The array of professional development resources available to teachers today is as overwhelming as it is incoherent. Every month, dozens of books and hundreds of articles and thousands of tweets are published. Yet for most of us, this overabundance is more a source of stress or apathy than it is a source of professional growth.
This is why, in my practice, the Non-Freaked Out Framework (see Figure 1) has always served not just as a means for focusing on the most important things as a classroom teacher, but also as a means for focusing my personal professional development. I am confident that, should I master the application of these six things, I will be a master teacher. As a result, you won’t find me putting tons of energy into, say, the latest edu-tech, or project-based learning, because to me these things would only be worth focused study if I were to discover that A) expert-level performance within the NFO Framework seemed unlikely to promote the long-term flourishing of kids, or B) I had achieved expert-level performance within the NFO Framework and became bored. Both of these are highly unlikely.
Here is how the NFO Framework can serve to improve how we professionally develop ourselves.
It coheres the noise. If Insert Guru Here shares a new study about reading or literacy, the NFO Framework gives me a place to put it. This mental model allows me to have a place for things, much like periodization helps history students organize chronological data.
It aids retention. Because the things I read and learn are cohered by the framework, I find myself better able to remember them later on. The more PD information I have readily accessible in my brain, especially when it’s organized into a workable framework that makes sense to me, the more likely I am to find new ways of approaching nagging problems.
It helps me see the opportunity cost of everything I learn. Every new bit of professional development I take in comes at a cost — while I was learning about the expectancy-value theory of motivation yesterday afternoon, I wasn’t learning about the latest edu-tech website. When I spend time and energy learning one thing, I can’t be learning another. Given the scarcity of time that so many of us feel, this isn’t a small point.
It helps me satisfice mandatory PD. There are, of course, things I’m required to learn to keep my job — e.g., the teacher evaluation model my district uses, or how the latest data warehouse software works. But given my limited bandwidth, I can’t give 100% of myself to everything — and the Non-Freaked Out Framework makes it really easy for me to make decisions about what I’m going to learn effortfully and what I’m going to learn just enough to pass.
Finally, it helps me create focused studies for myself. This is something I’ve been experimenting with just recently, and I’ll explain it below.
A Personal Case Study of Focused PD: 3 books and 15 articles during a 3 week research sprint 
Back in August, I decided it was time to push myself in one area of the Non-Freaked Out Approach. I was on the cusp of the busiest two weeks I’ve ever had as a speaker/PD facilitator, and I needed to freshen up on what I had at that time been calling the Character piece of the Framework. (Here is a cool picture of the many iterations of the Framework.)
Below is what I did — but before I share, keep in mind a few things:
- I have a very realistic relationship with reading. I in no way feel obligated to read books word-for-word, and I am not in any competitions with anyone (including myself) about quantifying the number of books I can read in a year. If this is strange to you, please read these posts. I know you don’t have time, but approaching reading like this will save you hours and hours of your life.
- This was during the summer. I’m going to try another one this fall, so we’ll see how that goes. I’m predicting a potential trainwreck but I gotta try.
I chose three books that I felt were most likely to deepen my thinking the furthest on the topic:
- 9 Things Successful People do Differently, by Heidi Grant Halvorson. This is a summary of a lot of psychology research, published by Harvard Business Review, which I’m finding to be a decent source for non-education books that can teach you a lot about education. Also, it is blessedly short (key) and has an ample references section (also key, as you’ll see in the next section).
- Helping Children Succeed, by Paul Tough. The sequel to the book that I learned about in the article that started my pursuit of the character strengths. Blessedly short.
- Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, by John Wooden and Jay Carty. I respect that John Wooden viewed himself as a teacher and achieved a lot with his students. I also appreciated that he had gone to the trouble, fairly early in his career, of conceptualizing success in a visual framework. Oh, and guess what? This book is pretty short.
Despite what the notes above might suggest, I didn’t select these books simply because they are short — I selected them also because of their breadth. Both Halvorson and Tough cite a lot of research, whereas Wooden’s pyramid framework is entirely anecdotal. Yet where Halvorson approaches the topic of success more from a fully-formed adult’s angle, Tough’s take is from birth to high school graduation.
Fifteen articles (or studies, or reports)
While reading the books, I made note of anything listed in their reference sections that I wanted to read further, and I selected five of these references to read each week. Because the Wooden book had no references, I saved it for last and read five references from the other books during the week that I was reading Wooden.
Reading the articles, interestingly, was actually more productive than the book-reading in terms of idea generation and clarification, especially because one of the references in the Tough book was Camille Farrington et al’s Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners report, and that report, as I’ve hinted here and here and on Twitter, has been a game-changer for me. I’ll be writing more about this in the weeks to come.
Follow-up: A writing sprint
I followed the reading up with (what was supposed to be) three weeks of writing blog posts. With the start of school in early September, that writing sprint has taken a few hiatuses as the demands of the job encroached into my writing time. However, the writing continues, and this post is a part of it. Writing about what I learn is (as you know) a chief means through which I deepen that learning, not to mention a big motivator.
Reflection on the value of the “research sprint” method of personal PD
I’m a big fan of this approach, both because it was enjoyable and because it was fruitful. Giving myself permission to stick with one topic (noncognitive factors) and dive deep into it was both liberating and powerful. While I don’t know that I could pull off that much reading in three weeks’ time during a regular school year, I could probably do it in a month provided that I stopped writing blog posts for the duration.
- As a disclaimer, I’m not saying this is the right or best way to PD oneself — I only share it to provide an example of how the NFO Framework can hone in our limited time/effort for PD in a manner that increases the degree to which that PD helps us and our students.