I just returned from a mission to the moon and boy, did I learn a lot! I mean, I didn't really go to the moon, but I did attend Space Camp for Educators with the other 2016 State Teachers of the Year and about 20 educators from around the world. We did a simulation mission to the moon, but ya know, same thing.
In my year of travels and professional development, it was easily the COOLEST, MOST FUN trip I've ever done. I wouldn't call it professional development in the traditional sense, even though there were some PD sessions included in it. And we definitely learned things that we will bring back to our schools, but there was just something different about Space Camp for Educators.
Space camp edged my trip to Peru, which I attended as a National Education Association Foundation Global Learning Fellow in June. That trip was an absolute blast, but in a very different way. And after taking some time to process the two trips, I've learned some things. Before we move forward, I invite you to check out the two video memoirs I've made of each trip, so you'll get a feel for what I experienced.
Here's the Peru trip video:
And here's the Space Camp video:
Both of these trips stand out among the many and it boils down to three things. I made the most of these trips because of the things I did outside the structured time. Whoa, hang on there. That sounds scandalous at first read, but hang in there with me. Here are three totally legit things to do while away at PD, outside of the structured time that will really help you grow as an educator and as a person.
First, I made time to visit the city around me. When I had downtime in Cusco, Peru, I ventured off on my own to get a feel for the city. I wanted to stray from the tourist pack and see the sights with my own eyes without the outright appearance of being a tourist. I love music, so I made it a point to find the music shops and check out the scene. By seeking out the music places, I discovered that Peruvians love American 80's rock music! They love their traditional music, but among the shelves of music, Guns & Roses, Journey and 80's glam rock were abundant - far more than would account for having a small stash on hand for the tourists. After a few conversations with locals and our tour guide, turns out they DO love 80's music, which is interesting because that was a very challenging decade from them politically.
While at Space Camp, I made time to explore Huntsville, Alabama, but this time, choosing to hang with my colleagues. It paid off big time and the laughs were in abundance and I may or may not have sang T. Swift's "Shake It Off" during a karaoke session. Here again, I got a feel for the city beyond the structured sessions and PowerPoints. It was easily one of the best decisions I've made. So, first tip: Make time to explore your destination!
Second piece of advice: Don't hide in your hotel room. I made the mistake of doing that while I was in Peru and I regret it a bit. Now, to be fair, my health hovered at about 60% through much of the trip and after a really bad stomach bug, I knew I wouldn't be good company. I hope my Peru colleagues don't hold it against me. I could tell they were having a blast every time they left the room. And this doesn't necessarily mean hitting the town (point number 1). You can see the sights by yourself, but stepping out of your hotel room refers to making time to chat it up. And you can do that even if it only means taking just a few steps outside of your room.
The first night at Space Camp, I wanted to hang out and meet the new folks. The problem was that there wasn't a common area that wasn't well-equipped to hang out. So, I figured the lobby by the elevators on the third floor was as good a place as any. Shortly after arriving, I lingered in the lobby and since there were no chairs, just sat on the floor. Soon, one person joined, then another, and within the hour, about 30 teachers were seated on the floor of a roughly 10 foot by 30 foot square, chatting it up. We welcomed each new arrival with loud cheers and enjoyed seeing their reactions to the elevator doors opening on the third floor to a packed lobby full of teachers seated on the floor.
Some of my most memorable moments came from sitting on the floor of that lobby, talking about family, fun, music, and TEACHING! See, here's the thing. When you structure time to talk about teaching, it's a roll of the dice. But teachers will inevitably come back around to discussions about education outside of PD, much as they don't want to admit it. Those conversations end up being much more genuine and have staying power.
We've got "check out the city" and "step out of your hotel room". Lastly, let's add "put down your phone" to this list of things that are potential game changers for your next PD session or trip. The truth is, I missed a lot of photo ops because I chose to leave my phone in my pocket. I thought I'd regret it, but it turns out I enjoyed the experience much more. It's like taking video while at a concert, right? Put down your phone and be in the moment! I pulled several of the photos for the videos from my friends' posts on Facebook. Sure, I snapped a few pics here and there and got a few good video clips, but I was intentional about keeping that to a minimum and it was the best move I could have made.
This may be a no-brainer to lots of folks, but for a millenial like myself, you might need the reminder to challenge yourself. Chill out. Instagram will still be there. We buy into the whole, "you need a pic to prove you were there" and it's just not true. As a guy who regularly encourages people to use a certain hashtag (ahem, #TeachLikeMe), I want to also encourage you to save the posts for later and to simply enjoy the moment. This is why I don't have any pictures that capture the first two pieces of advice. I didn't take any pics while I was sitting on the floor in the lobby in Huntsville. Nor do I have any pics of me in the music shops in Peru. I just lived in the moment.
The next time you have a PD on your schedule, be it in school, or out of the state, or out of the country, or out of this world, I challenge you to add these three goals to your checklist. If your professional development doesn't place you in a new city and it's just for a day, you can still combine the first two steps by getting lunch with new friends at a new place. Happy PD-ing!