every challenge that presents itself in my professional life. Not only am I ready, but I want to do it. I want to apply what I’ve learned. I want to go create an amazing lesson. I want to innovate and make something better than it was. I want to do it now!  Let’s go!

This may show up differently for different educators. A good place to start is to make the PD useful, practical, and individualized. If you want to add in a little bit of inspiration, expansive thinking, and fun with a purpose, that usually won’t hurt.

In a small group or one-on-one setting, it’s easier to individualize. After each experience, we want the learner to say, Thanks, that’s exactly what I needed! We want them to feel like they got something out of the experience that was useful for them. This was time well-spent. We want them to feel like there is a practical application for their students, and they could implement their new learning tomorrow.

In the smaller setting, it is more challenging to energize through inspiration. It’s harder to sprinkle pearls of wisdom, famous quotes, and interesting images from afar when your audience is sitting next to you at the same table. Even so, after discussing very practical ideas, and those ideas that could solve problems in the individual’s classroom, I like to include a delicate challenge. “I was thinking that you could also try…” is a good way start. “Now, I was just thinking, what if you thought about trying something like this in the future? Take a look at…” We can encourage expansive thinking even one-on-one.

I shared several useful tools to manipulate population numbers and other geographic data with a geography teacher. Toward the end of our conversation, I suggested “Mystery Skype” where students in different locations interact with each other via Skype or Google Hangout and try to determine where each is located in the world by asking a series of questions. I suggested he could use this as a way of getting his students to think about creating good questions, doing good research, and engaging in metacognition. Our conversation wasn’t about data or maps any more. It was about good teaching, good question techniques, and about learning how to learn. We discussed how the power of the “Mystery Skype” was in the question-creation that happens before the online interaction, and in the reflecting, processing, and writing that happens after the interaction is over. Expansive thinking and an energized teacher resulted. He said, “That’s a good idea. I think I might try that. Thanks!”

In a large group setting, individualization is more of a challenge. When I present to large groups at a conference or a professional development day, I try to include something for everybody while not lingering on one topic for too long. Options, ideas, examples. What can you take from me, tweak, and use in your own classroom? The best educators are the best thieves (although even the best thieves have to make the loot their own before it has value).

I’ve toyed with the idea of going more in-depth on one process or one tool and telling multiple stories on one topic. That doesn’t seem to be the best option. What if I talk about one tool for fifteen minutes and many in the large group either can’t or don’t want to use it? I’ve lost them for fifteen minutes. They aren’t energized. They are doing something else, and I may have lost them for the rest of our time together. I think the analogy I used when I spoke at the AP National Conference was appropriate. Since we were in Las Vegas, I offered the participants an extensive buffet where they could choose what they most wanted to add to their plate. Pass some things by and come back for seconds on others. Everyone could get what they wanted. And more.

It’s easier to add inspiration, expansive thinking, and fun to the larger group setting, but is still important to do it. Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate, is my favorite for this type of engagement. Probably because he’s the best at it. He is 100% energy combined with audience participation, and magic (not rhetorically…real magic). He has an ability to get the audience to think outside of the box. Through his words and his actions, he inspires the audience to think about how they could immediately add what he’s sharing to their classrooms and their teaching practices. He is who every teacher and every keynote speaker wants to be (although I don’t think I could wear an earring).

Adam Bellow shares a generous helping of images that are sometimes humorous, and serve the purpose of making the audience think how the words could relate to their academic setting. Yong Zhao combines humor and a rich personal narrative to encourage educators to think about the end result of what they do, and plan accordingly. Joe Sanfellippo intensely and enthusiastically entreats his audience to share their district’s story, tells how he does it, and then throws stuff at the audience with his #gocrickets hashtag emblazoned on it.

Mostly, we should give educators what they need so that when it’s over they don’t feel debilitated and beat down. We want them to feel energized, motivated, and inspired. And to tell people about it. In CHOICE, the “E” is not silent.

As an example, our school’s technology integrator, Emily Dittmar, had an hour to share Google apps that teachers might find interesting. Based on what the people in the room needed, the session moved seamlessly back and forth from a presentation to a question-and-answer session, to a workshop, to a collaborative effort with everyone helping each other. During the session one active participant smiled broadly and shared what the full classroom of teachers was thinking: “I feel really good about this whole session.” Energized.

*excerpt from the book Personalized PD: Flipping Your Professional Development