It’s Not Really PD

“In a nutshell, connected learning is learning that is socially connected, interest-driven, and oriented towards educational and economic opportunity. Connected learning is when you’re pursuing knowledge and expertise around something you care deeply about, and you’re supported by friends and institutions who share and recognize this common passion or purpose.” Mimo Ito

We just finished the Discovery Educator Network’s Summer Institute aka DENSI 2013. I saw a number of people calling it “the best PD” they’d ever had. I kept thinking PD is not really the right term but it’s the closest thing we have. I guess we butcher our language all the time. Using the word “awesome” to describe a great sandwich as well as the beauty of a sunset. Or the word “love” to talk about our favorite app and the relationship we have with family. I get it, and I do it all the time as well. The problem is the words may not matter much among friends who understand what we mean but to share it with those not close to us sometimes the words fail miserably.

To many teachers Professional Development is an event, something prescribed, you know, like school is to students. I’ve participated in a number of wonderful in person events over the past several years. Unplugged was a brilliantly crafted experience that focused on community storytelling.  DENSI is a larger event with about 150 educators gathering for a week. It’s a great mix of people who know each other and people who’ve never met.  Lance kicked off the event with a clear request for people to feel comfortable with who they are and what they know. One thing about the DEN community I’m most proud of is the fact that our members are not chosen based on their skills but on their passion and desire to share.  My favorite part of the week was our “unclosing”. Essentially it was a show and tell featuring videos and artifacts and stories of people’s experience.

PD is that thing we do that consists of teaching people new content and skills. That’s not a bad thing, in fact it’s necessary. What happened in Vermont was that and more. The “more” is essentially the emphasis on relationships and people, not as an add on or bonus but as an integral part of the event. If this comes across as touchy feely, I’m sorry. While it kind of is, I’m just not sure if I want to experience learning that’s void of relationship. I think back to a post by Bud Hunt on love as an essential element of school design. I know many of the conversations about changing school because of technology center on emphasizing skills and process over knowledge and content. I think the relationship aspect, while perhaps not ignored seems less important for many. I fully acknowledge that schools and professional learning involves people who don’t necessarily choose to be part of  a community, who do not necessarily share the same  passions and interests. But I don’t think that should mean we don’t strive for increased connectedness and caring. It may not be DENSI-like but it could be a whole lot better than it is.

I’m under no illusion that I’m writing anything new or insightful but when you experience something of this nature, words seem to be all we have. I was privileged to be asked to share a bit of a closing talk and quite frankly after the unclosing efforts of the group, I felt like the warmup act following the star attraction. My message of joy seemed about the only thing I could offer but I did spend the week capturing data. Smiles. To me this was the best representation of our time together, as important as any knowledge or skills we took away.

I concluded my talk with this great quote from C.S. Lewis. It’s difficult to lump this idea in with the other PD. We played, we had fun, we learned, we connected and we took each other very seriously.

We Must Play.