Maintaining the 180 Spirit Cycle—Part 2: The Value of Professional Learning

A little more than a month ago, I attended the International Literacy Association (ILA) annual conference in Austin, Texas. I was excited to attend one of my favorite conferences and celebrate the appreciated disbelief of transitioning into my 25th year in education. Don't you love oxymorons? I know I do—especially since, in year one, I counted the days until the end of the year so I could escape, and even checked how to graciously get out of a contract. I truly appreciate both the professional learning I received back then, as well as my mentors noticing strengths that could become more consistent if coached so that I would stay actively engaged in the profession, which is a significant part of who I am.

OK, I'll move back onto attending ILA and the continuation of my June blog post, where I summarized the value of what I have learned as the 180 Spirit Cycle. This is a cycle that keeps us not only going but also giving: It flows along through professional borrowing, professional learning, reflection, feedback, and celebration.

As an educator, our overall aim is to inspire curiosity and develop lifelong learners. In January 2017, Dr. David Dockterman shared an article from The Economist, "Lifelong Learning Is Becoming an Economic Imperative," to encourage us to think about the connection between education and employment—not only to get a job but also to stay relevant in the workplace as technology changes rapidly.

Since then, I have continued to return to the article to think about the importance of being a lifelong learner. To develop others, we must always begin with self. Though we cannot always have the easiest of access to key thought leaders or the new voices on the cusp of making an impact, we are a profession that can make the most of blended learning and technology. Even if you could not personally join the conference, speakers posted Facebook Lives, conducted blended breakouts, and shared handouts for downloading. I encourage you to check out options to attend a national conference that aligns with your professional learning goals in the blended or online format.

Our profession benefits from blended learning options because it enhances relationships, relevance, and rigor. However, having face-to-face time and actively participating in content with peers is an important contribution to maintain the high dividends returned by our instructional investment. Collectively as teachers, we are the number one return on investment, but from my experience, to maintain the upside of our personal portfolios we need to invest in ourselves as well. That is what I did as I added steps to my day by walking through the exhibit hall and up and down escalators, following the map to locate the room of an anticipated session.

I walked through the exhibit halls to observe ideas and tools available for reading instruction. I picked up new titles that have been on my reading wish list. I smiled, remembering my love of waiting in line for a signed copy of my class’ favorite read-aloud. I attended sessions on topics that caught my eye. (Because I love, love, love writing session descriptions for the content I develop for educator experiences, this is one of my favorite parts of planning to attend a conference.) I am biased toward cool titles that clearly state expectations and outcomes through fun verbiage that describes deep discussions of key pedagogy within a book’s covers; such titles ensure I will walk away with new learning and practices that I can use tomorrow. And, I talked, snapped, and tweeted my way through the conference as I caught up with dear friends, high-fived fellow educators who sought me out, and met new colleagues.

Actively participating in professional learning benefits our 180 spirit in the following ways:

  • Contributes to our knowledge and expertise
  • Validates our intuition and understanding
  • Introduces and models new instructional best practices
  • Sparks aha! moments
  • Promotes agreements and professional debates
  • Builds a network and life-long connections

I met one of my dearest friends, Karen Javits, in 1995 in our summer back-to-school professional learning for the Orange County Literacy Project. Though it's not easy to stay elbow partners, we keep up through social networks. If we met today, we would laugh, catch up on family, and talk ELL Strategies. In 2006, I met Charmion Mohning, our newest Community blogger of "Charming Readers." We connected as I delivered her district's initial READ 180 Enterprise Getting Started sessions. I return each year to keep giving and have deep pedagogical chats with her.

Then, because I love unexpected encounters,I ran into two of my newer friends, Mary Shelton and Michele Nichols at ILA 2018. The three of us bonded over Birkenstocks, the importance of inspiring teacher confidence, and the joy of moving striving readers out of the failure cycle. From year one to the present, friendships forged during personal learning moments last.

Goodness, my 180 spirit has been active for a quarter of a century. I didn't think I would make it to year two, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I am the product of the best professional learning. How can you continue to brighten your 180 spirit in the last month of summer? Consider the tips offered below.

  • Check out professional learning being offered in your area. Consider virtual opportunities if travel is not an option. Read descriptions of sessions to select ones that align with your goals.
  • Actively participate. Hold back any possible eyerolls when asked to move up front or choose an elbow partner you do not know. Often, the moment the facilitator pushes us out of our comfort zone, learning is going to happen.
  • Talk to the presenter. You may inspire her to think about a new consideration, trigger thoughts for her blog, validate planned content, or become a dear friend.
  • Don't let someone sit or eat lunch by themselves. You may create a friendship that lasts 20+ years.

Love what you do and do what you love.

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This post originally appeared on the 180 Educator Community blog on August 1, 2018.

Interested in professional learning opportunities to help you transform your school or district? Hear thought leaders and speakers at our Leadership Academy 2018: Leading With Vision in Atlanta from Nov. 2–4, 2018.