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Making Lemonade From Lemons: Creating Your Own Back-To-School PD

The morning began at 8:00 a.m. My butt was numb, and the math-publishing-company-consultant was racing through the teacher's manual at break neck speed. I'd given out my last two ibuprofen to a fellow sufferer. We still had two hours to go. 

Why does professional development so often feel like hell? 

I have a theory that consultants often suffer from educational amnesia. They know the research, but choose to forget it. What's good for our kids is good for adult learners too. Professional Development is at its best when it's teacher-driven, teacher-centered, collaborative and interactive. And just like student learners, we love choice. 

So why not take responsibility for our own learning? My teaching posse and I did just that last week. We planned an unconference. Our definition of an unconference includes three things: Camaraderie, choice, and commitment. It was a tremendous experience! The best part? ANYONE can do this for themselves!
We talked about destinations and venues. It had to be fun. It had to be somewhere all of us could afford.
Retta was the point person who made the reservations and researched activities for us. My job was to lead the conversation about the content of our professional development sessions. What did each of us want to learn? What are our strengths? What could each of us teach? I also printed our conference t-shirts and put together our swag bags. Retta and I took the lead on these things because we're both from Michigan and are very familiar with the venue. We acted as hosts. Kathie came from California, and Deann flew in from Connecticut. Even though we've been podcasting together for a little over a year, none of us had met Deann! 

We chose Mackinac Island which is located in the straits between Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas.

Automobiles aren't allowed on this island. Everyone travels by horse-drawn carriages or bicycles. It had the best of all worlds: Forest, lake, beach, shopping, yummy restaurants, and most importantly sunsets and a bookstore. 

Learning should be fun. Period. We chose a destination that would allow us to decompress and "percolate" in between our learning sessions. Often times, the learning continued as we bicycled and ate our weight in fudge and ice cream. It truly was magical.




The second important component of our unconference was choice. We spent a long time on a conference call talking about our areas of expertise and need. Kathie is an organizational wizard. Retta makes every lesson feel special and engaging by approaching content creatively. Deann's an expert at cooperative learning and differentiation, and my strength is infusing art, music and movement into all subject areas. By the end of our phone call, each of us knew what we were presenting at the unconference. 

The coolest thing is how tailored this became for our needs. It was relevant to us as teachers and learners. We spent time on our own developing our presentations. Some of us provided handouts or videos. Plus, we were able to practice some of what we were learning right then and there. All of us walked away with an action plan for when we returned home, and we agreed to check in with each other on our progress.
Commitment. It's a heavy word, but when you're planning an unconference with your gang, it's needed. We spent the week at a fantastic vacation destination that was chocked full of touristy possibilities. It was essential that we remembered our purpose for being there. Each night, we talked about the next day. We read through the tourist brochures and discussed what we wanted to see. Sometimes, we split up to explore and adventure, other times we stayed together. Once those things were decided, we agreed on a work window. Then, we stuck to our guns. One late afternoon, we returned to our condo later than expected. The horse-drawn carriage taxis run on island time, and we had to stop for some Mackinac Fudge ice cream. We still honored our commitment. We worked later into the evening to make up the time. 

I can honestly say that this was one of the best learning experiences I've ever had. I came home with tons of new ideas to try with my new students. I feel charged up and ready to go! We chose a vacation destination, but that's not always possible or affordable. You can do the same thing, but keep it local. Go to an art museum together or host a teacher slumber party. However you choose to collaborate at an unconference,  remember the 3 Cs: Camaraderie, Choice & Commitment. 

Grab the FREE Unconference Cheat Sheet below to help you plan your own professional development opportunity. Then, gather your posse and pack your suitcase!


Be sure to listen to our new podcast episode about planning your own unconference! Click on the picture below. Don't forget to check out the posts about professional development from my podcast posse, Kathie, Retta and Deann. Their links are below, too.















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