How far is too far to travel for PD?

The old saying “a change is as good as a rest” certainly applied to me last week when I attended the Learning Forward 2012 Conference in Boston with some of my colleagues. This was the first out-of-country (out-of-province, even) event I had attended and I was unsure how it would all “pan out.”  First of all, it seemed like a lot of money to spend on professional development. I wondered if I would learn anything that I couldn’t learn right in my own backyard. Secondly, I was leaving my family for a week, which is a long time in my world. I boarded the plane out of Saskatoon (five hours late!) with some anxiety and curiosity about the whole venture.

The conference turned out to be a fantastic learning experience. I think what made it most compelling was that it was such a big conference and the number of sessions available was vast (bordering on overwhelming). As a result, I was able to choose breakout sessions that were tailored just for me and the work I do. This doesn’t happen very often. I usually attend PD wherein I have to take what I learn and re-mould it into a form that applies to my daily work life. This was a much easier process in Boston. The mission of Learning Forward is to invite and support exceptional professional development for educators. Many of the people attending are in leadership roles such as mine and so the sessions I attended related to crafting and delivering exceptional professional development for my colleagues. This was really refreshing. I wasn’t just thinking about learning – I was thinking about how to support the people who support learning for children. This once-removed concept was new for me in professional development.

My first session was titled “Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions.” We explored a method for inviting students to think deeply, but the session quickly transitioned into discussions about how asking questions is also important for adults in their professional learning. In my small groups, we explored how to use these strategies with the adults with whom we work. The prospect is exciting and I think it will improve the professional development I facilitate by increasing the learner-centered focus.

My second session, “Central Office as Leaders of Principal Professional Development,” was really exciting because it strongly reflected a part of my role that I have been thinking about a great deal lately. We have been “delivering” PD to our administrators for as long as I have been in my position. We have tried every model we can imagine and have experienced a variety of responses, as a result. This session invited us to think about the importance of observation, conversation and reflection in the learning cycle. It provided us with a structure for really engaging in discussions with principals in order to encourage self-directed growth. I left with some really valuable tools and a renewed interest in exploring this idea further.

“The Choreography of Presenting” was my only all-day session and it was well worth the investment of time! This day took us through the psychology of group dynamics and message delivery. It was so interesting and engaging that I have been thinking about what I learned ever since! It really clarified for me the reasons why I have successful group interactions sometimes and not-so-successful at other times. I feel like I want to continue to work on refining my craft of public speaking and group engagement. This session was the perfect fit for me, no doubt.

My last session was called “Creativity: Sparking Higher Level Thinking.” This session was a look at how to embed the arts into all subject areas as a catalyst for higher level thinking. I am already a huge advocate for arts education but I learned a few techniques for using the arts to spur in discussion and reflection in students of all ages.

One of the best parts of attending a conference this big is meeting a wide variety of people in a vast array of jobs within the education field. I learned that we are doing exemplary work in many areas and I learned about aspects of our Division that we may want to reflect on further. One of the over-riding “take aways” for me, through both meeting people and through the sessions themselves, was the importance of listening. Stephen Covey has been talking about “seeking first to understand” for a long time but I continue to gain new insight each time I reflect on the power of listening to many voices in order to learn. Sometimes, listening and asking the “just right” question can lead to growth that cannot be replicated in any other way.

It was a gift to be able to attend the conference in Boston and to take the time to really reflect on my work and how to get better. Travelling further afield every once in a while is important in order to hear new voices and think about things in entirely new ways. This conference changed me and was an opportunity I do not take for granted!

Lunch entertainment Convention hall Beautiful Boston

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