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What To Do With An Idea: Taking professional learning to practice.

December 21, 2021 9:29 AM | Ashley

What To Do With An Idea

Taking professional learning to practice.

By: Kim Darche and Lindsay Zilly

Do you ever get knocked sideways by an idea at an inconvenient time and think to yourself, “this is such a good idea, I’ll totally remember it,” so you don’t do anything with it at the time? And then it’s gone forever?


BUT, if you did do that, that would be bad. Many times we experience these “light bulb moments” during professional learning at conferences or other immersive events that tend to be jam packed with amazing things. Then we often experience daily overwhelm where we just crash at the end of the day, forgetting to recap, reflect or close the loop on our fresh new ideas. It’s there where ideas go to die. So, as we prepare for IDEAcon 2022, let’s unpack some ways to answer the question: what should I do with an idea?


The Dip

The number of times I am at some sort of stellar workshop or I see an idea on Twitter or Tik Tok and I am out of the gate like a thoroughbred ready to reach the finish line. The plans are taking shape: Started a Doc, talked about what it will look like, bragged about how great it will be, thought about all I will need, began to …. And yep, you guessed it, I fall into the Dip. Seth Godin speaks of the Dip in great length. The times when the work is hard and the result is seemingly non-existent. 

And before I know it, the most awesome, amazing, incredible, transformation idea of all education has dissolved into the depths of my Google Drive. 

Um.. ok. So now I had to discover how to get out of the Dip.

1: Recognize it. Understand it is a natural part of the process. 

2: Work in spurts to try to make it exceptional. Trying to make it exceptional will fuel your passion. 

3: Take a chance and do something completely unexpected in your quest. It might fail but heck it just might work. 

4: Talk about your project with others. Have your people in place to ask you how it is going, to take the leap with you, 

Building Better Habits

In 2016 I attended one of my first conferences as an instructional coach. It was a turning point for me, because the lens I was now looking through shifted from that of my classroom, to that of my teachers. So it was then that I decided to try something new: sketchnoting. I wanted to test out a new strategy so that I could share authentic feedback about it with my teachers. During every session I drew out my notes on my iPad. I took pictures of important links or other necessary information but I sketched all of my ideas. And you know what? It worked! I actually used my notes. I reflected on them during the conference and even went back to them after. 

Let me just take a moment to add a general disclaimer: my first sketchnotes were nothing to write home about. They weren’t pretty, but they worked!  

I was then able to bring back the concept to my teachers who then brought it back to their students. Why does this matter? Sketchnoting became a habit for me that allowed me time to ideate and reflect on my learning at conferences. In addition, I started to get better at it and then was able to share my sketches via social media which then connected me to other people, who iterated on my ideas or shared their thinking with me. This chain reaction helped me stretch my practice further than I ever thought possible.

The point is, you have to develop a habit that allows you to reflect on your ideas and make your thinking visible. Looking back on my past sketchnotes, I’m able to not only relive the experiences, but also see how the experiences helped shape who I am today. But, sketchnoting isn’t the only way to do this. Here are some other ideas for building better habits with professional learning. 


Taking Professional Learning to Practice

Lies I’ve told myself:

  • “I’ve written that down and I’ll totally try it out, when things slow down.”

  • “I’m definitely going to use that next year.”

  • “I’m not good at _____. It’s just not in my wheelhouse.”

  • “My students will learn that from the media specialist/social worker/next year’s teacher.”


Overcoming Lie #1 & 2: Just like with anything, if you don’t use it, you lose it. When it comes to our students we know that it’s not enough for them to simply hear us talk about new content. They have to do something with it, and right away. Well, the same is true for us. If you consider yourself a life long learner, which I’m confident you do, then you have to think from the perspective of a learner when you attend any type of professional learning at all. When a new idea is introduced, find some tiny way to use it the very next day. It may be a total flop, or it may just transform teaching and learning for you. I presented at a small conference this week and ran into some former colleagues of mine who graciously attended my session. As I was teaching a micro strategy about leveraging what’s trending with our middle schoolers to enhance our lessons, I knew instantly that my friends were going to take the information I shared and use it the very next day. And sure enough, the next day I was tagged in this tweet:

How did I know this? These teachers always approach PD with an open mind. They make room for teachable moments in their daily lessons and they fail forward. I love the risks they take and model for their students to take too!

Overcoming Lie #3: How often do you hear adults say they can’t read? Like, never, right? That’s because we live in a society where reading is just a skill everyone needs to possess. It isn’t optional. Yet, how many times will people willingly admit they aren’t artistic or “good with technology”? The number of times I’ve openly admitted that I’m not good at math, is well, probably a very large number. It’s not looked upon the same way reading is. It’s socially acceptable to admit that we aren’t tech savvy or creative. To be able to let professional learning experiences impact you, you have to adopt a mindset where admitting that you aren’t good at something, isn’t an option. I’ve started to say, sometimes math is hard for me instead of I’m not good at math. It’s tiny, incremental, mindset shifts like this that allow us to fully see and inevitably reach our potential. 

In my previous example of taking something from PD and using it the next day, the “thing” that was brought back to the classroom was beat boxing. How many teachers do you know that can say, “fun fact about me, I can beat box!” Not very many. However, you’ll never know it until you try it. And by trying it you show your students you are willing to be vulnerable for them and in turn they feel safer to be vulnerable for you.

Overcoming Lie #4: We don’t teach content, we teach kids. Telling ourselves that a certain topic is someone else’s responsibility doesn’t actually take something off of our plate. Take for example media literacy. If you are asking your students to use any type of technology to create, collaborate, communicate or critically think then you are going to want students who can navigate the interwebs well. While online, you’re going to want them to analyze the content they have access to and choose what is reliable and what is simply fluff. You are also going to want students to understand the permanency of their posts when engaging in an online learning environment like Google Classroom. So while the idea of digital citizenship and media literacy may seem like a standard that should be taught in a specialized class, they really are topics that should be embedded throughout all the work we do with students. We have to teach the whole child, not just the parts that are aligned to a handful of standards.  

Now, this may seem daunting and “one more thing” that you now have to think about. However, investment in these sorts of concepts early on allows you to have greater autonomy over your class throughout the remainder of the school year. Also, lean into those experts in the building that can co-teach and help support your lessons in your classroom. There is no one way to do this kind of work!

Big Takeaway: Commit to the fact that your idea will not fly before the attempt. Nevertheless, you’ve got this!


Call To Action

What do you do with an idea? Let’s talk about the next step. You may have thought to yourself, “This is great! I am going to try this right away.” and that makes us so happy. But, remember that dip we talked about earlier? Let’s see if we can navigate past that bad boy and find our way to an action plan. To help you do this, we’ve created an IDEAcon Toolkit to help you pre, during and post conference. It’s actually relevant for any type of professional learning you encounter. So, pick one thing, just one, and try it  out. We can’t wait to see what you do with your ideas!

Learn more about iDEAcon and register for this year's conference here

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Call: 630 628 1088

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Ste 135 PMB 304

Naperville, Illinois 60564

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