I’ve experienced some great professional development (PD) during my teaching career. I’ve been to numerous trainings, workshops, conferences, etc. The best PD experiences for me have been in recent years. A few of them have been career altering and served as springboards to other great opportunities. I’ve selected my top three experiences and have chosen to write about 15 attributes that seem to overlap in all three of these. I believe that transformational PD must have all of these characteristics. Great PD will have most of these. Good PD will include some.
Here are my top three PD experiences:
The first characteristic is simple, but important. There needs to be a great enough incentive for a large number participants to apply. The more applicants, the greater the potential for a strong cohort. Last year over 4,000 teachers applied for LearnZillion’s TeachFest. LearnZillion provides an all-expense-paid-trip to TeachFest and pays teachers for the content they create after TeachFest. Some of the incentives to become Google Certified are to spend time at Google headquarters and receive the recognition and honor that comes with being Google Certified. The Writing Project offers paid college credits for those who are accepted.
2. Application Process
Eric Westendorf, co-founder of LearnZillion, stated that 5% of applicants were accepted to participate in TeachFest (2014), which means that it is harder to get into TeachFest than any college in the US. Throughout the event, he continued to emphasize that we were an elite group of educators. I read somewhere that about 10% of applicants are accepted to become Google Certified. The Writing Project Summer Institute conducts in-person interviews before making its final selections. Candidates are typically required to submit a resume, answer essay questions and submit short video clips as part of the application process.
3. Selection Process
Only educators that have certain leadership qualities are invited to participate. The hosts seem to be looking for collaborative, humble, kind, genuine, helpful, creative, risk takers. Some of LearnZillion’s core values speak to the personality of those they recruit: “We help each other get better.” and “We laugh at ourselves. Regularly.” Most people who have seen “The Internship” understand what it means to be Googley. In the same way, the Writing Project recruits those who are genuinely eager to learn from their peers. If you come across as being too independent or arrogant, you probably won’t make the cut.
Once selected to participate in a PD event, the organizing agent will typically send a press release that can be shared with your local newspaper and school district. Some hosts post your profile photo on their website recognizing you as an elite educator.
Great PD is all about the community connecting and building relationships with one another. Once selected, participants are able to join up via social media such as private Facebook groups, Google+ communities and participate in webinars and video chats with fellow cohort members. Connecting an ambitious rock-star group of educators always creates a top-notch professional learning community/network (PLC, PLN).
All great PD experiences have top-notch coaches, mentors, or lead learners that either work for the host or are educators who were involved with a previous cohort. These mentors help participants feel welcome by connecting with them, answering questions, leading breakout sessions and helping everyone become better educators.
7. Team Building Activities
Great PD is never a one-way, sit and get experience. It always includes collaborative, team-building activities where participants often are forced to get out of their comfort zones. Some of these team-building exercises are so much fun that teachers are excited to repeat the activities with students in their classrooms. At TeachFest in San Francisco, participants played a paper-rock-scissors knock off elimination game, and at Google Teacher Academy our Android dressed hosts (Wendy & Cat) led a “Minute to Win It” competition.
8. Special Guest(s)
It was an honor and privilege at the Writing Project’s summer institute to write poetry with Kim Stafford, son of famous American Poet Laureate, William Stafford. At TeachFest, I met Caine from Caine’s Arcade and producer Nirvan. We had multiple special guests at Google that were a joy to learn from. Special guests often provide inspiration in ways that reach beyond typical PD.
9. Breakout Sessions
Breakout sessions occur when the cohort splits into smaller, assigned groups to collaborate, learn or write in a more intimate environment. They are always highly engaging, interactive and collaborative. These groups are typically led by coaches or mentors and participants usually become tight-knit and often develop life-long friends from within these groups.
10. Cohort Members Leading
Sometimes the best ideas and insight come from within the cohort. That’s why it is the Writing Project’s model to require each participant to teach a mini-lesson to the whole group. LearnZillion selected cohort members to speak words of inspiration during breakfast, and participants of Google’s Academy were also given opportunities to lead various sessions. When participants are given leadership roles, the hosts are saying, “We’re all equal and can learn from each other.” That’s powerful.
11. Free Food and Beverages
I’ve had some of the best meals at the Writing Project formal dinners, TeachFest, and definitely at Google’s legendary cafes and micro kitchens. Teachers are always impressed and thankful when they are able to wine and dine like royalty.
Teachers are used to scrounging for leftovers and hand-me-downs, and paying for school supplies from their own pockets. That is why teachers are so grateful to receive gifts like t-shirts, books, pens, gift cards, software/app subscriptions, earbuds, stickers, etc. Gifts are great because they’re unexpected, and a great way to show someone that they are appreciated. All the great PD I’ve attended gave gifts to its cohort members.
13. Plan of Action
Every great PD requires the participants to pay-it-forward by sharing what they learned to their educational community through leading workshops or creating lessons from what was learned during the PD experience. The learning and implementation doesn’t end when the event ends. The event is just the beginning of what is possible through the inspiration, relationships, and valuable lessons that were gained.
All great PD gatherings include a celebration dinner, awards ceremony, or some sort of party. The celebration is often a last chance to take photos with your new friends, say goodbyes to everyone a low-key, informal, relaxed and fun social atmosphere.
15. Opportunities for Alumni
One great opportunity leads to another. Once you’ve become a Writing Project Teacher-Consultant (TC), you may be given the opportunity to lead a workshop, boot-camp, or teach a graduate level course through the Writing Project. LearnZillion gives many opportunities to its DreamTeam alumni, such as representing LearnZillion at the Global Silicon Valley (GSV) Summit. Google Certified Teachers are encouraged to join or lead Google Educator Groups and pilot products, such as the Nexus 7 tablet participants of GTAMTV were sent home with.
The list of attributes is by no means exhaustive. What characteristics do you think are an integral part of great PD?