Educators are beginning to ask an important question in a number of ways:
1. “How do we make our best professional development efforts ‘stick’ and see that they are transferred to classroom practice?”
2. “How do we take what we learn in leadership classes and turn it into better leadership?”
It’s time for a fresh look at the ‘stickiness’ of our professional development efforts. I am a strong advocate of a new concept working its way into the conversation called “embodiment”. When we embody something we can take action without thinking about it. In order to get to a place where a new behavior or action is embodied, we must practice it.
A great example is learning to drive. We can read about driving and learn all the concepts involved in driving; but for it to be ‘embodied’ we must get behind the wheel and practice. At first, it feels scary. We may hit the gas pedal too hard and squeal the wheels, we may hid the brake too hard and stop short, we may drive too close to the shoulder of the road because oncoming traffic intimidates us. Everything we do when we begin to drive feels uncomfortable.
Fast forward, many, many hours of driving practice later; and we find ourselves driving, listening to the radio, talking on the phone, and sipping our coffee without any thought or effort, whatsoever. We embody our new driving behaviors. It is practice that makes things ‘sticky’.
How can we apply the driving analogy to our ed tech and leadership professional development?
1. Recognize that attending professional development is only the first step in our learning.
2. Create daily practices for participants in our professional development sessions.
3. Create learning teams that meet to discuss each individual’s progress and to support each other in their new practices and behaviors.
4. Require that the teacher of any PD course, monitor the Learning Teams and their practices.
Here is a concrete example:
Let’s say we do a professional development session on Leadership. In the session we present the material and content we feel is most important. Perhaps we feel that being an attentive listener is very important if we want to be effective leaders. Before we finish the PD session we assign the following practices to the class:
1. Every morning write your intention to be a more effective listener in a journal. Writing your intention each day brings your goal to the forefront of your attention. It helps it from being buried in an avalanche of operational tasks that can dominate your day.
2. Whenever you speak with someone, physically face up to them and give them your full attention.
3. Whenever your mind wanders or stops paying full attention to the speaker, bring it back to listening.
4. Don’t take notes.
5. At the end of the day write your reflection on how you did in practicing attentive listening during the day in your journal. Once again, writing this helps keep your attention on your practice.
6. Every few weeks meet with your Learning Team to discuss how you are doing and to support others in their practices.
The example above is just one example of using practice to make what we learn in PD ‘sticky’. Over time, like learning to drive, the practices will pay off; at some point we will automatically ‘embody’ attentive listening. It will feel natural to listen fully and deeply to others. People will begin noticing that we have changed.
Athletes, musicians, artists, actors, and many others that strive for excellence know the importance of practice. Educators are beginning to ask the right questions about ‘stickiness’. Are we ready to move from conversation… to action, practice, and embodiment?