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avoiding the binder graveyard

As a teacher, I sat through a LOT of professional learning – some of it fantastic, and some of it not so much. Professional learning that gave me new tools renewed my enthusiasm for teaching, or directly challenged my thinking, and often left me with high hopes of transforming my teaching to impact student learning.

Then, I got back to my classroom.

Quickly, I found myself consumed with the current state of affairs…students, planning, team meetings…only to hastily place all of my newfound learning and renewed passion on the shelf in my closet with vows to return to it soon.

Hence, the binder graveyard was born.

Along with it laid the best intentions, plenty of passion, thousands of brilliant ideas and never enough time to bring them to life in my own classroom. It felt defeating.

Years later as a school principal, I vowed to keep that binder graveyard in mind. I selected professional learning opportunities for my team that would actually impact teaching and learning in simple, applicable, results-oriented and engaging ways.

This knowledge of how professional learning ties (or doesn’t) into instructional practice informs the way we develop, facilitate and refine professional learning at add.a.lingua.

So, as you begin planning for your team’s professional learning trajectory, here are some things to consider:

  1. backward design – What are your goals as a school or district? Not pie in the sky, pretty words-on-a-poster goals…but what are your student learning goals? Where do you need to enhance instructional practice to meet them? Initiative fatigue is real, so setting focused goals with direct ties to student learning should be the very first filter through which professional learning topics and trajectories are selected.
  2. long game – Exciting, new, fun, and trendy professional learning topics can quickly fill our calendars. But the questions to ask yourself are, “What will be the lasting impact? Will we be closer to meeting our goals (from point one above) as a result of this particular professional learning?” Meaningful change takes time. Consider an extended and strategic look at your overall goals and reflect on the realistic time it will take to see the fruits of your labor.
  3. data, data, data – What will you measure to understand the efficacy of the professional learning experience? To understand the impact, you must put into place a plan for AFTER the experience. Every minute of professional learning should directly impact and enhance our instructional practice to continue to develop our professional skills. This should have a measurable correlation to student learning. Whether it is measured formally or informally, there has to be a plan to assess the impact on who matters most: students.  
  4. applicable deliverables – What will your team walk away with at the end of this training? The WORST type of professional learning is when the participants leave without a shred of new information or strategies. All professional learning opportunities should be able to clearly explain the participant deliverables and what will be immediately applicable THE NEXT DAY. If no new learning can be put into practice immediately, its likelihood of working its way into lesson plans is low. This is not to say that teachers should walk back to their classrooms and change everything! This is to say those golden nuggets (strategies, lessons or tools) will help teachers internalize and understand their new knowledge, and set the stage for the long-term plan of professional learning.
  5. revisit and reflect – As a part of our professional learning series at add.a.lingua, we have designed intentional times for teachers to revisit the new information they’ve learned and reflect on its implementation within their classrooms. Consider how and when your teachers will continue to discuss and reflect on their professional learning. Can the dialogue be woven into your staff meetings? Or weekly grade level meetings? With your team, decide the best way to reflect upon the impact of the learning throughout the school year and then FOLLOW-UP! Don’t let it fizzle out to be replaced by the latest-and-greatest, or the next fire that has to be put out. This professional learning is your strategy for impacting long-term student achievement, so give it the time, space, attention and focus that it deserves!

No educators should be asked to sit through professional learning simply to comply. It’s our role as instructional leaders to keep the big picture in mind, to wrestle with the goals for our students, and make the decisions about how we support our teachers in order to help our students reach and exceed those goals. Doing so shifts the team from compliance to commitment…and keeps EVERYONE out of the binder graveyard.  


Want to learn about add.a.lingua’s engaging professional learning for immersion educators? Reach out using the form below.

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