Say Yes "to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing"

by Dennis Sparks Dennis Sparks

"The lesson…then, is that if you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say ‘no’ to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say ‘yes’ to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else." —David Brooks

Distraction is widely viewed as a significant problem in society and in schools. It dissipates energy at work and in our personal lives, and it is truly dangerous when we are behind the wheel of a car.

But perhaps the problem is not distraction, but rather the absence of a compelling purpose—a "...subject that arouses a terrifying longing"—as David Brooks describes it.

Cal Newport thinks about it this way: "Distraction, from this perspective, is not the cause of problems in your work life, it’s a side effect. The real issue comes down to a question more important than whether or not you use Facebook too much: Are you striving to do something useful and do it so well that you can cannot be ignored?

What useful thing are you striving to do that cannot be ignored?


"Activate" Your Membership

by Cynthia Carver, Learning Forward Past-President

A couple of years ago, I was faced with a difficult decision. I was preparing for a job move and my eldest was heading off to college. The economy had soured and the future was uncertain. When my Learning Forward Michigan membership renewal arrived in the mail, I set it aside. Was it worth the investment to renew? Would it matter?

As you probably guessed, I did decide to renew my membership. More importantly, however, I made the commitment to get more involved (and invested) in the organization. Why? Because Learning Forward Michigan represents the commitments I hold most dearly as an educator.

Regardless of the educational issue or problem, I tend to see it through a learning lens. Do teachers understand the curriculum standards they are being asked to implement? Do they have the strategies for building safe learning communities in their classroom? Are teacher leaders equipped with the skills for working alongside their peers to plan and implement initiatives designed to improve students’ learning outcomes? Do school leaders have a vision for leading instructional change in their buildings?

When I was a first-year teacher, I remember engaging in a series of PD opportunities, including a peer coaching initiative, and thinking: I want to do that kind of work someday. I want to design and lead my peers in professional learning that has the power to both transform teacher practice and fuel student learning. That day is now here and Learning Forward is my go-to resource. But it is also something more than that. Through Learning Forward Michigan, I have found a statewide network of colleagues who share my professional commitments. Best of all, they have also become my dear friends!

Today, more than ever, our individual and collective voices are urgently needed. As the educational landscape transforms itself for a more accountable future, we must continually and boldly advocate for high quality, standards-informed professional learning. Please, join me in activating your membership!


Why Doesn't Professional Development Improve?

By Dennis Sparks

I am deeply puzzled about why decade after decade professional development remains at unacceptably low levels for far too many teachers and administrators.

More precisely, why do school system and school leaders continue to inflict on teachers the very practices they themselves often complained about when they were teachers?

Two fundamental reasons come to mind:

  1. Professional development is not expected to lead to professional learning that significantly changes what educators believe, understand, and do on their jobs every day. It is simply a box to be checked or hours to be counted, preferably in the easiest, most entertaining way possible.
  2. School leaders have antiquated views about what is essential to affect the hearts, minds, and behavior of educators. Consequently, they significantly underestimate the amount of deep conversation, practice, reflection, and coaching that is almost always required to change important instructional and leadership practices.

Perhaps my views are unfairly negative and out of touch with the reality of professional development as it is experienced today by most educators. While I don’t think so, I am open to that possibility.

What do you think—is professional development in your setting meeting its potential for improving teaching and learning for all students, and, if not, why not?

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