Purposeful PD: Begin with a Bang

I recently reflected on my journey as a professional learning facilitator, so after one full year of remote learning, 

I can now admit that I am completely obsessed with improving how I design professional learning experiences.

In previous posts, I shared reflections on my learning preferences and developing my PD session's purpose in the form of -INGs, and now I'm working to strengthen how I begin my professional learning sessions. 

I have a lot of experience planning professional learning, but hearing Gayle Allen's Curious Minds podcast interview with Priya Parker made me realize I had a lot of growing to do. This episode was released in 2018, so I've been working on these upgrades for almost three years! I'm now completely obsessed with Priya's book, The Art of Gathering. The examples in her book range from dinner parties, to corporate boardrooms, to city-wide events, and I feel I can apply most of her ideas to educational settings, specifically PD sessions, whether they're virtual or face-to-face events. (By the way, Priya says a gathering occurs any time three or more people come together with a purpose. A gathering is time-bound and has a beginning, middle, and end. So a PD session definitely qualifies as a gathering.)

A story from Gayle's interview that really struck me was about Priya's chapter, Never Start a Funeral with Logistics. Here's that clip of the interview: 

As soon as I heard that story, I thought YIKES. How many times have I started my session with a list of norms and logistics? Once I knew better, I could easily do better, and now I start my meetings with purpose. The "How to Start" ideas tend to fall into one of these categories.

Purposeful PD: begin with a bang (icon for a map and starting point) goals (target icon), recognitions (award ribbon icon) SEL check in (emoji icons), community building (people together icon)
How I want to begin my PD sessions

Instead of logistics, I want to begin a professional learning session (or meeting) with one or more of the following ideas:


  • Share an essential question, session goals, or -INGs.
  • Provide learning outcomes.
  • Offer a connected standard/objective. (A favorite co-planner, Laura, and I frequently frame our sessions around a standard from the ISTE Standard for Educators.)


  • Toast the group (raise a coffee mug!) for the occasion. Shout out to my friend Erika who started our #CoffeeEDU this way.
  • Recognize the participants for their time, engagement, and willingness to learn and grow.
  • Acknowledge a significant date, work, or state of mind of the group.

SEL Check-Ins:

  • Provide an opportunity for an emotional check-in.
    • Ideas might be something simple, like a fist-to-five ranking, or silly, like "Choose your Vibe" according to the GIFs shown on this slide.
    • Use a tool like the Courageous Conversations Compass, which my colleague Chris expertly used during our DEI team meeting on January 6, 2021, after the riots at the Capitol. 
  • Breathe, meditate, or facilitate another mindfulness activity.
    • After the summer protests, my fabulous colleague Nancy started her Monday morning PD session with a gratitude mindfulness activity, and it was the perfect way to begin the week after the tumultuous weekend throughout the country.

Community Building:

  • Allow participants to try a quick collaborative activity. Gary Hirsch shared this idea for the virtual world: ask participants to share something in the chat and then "steal each other's ideas."
  • Complete a tiny icebreaker (in the chat or breakout room, if virtual).
  • Create a virtual space for attendees to connect prior to the session. Use tools like collaborative Slides, Flipgrid, or Padlet; start a discussion prompt in an LMS; or share using a session hashtag.
  • Play music. I've had several facilitators ask in a pre-survey to share a favorite walk-up song. They created playlists of all participants' favorites and used this music for session breaks and transitions. 
    • Two side-notes: I've always enjoyed listening to music when I'm in face-to-face sessions, and I have many playlists for my own PD workshops, but I really don't enjoy music during webinars. I wonder why? Also, I'm always wondering about copyright issues with playing music...
I've learned my lesson about how to start a PD session or meeting, but I always know there is room for growth! What are your examples of the best ways to begin a PD session? What makes you feel connected to the content, the community, and the presenter? How else can I begin PD sessions with a bang?

Always learning about professional learning...


Purposeful PD: What are the -INGs of your PD session (or classroom)?

Because of the one-year "milestone" of the pandemic, and now with a bit more hope around the corner, I've been reflecting a lot about what happens moving forward. I don't want to have the TTWWADI (that's the way we've always done it) mindset. I feel like I've learned so much this past year, and I want to continue moving forward with my work, especially in the way I design professional learning experiences. "I used to think there were only a few ways to deliver PD, but now I think the sky is the limit!" I've also said many times this year that even though it's my 31st year as an educator, I've felt like a new teacher during most of 2020 - 2021. 😬

One practice that worked both pre-pandemic and during remote learning experiences is the idea of determining the verbs or the -INGs (gerunds, i.e. verbals for my grammar nerd friends 🤓) of each PD session, conference, or even meeting. I wonder if I can make this idea even stronger or more impactful? 

I originally discovered the idea of learning space verbs from Dr. Robert Dillon, co-author of the book The  Space. A couple of years ago, our ESC buildings underwent huge renovations, and we now have a beautiful conference center, presentation rooms, flexible seating, and advanced technology. Some employees wondered what happened if they designed PD sessions that utilized these new spaces and tools, but then they presented their work in a different building that was not equipped with such updates?

Here's why the session verbs are so useful: if I determine what I want my participants to do, such as collaborate, reflect, and explore [digital tools], then I design activities so those actions occur regardless of the space.

Dr. Dillon's notions were floating in my mind, but this design idea really struck a chord after listening to this podcast interview with Kat Holmes and her work on the power of inclusive design. Kat's work is all about accessibility, inclusivity, and UDL. One of her ideas is to "provide diversity in ways to participate." In the podcast episode, she shares ideas about designing with -INGs in mind, and she provides an example of designing a playground. What are the most important -INGs that might happen on a playground? Maybe connecting, exploring, and even climbing...and then how can you design experiences around these -INGs?

I took her idea of designing with -INGs in mind, and now it's a regular part of my PD session design process.  

Creating PD Session -INGs

Marker board with a lot of text just to demonstrate lists of items
Brainstorming our session -INGs
In 2019, two other consultants and I collaborated on a Sketchnoting Across the Curriculum session. Here's part of the marker board from our initial brainstorming meeting, and we jotted down possible -INGs that we wanted for our participants. (green list) From the long list, we narrowed our -INGs to six.

Once we established our -INGs, we used these actions as a lens for every part of our session design. When we created an activity, it had to address at least one of our -INGs. As we continued to design the session, we also noticed subtleties like, "One of our -INGs is 'modeling,' but we used clip art for this slide. If we want to model our sketchnoting, we need to replace that clip art with our own sketches."

Here's the finished view of our slide, and our -INGs became our session goals.

Today's Goals and 6 icons that represent Modeling, Drawing, Risk-taking, Collaborating, Synthesizing, Sense-Making
Modeling, Drawing, Risk-taking, Synthesizing, Collaborating, Sense-Making

The beauty of well-crafted -INGs is that these goals and activities seem to work both face-to-face and remotely! My friends and I held our original sketchnoting sessions as 6-hour face-to-face sessions, but we were able to use the same -INGs in our revamped asynchronous online session this summer. We had to modify some of the activities, of course, but we created ways to design with these actions in mind.

For my 1-hour webinars, I typically design with three -INGs in mind. I've written quite a bit about my love for curation, and for a recent curation session, I kept struggling to land on the -INGs. My brilliant colleague Nancy said, "They should be the same as curation goals: scanning, sense-making, and sharing!" Duh! 

Today's goals and icons for scanning, sense-making, and sharing
Scanning, Sense-Making, Sharing

For PD sessions, I regularly use The Noun Project to find icons for my words and share a quick slide to explain these -INGs as session goals. (I pay for a Noun Project subscription because I like the ability to customize the colors of the icons.) I use these words to critically evaluate my session activities, such as "An important session -ING is 'collaborating,' but I didn't leave space in my agenda for breakout rooms or other types of collaboration." Oops, time to change the agenda! When we return to face-to-face sessions, an -ING of collaborating might mean moving tables to be able to work in small groups, AND creating digital collaborative spaces, such as a backchannel.

And for the classroom?

I've now been out of the classroom for 5 years 😢, but I imagine this idea of -INGs would be powerful for both face-to-face and remote experiences. I would also want my students to choose their words. For my Student Council leadership class, I hope the words might have been collaborating, serving, leading, reflecting, and organizing. For my math classes, I think discovering, evaluating, connecting, sharing, and reflecting might be excellent choices.

My practice of determining -INGs has served me well during the pandemic (and prior to COVID), and I will continue this process and will continue sharing it with others. But is there a way to make the -ING ideas even stronger? I wonder what -INGs might have more of an impact on my session design and activities? Are these -INGs improving inclusivity in my sessions?

Always learning and reflecting on professional learning...


I used to think _____________, but now I think ________.

I can't believe it's been a whole year since the world changed. 

Many of my favorite podcasts and PLN friends recently shared reflections, questions, and prompts to reminisce on this past year, and since I'm doing a #safeathomespringbreak, I thought it would be worthwhile to spend time reflecting, too. In addition, I received my first vaccine dose on Saturday (3/13/21) so I'm feeling especially grateful and reflective today.

I must acknowledge how fortunate I am with my health and my family's health and well-being. I know it's a privilege that I have been able to work safely at home, that I can have groceries delivered, and that I have the technology to stay connected to friends and family. 

My Pre-Pandemic Timeline:

One of my resolutions for 2020 was to journal at least three times a week, so I have quite an accurate record of my feelings leading up to the pandemic declaration. I want to put all of this information in one place so I'll have a record of what happened.
  • February 29, 2020: Attended an #edcamp, and one of my friends told the story of her son trying to get out of Rome and his study-abroad program. Italy was shutting down because of COVID-19.
  • March 6: Helped run our whole Staff Learning Day, and we started our spring break at the end of the day. I remember my shock when South by Southwest canceled that evening. 
  • March 7: Flew to Portland, Oregon with my work friend, Arynn. We talked a little about "the virus," and we packed extra hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes for the flight. We saw a few masks at the airport.
  • March 8: Met #botjoy artist Gary Hirsch! We all hugged hello. (When we saw him before we left on 3/10, we elbow-bumped goodbye.)
  • March 9 - 11: Enjoyed an amazing time on our mural tour and loved being in PDX. We continued to use a lot of hand sanitizer, but it was not a fearful time.
  • March 11: Flight home, and we definitely saw more masks at the airport. Started hearing about closings: schools, districts, events. The NBA suspended its season.
  • March 12: Some of our first districts started closing and extending their spring breaks. Kristin called and asked me to start a website (or something) to begin curating resources for educators. Twitter exploded with resources.
  • March 13: the US declared a national state of emergency, which was fitting for a Friday the 13th. I remember my "COVID-dreams," started that weekend. I kept waking up thinking I was feverish or with a sore throat, believing I caught something on the trip to Portland.
  • March 16: Returned to work, and what a fearful place it was. Districts were closing all over, and we didn't know what to do, so we kept working on a website of resources. Many of us were in a large open space, sharing details about how to get the work on the remote learning website when the government declared to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.
  • March 17: Worked from home and started curating resources. Our director told us mid-afternoon that we HAD to start presenting Zoom webinars tomorrow. We had no presentations, no materials, and little knowledge of Zoom. The team of six of us figured out what to present, and then we went to work. I was so thankful that I helped facilitate #EdChangeGlobal in 2018, and I knew something about Zoom, but I had never facilitated a webinar on my own. We weren't able to advertise until about 4:00 PM that day, and we shared via social media. 
  • March 18: 10 AM, I kicked off our entire "Emergency Remote Learning" webinar series with a brand new session, Mindsets of Remote Learning. And it's been the webinar/Zoom life for me ever since that day. 
Thinking back to those days still makes me agitated and makes my heart race! I seriously can't believe it's been a year. Somewhere within that week, we first canceled our #CoffeeEDU and then re-vamped it to be an online meetup, so this Saturday's event will be a one-year celebration of resilience and gratitude.

I used to think...

One of my favorite Visible Thinking routines is to respond to the prompt "I used to think ... but now I think ..." (My students even tried something similar, and I documented one example on my old class blog in 2012!) That sentence starter has been useful as I've worked on my personal reflections for the year.

For our team book study this semester, our Director chose A Beautiful Constraint, which is apropos for the year, right? 😳 My first "reflection" activity today was to create a "year in numbers" graphic to highlight the work I've accomplished despite the year of constraints. This year, I've "reached" more educators and created more content than in my combined past 5 years at R10! 

I used to think there were only a few ways to deliver PD, but now I think the sky is the limit! 

Our teams at the ESC have been so creative with their professional learning sessions, innovative solutions to reach educators, inventive formats, structures, and delivery methods, and I'm so impressed with what my colleagues designed and facilitated this year! Our team's first two weeks of the emergency remote webinars was an incredible achievement, and I'm still so proud of our work. We reached thousands of educators in a few days' time, and I think (hope!) we helped alleviate some of the enormous stress.

With synchronous and asynchronous learning, nano-courses to lengthy online courses, facilitated learning to independent explorations, I hope we continue to design and deliver a multitude of session types and formats. As I mentioned in my last post, I also learned so much about my own preferences and the types of learning experiences that I want to participate in, and it's wonderful to have so many choices available.

Understanding the many ways to "do" PD has been a highlight and a huge area of growth for me this year. In addition, I'm on a committee at work to help design a professional learning model for our service center, so PD has been at the forefront of my mind all year. My next goal, however, is to find ways to really help that learning transfer and stick.

This week, I plan to continue to reflect on the past year. It certainly has been a time of learning for me, and I want to continue developing my ideas about PD and growing into a better designer and facilitator. 

Always learning about professional learning.

PS: My 2020 spring break trip to Portland was one of the best trips. I couldn't think of a better way to spend my last pre-pandemic days. Here are a few photos of the #botjoy mural tour.