Purposeful PD: Launching the Learning (Take 2!)


As mentioned multiple times in my posts, I'm constantly reflecting on ideas from Priya Parker's The Art of Gathering to upgrade my professional learning sessions, meetings, and personal gatherings.

For today's reflections, I share a more structured approach to the way I begin, or as Priya calls it, the launch. (i.e. How to "Begin with a Bang" - take 2!)

I recently collaborated with a new friend who had not heard about The Art of Gathering, and when I tried to explain this information to her, I realized it was a LOT; thus, this post!

The Launch

Title box: Launching the Learning  People icon and text: People: Introduce self; Connect to participants via check-in; Participants connect Magnifying glass icon and text: Purpose: Share session -INGs; Share session goals/standards addressed  Info icon and text: Logistics: Share session "flow"; Share norms/community agreements; (Possibly) links to resources Lower right: colorful lightbulb icon and @kklaster
Launching the Learning

In The Art of Gathering, Priya inspires us to find ways to honor and awe our guests.

Your opening needs to be a kind of pleasant shock therapy. It should grab people. And in grabbing them, it should both awe the guests and honor them. It must plant in them the paradoxical feeling of being totally welcomed and deeply grateful to be there.
I feel the suggestion of honoring and awing guests is a very tall order during a quick webinar about formative assessments with Google Forms, but I'm working on it! 😜

So here's my session flow to launch a PD session (as of August 2022):


I say hello, check on the participants, and often have participants connect to one another.

  • My intro is typically very short. When I need to establish some quick credibility, I share my number of years of teaching (starting year 33! 🎉) or mention teaching math or working as an instructional coach. 
  • I frequently share or mention my connection to the material, i.e. if it's a session about podcasts, I share my favorite podcasts.
  • Since 2020 (and moving forward), I often begin with a sincere thank you to the participants as a way to honor them and their time.
  • Especially since the pandemic, I check on the participants' state of being. The check-in might be a "share your day" in the form of a GIF, put a word in the chat, or fist-to-five how are you.
  • For a face-to-face session, I provide a couple of minutes for participants to meet their neighbors. I include a prompt (e.g. share something you've recently learned), a timer, and play a bit of background music. (Shout out to my friend Laura for the music addition. In case the participants are new to each other, the music provides a bit of buffer in a quiet room.)
  • When connecting during virtual events, I provide discussion prompts for the breakout room and include a suggestion for who starts the conversation, e.g. the person with the shortest name begins the conversation.

My Personal People Pet-Peeves: 

These opinions are for my own preferences, and I realize others' views may differ!
  • Even if it's a recurring meeting, and I've sent a pre-email, I still introduce myself. I don't want to assume that everyone knows who I am. I recently attended a meeting where there were a lot of new people, and the speakers did not introduce themselves, nor were their names listed on the agenda. I felt newer employees did not feel a sense of belonging or connection in that meeting.
  • In my PD sessions, I do not share my degrees, colleges, family, pets, a collage of photos of summer vacations, ways I drink coffee, favorite restaurants, etc. (unless it is truly connected to the content of the session.)
  •  At a district conference this summer, at the end of the day, a participant said, "Thank you for providing time to meet our neighbors. This session is the first one where I've been asked to do that." 😱 The collaboration aspect is my favorite part of this type of event, and how disappointing that wasn't encouraged throughout the day.
  • I want to collaborate with session attendees, but I want it to be authentic. If there is an ice-breaker, I want to understand the purpose and how that activity will move the learning forward and connect to the rest of the session objectives. During the past few weeks, I saw a lot of buzz on teacher Twitter about the dreaded back-to-school ice breakers. I agree, and my session attendees will not be lining up by making animal noises. 😳


Using -INGs to clarify a meeting or session purpose continues to be a solid approach for me. 

Since that original post, I still love using icons from The Noun Project, but now I know that for my work to be more accessible, I add text to describe each of the icons.

decorative slide with title "Today's Focused -INGs." Three icons: book+website, people connected in a triangle, lightbulb; text under each icon is learning, connecting, reflecting
Slide showing session -INGs (for a webinar on Burnout)

Depending on the session, I might also share more details about session objectives or learning outcomes. I always link the PD session to ISTE Standards (and those related to the teacher evaluation system) but I may not spend much time on these during the session. 

Takeaways from AoG book club members:

This summer, I facilitated my fourth iteration of an Art of Gathering book club, and the session participants provided additional insight to ideas from the book.

Chapter 1 of the book is all about the importance of establishing the purpose of your gathering, and I appreciated these reflections:
  • One participant plans to develop "core" -INGs for her PLCs meetings, but then specify for each meeting which of the -INGs were to be used OR create an additional -ING for a particular meeting.
    • I facilitated a group that met quarterly, and our -INGs were problem-solving, networking, and learning. For our May meetup, we added "celebrating" as an additional session purpose.
    • Several participants are adding the meeting/session purpose to the top of an agenda or as Slide #1 in a presentation. I think that's a terrific reminder to keep a focus as the meeting designer and it helps establish and communicate a WHY.


    And now it's time to provide session logistics. Some of the information might be communicated in a pre-email, but the logistics I typically share are the session norms and the agenda "flow." 


    I still have mixed feelings about explicity stating norms, and I've been a participant where I've found the session rules very off-putting. (I'm still quite stunned when I hear "put away your devices," but that has happened, even this year. 🙄)  I want to respect adult learners and model best practices, but I think there's a fine line with sharing session norms.

    Even though we're used to webinar world, I always include a Slide to share the norm "Cameras are your choice," and I think it's important to explicity share that option.

    I'm still wondering the best verbiage to use for session norms, and I would love suggestions. Community agreements? Commitments? In 2021, I had the privilege of learning from Katrice Quitter who called our norms the day's Ethos, which I loved.

    My friend Julianna and I adapted the AVID A-E-I-O-U norms to create our "Road Rules" for a multi-day workshop. The theme was a PD journey, so we connected all ideas to a road trip.

    Decorative slide with text: Community Road Rules - DRIVE Develop your own methods. Respect diverse views. Integrate new information. Vocalize feedback. Engage fully. ✨ h/t AVID’s AEIOU Guidelines


    Another shout-out goes to Laura for her examples of a session timeline or flow, and I've started adapting and sharing that work as part of my logistics. Laura even includes her session -INGs as part of the timeline, and I've worked to #AdmireAndAcquire that idea, too.

    My script sounds something like this: "We have three parts to today's session: first we'll do ABC, then DEF, and then XYZ." I will show a Slide with these points, and I utilize an animation to emphasize each separate step in our journey.


    One of the benefits of this 3-step approach of people, purpose, logistics is that it reduces my cognitive load because I'm no longer wondering about the order of my session/meeting opening.

    If I'm facilitating a 50-minute webinar, I can accomplish all of these objectives in 5 minutes. If I'm leading an academy or longer session, I can expand any of the sections based on the needs of the work. For example, if the session is highly collaborative and is over an extended period of time, I definitely want to expand the People section to give participants more of an opportunity to connect. In this instance, I might also start the people (and logistics) in some of the pre-work materials, too. 

    My next wondering: how do I convey this same type of information in an asynchronous, self-directed session? 🤔 I know educators are now looking for more online learning opportunities, and I think the people, purpose, logistics flow still applies, but I need more practice with designing asynchronous courses.

    Additional Ideas

    Here are a few of my other posts related to The Art of Gathering:

    In what ways do you start your PD sessions? What else is important for the beginning of the session?

    I'm always ready to launch into learning!

    P.S. I used excalidraw to create the illustration at the top of this post.