Inspiration delivers.

Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Minneapolis Institute of Arts

My vision for how staff development should look in my school has undergone a transformation over the past year. In my first year as a principal I recall the dread of conducting the marathon faculty meeting on opening day, droning on and on about everything from recess line-up procedures to my expectations for lesson plan submissions. In Year 2, most of our professional development days were dictated by district initiatives, and the few “building days” planned by principals were spent on data analysis. We looked at a lot of data. No shortage of graphs in those meetings.

We covered a lot of topics, but there certainly wasn’t a lot of learning going on.

In October, Chris Wejr described his plan for covering his teachers’ classes to allow for them to engage in collaborative opportunities, the focus of which would be self-directed and hopefully involve an elements of creative thinking and innovation:

This would benefit me as I would get to spend more time with students, it would benefit the teachers who take me up on the offer as they would be motivated to take a risk and try something innovative, and most importantly, it would benefit the students as the teacher would deliver something to our school that would impact student learning.  The extra prep period would be their “FedEx Prep.”

Chris was inspired by Daniel Pink’s Drive, a book that delves into the fascinating world of human motivation and how the ways businesses and schools currently motivate their employees (and students) is a far cry from the way science says they should.

I finally finished reading Drive a few weeks ago and knew I wanted to explore the idea of helping my teachers be more autonomous in their learning. I wanted to ensure our organization was striving to reach mastery (but never attaining, of course, since mastery is an asymptote) and develop a strong sense of purpose for our actions.

I knew I could accomplish this without having my teachers read Drive, but I certainly brought the book to school and shared it with those who were interested. To start, I asked my teachers to view three short videos: the RSA Animate version of Pink’s Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us talk; Two questions that can change your life; and What’s your sentence? By taking just 10-15 minutes to view these videos, I feel most of my teachers came prepared to start the day understanding the fundamental ideas behind why we were taking our professional development in this direction. Teachers were asked to consider a “sentence” that exemplifies their role in our school/their life, and when they were comfortable doing so, post on the Wallwisher I created.

I summarized Pink’s key points regarding autonomy, mastery, and purpose and outlined the expectations for the day on our wiki. An excerpt:

So today, your task is to be self-directed in your learning. Be productive. Live your sentence. Ask, am I better today than yesterday?  Seek mastery in your role. Remember our ultimate purpose. The only rule? You must deliver. A product…a project…ideas…action.

Pink calls providing this autonomous time for innovation a Fed Ex Day- employees choose what to work on, with whom, and however they’d like. The expectation is that “they must deliver something: a new idea, a better internal process, a refined lesson plan – the next day.”

As you work today, consider the following:

  • Task – Choose tasks that will benefit and impact student learning. Think differently!
  • Technique – Design your activities and project work in your own way, so long as the end result is a benefit to students.
  • Team – Work with anyone you want to work with today- you do not need to work with your grade level teams. Consult with the many knowledgeable people in our school! Individuals that choose not to collaborate will still be responsible for “delivering.” Consider the importance of the collaborative efforts!
  • Time – Use your time as you see fit. You’re free to head home at 11 AM. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Our day began at 8 AM. We met briefly in the library for a 5-minute, “go and have fun today!” speech from me. That was it. I saw a lot of smiles. I saw an almost-equal amount of incredulous looks. (She’s lost her mind, does she think we’re actually going to work today?!) I told the team I’d be camped out in the library if anyone needed me or wanted to collaborate with me.

So… what resulted? First, I have to share our sentences. They are really beautiful. What I wonder when I read them is how I can urge more of my teachers to be transparent- to not choose to post a sticky under “Anonymous” when they have such meaningful work to contribute?

Watching my teachers work together on our “Fed-Ex” Day actually made me a little giddy. I seriously may have had a smile plastered on my face all morning long. I did a lot of listening. The conversations were encouraging. I relished in the fact that many of my teachers were leaving the “comfort” of their grade level hallways and teaming up with other teachers, including our specialists. To say I was impressed with how my teachers embraced this first foray into autonomous PD would not be fair. They blew me away. And it’s not that they were creating such innovative projects that were going to revolutionize the face of education as we know it… it’s that they were opening their minds to new ideas, they were enjoying their work, they were considering alternatives to current practices, and they were definitely stepping outside of their comfort zones.

Our ESL and special needs teachers teamed up and located a fantastic resource and planned for our students to engage with e-Books in their learning. A team of intermediate teachers considered how to develop students’ skills for error analysis in their work. Primary teachers gathered around the Smartboard, some of whom do not ever use the tool, to consider its use with their students. They created a team Diigo group to share resources. Two second grade teachers planned for how they would involve students in reader’s theater, and came to me to discuss their options for recording and posting their performances. Third grade teachers wanted to explore how to better immerse students in literature and enlisted the support of our media specialist. Our music and art teachers seriously debated why in the world we give grades in the specialty areas. Both teachers planned on bringing Fed-Ex type days to their classrooms. The Mid-Winter-Pick-Me-Up-Picnic was born. Primary teachers designed a way to incorporate more student-choice into their project work. One of my tech-savvy teachers bounced from group to group, leading the way with various initiatives. A revelation from a teacher who was working on a document to share with third grade colleagues: “Wait. Why am I using Word for this? I should be using Google docs!” Me: “Uh, yeah!”

Thoughts from the teachers? The day was not without a limited number of grumblings, however, on the delivery form they were asked to submit to me following their work day, I was so pleased to read positive feedback. One of the questions asked, Did they enjoy the format of the day?

  • Yes, because it gave me a chance to be creative in my own way.  If I have had any success in my teaching career, it is because of a format or structure like today, being able to create on my own, curriculum, selecting activities that best meets the every changing needs of our students, with administrative support but without administrative restrictions.
  • I was extremely annoyed at first when I heard the plan, because I had a lot of s$*t that needed to get done, but I have found the day to be extremely exhilarating and rewarding. 🙂
  • Yes we did! We got a lot accomplished and feel that what we did will have an immediate benefit to our students! Thanks for the opportunity.
  • LOVED IT! More please 🙂

And allow me to share the reflections of my most-excellent of guidance counselors, who will not at all be alarmed that I am posting her thoughts on my blog… I think her words perfectly depict her personal journey to planning a new community-building activity for our school, an idea she’d been thinking a lot about but, until Wednesday, had not brought to fruition. I introduced our Fed Ex day on Monday, which is when her wheels started spinning…

“Monday/Tuesday:  Hated it  (too open-ended.  daunting.  outside of my comfort zone.  getting in the way of getting my “real” [boring & mundane] work done.  scary.)


Tuesday/Wednesday:  Loved it (went crazy.  found and discarded ideas. refined them.  enjoyed bouncing them off a bunch of people.  liked having people show me what might not work and what would work better.  especially enjoyed watching people go from “What a ridiculous idea” to “Hey … that might actually be fun.”)

You and Daniel are very wise.”

I know that I will be mandated by my central admin to include specific activities on future professional development days, but I also know that a) I will try to transform the day so that I meet district initiatives while granting autonomy to my teachers and b) every chance I get, we’re going to have another day like we did on Wednesday. I enjoyed the feedback on Chris’s post and would love the same about our day’s structure and how I can improve this idea in the future.

I am very appreciative of Chris and all of the innovative principals who’ve inspired me in this area over the past year, and of course to Dan Pink for sharing his thoughts with us all, and making me want to be better and do things differently tomorrow than I did today.

46 Replies to “Inspiration delivers.”

  1. What a courageous undertaking Lyn! Your honesty and trust through this process resonates with me (especially the incredulous looks when people think you are crazy–that REALLY resonates with me). Your staff is lucky to have an administrator that is as ‘crazy’ as you :).

    Inspiration delivered.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Cale! I think in order to be an administrator you have to be a little bit crazy. 🙂 Hoping this small step will help us continue to build trust and develop ownership in our organization and what we do for kids.

  3. I love it! (and love Drive)
    I ran a similar day (at some of the other administrator’s chagrin) at our school and called it “The PD Day of PLAY – Passionate Learning About You”. Teachers had to submit a proposal about what they were going to do for the day. It could essentially be anything! We focused the follow-up discussions around Edward de Bono’s six thinking hats and the MYP Personal Project. It was a great day!

    Good for you for pushing forward with yours!

    1. Ted, I love the PD Day of PLAY idea! Would fit in with our Fish! philosophy as well! Thanks so much for sharing and for commenting!

  4. Lyn,

    This is a great post on PD. I have longed to actually use all the meeting days and PD days for what I feel is “good instead of evil” but have not had the opportunity. Hearing about how you took a chance and led from where you believe your building was ready to go is amazing. I’m saving this blog post so I can refer to it when my opportunity to lead arrives.

    Some of my ideas of what is wrong with PD here:

    1. Thanks for sharing your link, Chris, you make a lot of great points about the flaws in our current thinking about PD and ways we can provide more meaningful learning for teachers! You’ll find the opportunity to lead in this direction before you know it. 🙂 I appreciate your comments!

  5. Lyn,

    Building leaders like yourself inspire and motivate those around you. By taking a chance and pushing others to discover and learn on their own for the things in which they are interested, really takes strength and courage. Kudos to you for pushing your fellow educators to follow the Dan Pink path. It is difficult for some to participate in a not so structured event, however I firmly believe during that period is when the best growing and developing occurs. Please keep sharing your experiences and helping others to find the courage to question the status quo.


    1. Thanks, Justin! Your comments and encouragement are always appreciated. I do recognize that a small number of my staff members were not exactly comfortable on Wednesday, and would have much preferred to finish their busywork and exist in their “island.” All I did was “plant the seed” and hope that the rest of my teachers would lead the way… and I wasn’t disappointed. 🙂

  6. Great post Lyn! We have recently been watching the Pink videos at school and have been very inspired. My principal has been giving us more “innovative” time to help generate new ideas. I sent your post on to her and I know she will enjoy reading that others are doing similar things with teacher innovation and motivation. Keep sharing!

    1. Josh, thanks for reading and commenting! It’s so encouraging to hear that your principal is providing you the time to explore and generate new ideas!

  7. So glad it worked well for you. As a former principal and innovator myself, I’m always pleased to see folks willing to try new things.

    Seems like the staff really enjoyed it . . . have you considered helping your teachers plan a FedEx day for students?? I think you might be surprised! It’s a way to help change students into learners!

    1. Thanks for your comments, Tom! Do you know what was awesome? Without even prompting on Wednesday, a handful of my teachers designed opportunities for their students to be more autonomous in their learning. My art teacher, whose discipline allows him a bit more flexibility than the regular classroom teacher, was really on board with this and discussed with me why he always asked students to create certain projects with the media, rather than providing them with the tools and techniques and then saying, “Go. Create. Make me something.” I don’t envy teachers. Being charged with delivering a curriculum with an endless amount of (sometimes irrelevant) standards. Being thrown new programs and procedures from admin. Having to always keep the child first in the midst of all of this. We NEED to stay inspired and keep learning.

  8. Loved this post Lyn. Your school will benefit from having teachers who see what positive contributions they can make and feel the freedom to think about their personal development from their point-of-view and not one that is imposed from above. The chance for cross year collaboration is great and no doubt opened up the chance for teachers to contribute across the whole school and not within the narrow confines of their year group or subject area.
    This whole day seems to be exciting and is a compliment to your vision and your leadership skills. Well done to you (and Dan Pink of course!)

    1. Malcolm, I really appreciate you taking the time to comment on my post and for your kind words. I know our school is filled with an abundance of talent, and I want to try to always make sure we’re pushing ourselves to think creatively and do what’s best for kids. I have a lot to learn, but I’m looking forward to learning together, with everyone in my school and those elsewhere with whom I’ve connected. Thanks again for commenting!

  9. Cannot think of another word other than… awesome. Too often, we feel that we need to direct people on their learning. This just shows the power of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
    Too many people have the attitude of “just tell me what to do and I will do it” – they might do it but it will not be with purpose or passion. The Fed Ex Day is great because people choose something in which they are passionate about.

    In education, we often hear, well we can’t do this in the system we are in – you have just proved that you can. Thank you for sharing.

    I believe Google Time, Fed Ex Days, and ROWE can be used in education system – we just need to focus on the HOW.

    PS – We used the ROWE (results only work environment) principle for a half day the other day – teachers were able to work from anywhere at anytime, as long as they got the task completed.

  10. Thanks, Chris! Your post ignited my thinking and reinforced the fact that I knew I needed to bring more autonomy to our PD sessions. I agree with you that some people take on the “tell me what to do and I’ll do it,” attitude, which is not conducive to true learning and results in complacency. Those aren’t the attributes we want to model for our children!

  11. I loved the post. As someone who gives PD, autonomy in PD is something I struggle with. Administrators that poll their staff and have an in-depth discussion with me before a traditional presentation help but it’s still not as rich as allowing teachers choice. One of the ways that I am being asked to offer PD more and more is similar to what you describe. I have worked with grade level teachers where we spent the day on the topic they chose and I was there as the guide to answer questions and provide support. I have worked with a school where I met with the entire staff in the morning then worked with small pockets of teachers in the afternoon answering any questions and helping them see connections to their own classroom. I’ve been a one-on-one instructional coach for a day to teachers who want more in-depth work on the topics of their choosing. I think we are becoming more and more creative about what PD looks like.

    The other valuable point you made was about teacher productivity. The most valuable PD I’ve bee a part of always has a component where teachers have the time to create something that will be useful to them. If we are asking teachers to be reflective of their own practice (and that’s what PD should do, shouldn’t it) then teachers need the time to contextualize it to their own situation.

    Your PD day was beneficial to your staff because it allowed them the time and autonomy to be reflective of what works for them. Your post pushes me to do the same for all the PD I am a part of. Thank you!

    1. Deana, thank you for taking the time to comment on my post. I visited your blog and added it to my Reader feeds! Looking forward to learning with you. Would love to hear your thoughts about PD as you engage your teachers in new opportunities!

  12. What a fantastic post! My very first pd day I led was extremely structured, overly researched and superbly presented – – – thinking that I had to “convince” staff that change is good and / or necessary. The thing with change though, it is messy and it is always far greater if motivated from within. By giving teachers the opportunity to have FUN, play around, and bounce ideas off each other, you have increased their learning tenfold and made a huge difference to them and your students. I need to keep this in mind next pd day! Thanks!

    1. Cheryl, thank you for your comments. I appreciate hearing your similar journey from holding very structured PD sessions to allowing staff to be more self-directed in their learning. Today I shared with staff the projects that each group worked on… was so nice to share and celebrate their accomplishments!

  13. Hi Lyn! Thank you so much for writing this eloquent and reflective post. I’ve been inspired to try something similar at my school in just a few weeks. I wrote about it (and referenced you)

    1. Sarah, thank you for sharing your blog post with me! I am glad you were able to take away some ideas to use with your staff! Please let me know how the day goes!

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    1. This term originated with Atlassian (FAQs here) and my understanding is that it derived as a result of employees needing to “deliver” something by the end of the work session. The Atlassian Fed-Ex day is more complex than that which we might host in our schools. The link I referenced definitely provides more insight and details!

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