Avoiding professional development

Bloggers like us are immersed in online professional development. The blogs we read are full of great ideas, better ways to see problems and different approaches to try out. When we think of blogging, we think of learning more about ourselves, our choices, and our conduct in our worlds.

We learn all this by writing our own blogs, commenting on others and quoting some of what we find provocative. We may not work in learning organizations, but our blogosphere is a place of continual learning. We are learning from what happens, what got said, and how others react. We resemble a "community of practice" that practices learning from happenstance.

Naturally, we are amazed when wanna-be bloggers consider the read/write potential while avoiding the professional development dimensions we treasure. Will Richardson, Tony Karrer and Patrick Higgins have each expressed this consternation recently. It's obvious to us that professional development is inherent to blogging. Why can't they see it? Why don't they get the power of this tool? How can something so useful and enticing appear hidden from view or personally useless?

Perhaps they cannot see the learning potential because we don't see their potential through their eyes. Maybe they won't get the power of blogging for their own professional development until we develop further ourselves. Perhaps the thing they are not learning gives us something to learn about them and our ways of relating to them.

Something is not working here that needs us to troubleshoot what's really going on. Here's a checklist of potential trouble spots to scout for whenever we're facing an avoidance of professional development.

  1. Are their plates already full from over-extending themselves as if they are always playing catch up ball and never getting a sense of accomplishment?
  2. Are they trapped inside a "nothing for me" martyrdom story that necessitates thankless heroics, inevitable sacrifices and perpetual suffering which defies awareness, growth or change?
  3. Are they serving a prison term, captivated by bureaucratic policies and accountability measures which punish deviance, exceptional efforts and creative escapes?
  4. Are they going through the motions of a meaningless chore, appearing like zombies who have lost their connection to their personally soulful purpose and unique talents?
  5. Are they conforming to group pressures, infected with the toxic culture, appearing as an offspring of a breeding ground for contempt, cynicism, mistrust and passivity?
  6. Are they misunderstood, starved for respect, or branded as traitors by the administration for empathizing with students, understanding their complaints, respecting their passions and valuing their non-conformity?
  7. Is our status as an outsider with our detached, insightful perspective being framed by them as a dangerous invader, spy or insensitive critic?

As we run through this list, we may learn what we were not seeing in others. Perhaps we'll appear more understanding and then get understood. Maybe we'll show more interest in them and get more interest from them in our outlooks. We might even come across as someone who's professional development includes learning from signs of a something not working.


  1. Learning always includes some measure of discomfort. It's one thing to be the inflictor of that discomfort. Another to be the inflictee. Doesn't matter whether someone is inflicting the discomfort on you or you are inflicting it on yourself.

    Educators are acutely aware of the discomfort learning causes. We see it in the eyes and comments of our inflictees every time we set foot in a classroom (face-to-face or virtual).

    It's human nature to avoid discomfort.

    So if you have a group of people who are keenly aware that what they are about to do will inflict discomfort, how many (other than the mascochists among us) will willingly do that to themselves on purpose?

    Count me among the mascochists....

  2. Great insights Wendy. The stress of teaching could have the teachers maxed out, where they could not handle anymore discomfort. Meanwhile, count me among the masochists too. I love to learn even though it disrupts me all the time.

  3. Hi Tom-
    Yes, I agree. I think plates are full from over-extension and people feel trapped in their environment and culture. I also think

    o Many learning professionals are coasting to retirement See:

    o Many learners don’t work on the Web (where blogging tends to be) but stay inside their own day-to-day applications

    o Some learning professionals are in their jobs unintentionally and are still married to their prior area of expertise – they haven’t grasped the fact that they are a learning professional first and experts in something else second so they don’t grasp blogging as a learning tool.

    Add me too to the masochists....

  4. Janet: Thanks for the link and the added dimensions to our understanding of this avoidance pattern.

  5. To echo Janet and Wendy, add me to the masochist list. Thanks, Tom, for the great list of possible consequences. I wish I had this list last week when I was running the workshop; it would have been great to open the class with these choices as a multiple choice question like "Pick which situation applies to you:"

    This is a problem that I want to spend a good amount of time trying to find solutions to. Thankfully, as you state in your opening paragraph, there is a large community here that allows you to see problems from many perspectives, and then find solutions that truly come from reflective practice.

  6. Your welcome Patrick. I might be possible to set up a follow-up online survey for your class of last week. The list I created is written for troubleshooters, investigators and interviewers, not the teachers. I suspect most of the wording is too direct about problems the teachers rarely think about. A revision ought to speak more from the teachers' frames of reference about fatigue, burnout, worries, frustrations, dread, tension headaches, guilt, dilemmas, etc.

    Our growing gathering of "masochists" has me fermenting a new blog post about self-directed... er I mean, self-tormenting learning. I also have some solutions in mind for several of the problems in the list. I create a post with those ideas next week.