Professional Development, Awesome or Awful?

In an interview with Douglas Rushkoff, Pixar animator, Michael Frederickson, talked about the sensation of being awestruck, a moment where your mind has been cognitively blown, leaving you open to new sensations. As Frederickson explains,

When awe is positive, you are feeling something vast and novel, but not something that is morally threatening to you.

However, if this experience involves too much awe, it can provoke a negative response. As Frederickson summarises:

If there is a little awe, it is awesome, if there is too much awe, it is awful.

Focused on storytelling, Frederickson is interested in how such experiences open us up to new ways of experiencing the world. Taking this further, Rushkoff asked the question,

Is art meant to solve our riddles or pose new ones?

For Rushkoff, art and awe is about disruption and change. This conversation had me reflecting on learning and transformation. I was therefore left thinking about awe in relation to professional development.

I have had too many professional development experiences where presenters come in and take the mic. Although they approach sessions with the goal of creating awe, the focus on speaking rather than providing space soon turns things awful. There seems to be an unwritten rule that talking justifies the cost being paid. The problem is that this misses the point. What is important to me is the awe associated with self-determined learning.

I presented recently and took the approach to flipping the session. I created a series of posts and provocations to spur teachers onto addressing their own classrooms and context. For me, what matters is not necessarily the content, but the conditions created that provide the possibility for personal problem solving. To reword Rushkoff’s question, is professional development meant to solve our riddles or pose new ones?

So there are my thoughts, what about you? What has been your experience of professional development? Was it awesome or awful? As always, comments welcome.


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Aaron Davis

I am an Australian educator supporting schools with the integration of technology and pedagogical innovation. I have an interest in how together we can work to make a better world.

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