A Different Kind of Professional Development

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How to Become Better at Your Job Without Really Meaning To

Professional development—that’s such a dry phrase, isn’t it? Imagine if we called school “academic development.” Doesn’t quite trigger thoughts of inspired learning and creative thinking, does it?

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But many teachers and librarians look forward to professional development during the summer months. It’s a chance to hit that refresh button, choose new tools for your toolbox, sweep out the cobwebs, and discover new metaphors.

I’m in the midst of my own small moment of professional development. I’m in an old house in Maine where there are more books than dust bunnies. My friend and I have landed here for a week of uninterrupted writing time. I say uninterrupted, but what I really mean is time without chronic interruption. I’m interrupted by my own need for food and by the sudden urge to attend other projects (such as this blog), but overall my time is my own and I choose to spend it writing.

Usually, we think of professional development as seminars, classes, lectures, and collaborations on projects you just don’t have time for during the school year or the work day. Equally important, I think, is time spent pondering. Planning. Mentally recovering and simultaneously preparing. Time when no one is asking you to attend a meeting, when there isn’t a group of wide-eyes students at your feet waiting for the next instruction. Time that is your own. Time free of obligation.

For me, I use that time to put words on the screen. Which might seem strange, since that’s basically what I do all day long in my real job as writer/editor. But this week, I choose my words based on what I want to read, not what someone else wants to read. Which is the main difference, I think, between writing fiction and writing nonfiction. When I write nonfiction, the audience is always at my side. I think of kids ages 7 to 10, 9 to 12, or 12 to 15 and I try my words out on them before I commit them to the page. This week, though, I am my only audience. And I like different stuff than what my nonfiction audience. I like messy plot lines and zingy one-liners. I like my characters to make inside jokes. I like the occasional naughty word. All stuff that gets edited out of my nonfiction.

Not only do I produce lots of material during my week of very quiet, solitary professional development, I also regroup. Right now, sitting in this 200-year-old house in Maine, I am becoming better at my job and at my life in general. I know that come Monday I will return to my office with a very different outlook. I’ll be energized, I’ll have a few new ideas to present to the Nomad team, and I’ll work more efficiently. We all fill our summers with everything we can’t get done during the rest of the year, but remember that giving yourself the gift of focus is just as important as ticking off items on your to-do list.

So when you’re considering professional development this summer, think beyond conferences and workshops. Sometimes you can become a better professional just by taking time to think. Uninterruptedly. Preferably in an old house in Maine.