You’ve made it to the end of the Professional Development (PD) session. The facilitator asks you to think back on the session and take note of your golden nuggets and takeaways.

Now, this can be particularly helpful as you synthesize the different pieces and parts of the session. It helps to move the freshly obtained concepts from the hypothetical to the practical. From abstract to concrete.

Tools, templates, strategies, frameworks, tactics, logistics, and action items. That’s why we come to PD, right? We want to turnkey this. But should we question our motives as PD participants? As facilitators are we demeaning the value of our PD by asking participants to focus on takeaways? (I’m using “we” very intentionally here as I’m questioning my own motives and shifting my own beliefs and practices.)

I’m not questioning the pragmatism of PDs, but I am questioning, as a reflective learner, the perceived purpose of PD. After I facilitate a session, I most certainly want the participants to walk away with new learning that will influence their practice. But is this the most important and primary goal?

What I really hope is that participants will have a fundamental shift in their thinking. That shift in thinking will lead to new individualized outcomes that are far better than the outcomes/learning targets that I had in mind for participants. That’s what PD should do. Challenge strongly held beliefs, processes, and behaviors. Shift thinking.

If all you leave with are more tools for your tool belt, all I’ve done is equipped you only, and I have failed. I don’t decide your takeaways. I should be providing opportunities for you to create your own “shift-tos.”


Angela Peery · March 2, 2016 at 4:00 pm

I’ve been thinking on this topic for a while… and I’ve found that I’ve shifted my language to, “What’s one thing – and only one thing – that you will immediately change about your practice?” I ask participants to write it down and give them a minute or two of silence to do so. My feeling is that handwriting makes the goal more concrete, and the silent reflection time allows for each person to go into his/her unique situation and not be influenced by others (for ex., if I had instead asked folks to share out loud what one takeaway was). And as for “turnkey-ing” — I have never been a fan… People should come to PD to learn and to change their own practice. I hate it when the extra pressure of “redelivery” is added.

    nathandlang · March 3, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    Really appreciate your thoughts on the turnkey… We get into a situation where participants are asked to own something that they didn’t create…

      Connie Rockow · April 2, 2016 at 10:23 am

      So maybe it’s time to let them create their own PD. We have recently shifted to teacher driven PD in our district and it’s made all the difference in the world. When teachers are empowered they are more willing to stretch their thinking and try new things. By driving their own PD (as an individual and/or team) they are investing in themselves, their colleagues and their students. Instead of the end result being a skill taught (which I still think has value-as long as the teacher wants to learn the skill) the end result is a mindset shift, an ownership of their own learning. Our teachers have now become reflective practitioners who are continually seeking out new ways (aka personalized PD) to hone their craft.

Heidi Veal · March 3, 2016 at 2:23 am

Great points here Nathan! The purpose of any professional development should lie in the areas of igniting reflection on current practices, challenging mindsets, shifting thinking, and spuring growth that sustains longer than a flash in the pan. Thanks for sharing your insights!

    nathandlang · March 3, 2016 at 2:02 pm

    Amen! thank you for joining the PD revolution 🙂

Keri Skeeters · March 3, 2016 at 9:43 pm

Nathan, I appreciate you putting your thoughts about PD out there. This is something I have been thinking about for a long while, and I appreciate seeing my ideas articulated here by someone else.

I like the idea of having participants focus on a takeaway in some form or fashion. I think when we allow folks to drift out of the room, the learning drifts away, too. But we need to be intentional about it to ensure that we are focusing on what matters – shifting thinking, sparking growth, changing (or pushing on) mindsets, reigniting passion.

Michele Hill · March 9, 2016 at 12:02 am

Love this! As a presenter I am always looking for participants to have an Ah-ha moment where they have a dynamic shift in their thinking!

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