The Importance of Reflection and Connection Time for Professional Learning

I was recently asked the following question about professional learning being delivered through online spaces:


Do you think that educators are becoming so comfortable with online professional learning that they might not want to go back to in-person events?


When I first read this question, I immediately thought about this paragraph from Dean Shareski’s post on the future of professional learning:


Bringing people together is now going to be a really big deal. Not only will it be much more scrutinized in terms of cost, when we do decide to commit to a gathering, but it also needs to be seen as sacred. People will naturally be excited to be together and it should be honoured as such. That means providing people with an opportunity to be with each other beyond the breaks should take priority. I would also suggest that we emphasize the social side of this as much as any professional side. In the past, this would have been seen as frivolous or time-wasting, that mindset has to change. If you’re just worried about delivering content, then it may be better served online. I think this shift will be a challenge for many and like the return to school, it’s going to be easy to revert to previous models.


What Dean said makes a lot of sense to me.

I can tell you that as someone who delivers professional learning, I enjoy many online learning elements. I don’t miss traveling at all, but that is a unique experience for myself and others who do my work. 

What I miss tremendously are the informal conversations that I have in between sessions that Dean discusses. If you ask people, “what was the best part of the conference?” no matter the in-person event, they will often say, “The conversations in the hallway were absolutely amazing!”  I would agree, and I think that some of that informal learning is the most powerful learning that will happen at any event.  I don’t necessarily have those same experiences for virtual events that I would at an in-person event.

But we have to intentionally plan for unintentional learning. Instead of going from session to session and creating the shortest breaks possible because we feel that we are not learning enough, we need to create time for people to have conversations and process their thinking.  I wrote about this idea in “Innovate Inside the Box“:


I believe we, as educators, need a jolt to our own learning experiences before we start creating solutions for students. I remember the first time I went to Australia for a conference. Each presentation was followed by a thirty-minute tea break. When I saw the thirty-minute break between each session, I thought, That is a LONG time to go to the bathroom and grab a drink. A break like that between sessions was not something I was used to for professional learning days.

What happened next was incredible. People started talking to one another about what they just learned. They made their own connections to the content. Some people went off by themselves and started writing about what they learned. What was this insanity?! That one experience forever changed me, but then I started thinking about how I—and many others I connected with at conferences— shared that the best learning time was often the conversations with colleagues in the hallways. The time for processing is so valuable. If you are planning a conference, don’t plan “breaks”— call it “reflection and connection time” and give ample time to do just that. If a person needs a break, they will take it. What they might not take on their own is time to process.

Here is the real point: We all need time to reflect on our learning. So let’s start asking, “How do we create this reflection and connection time for our students?”


As you plan for your professional learning days, whether it is in-person, virtual, or even hybrid, ask yourself and/or your team if you have created time for thinking, processing, reflection, and connection?   

Consumption of information is important, but time to reflect is crucial for all levels of learning and learners.



If we are focused only on how much content can be delivered and use that as a metric of good professional learning, but not identifying what can be created and what connections we can make to our own learning and experiences, we are taking away the best part of learning, no matter when and where we are learning.  


We need to be more intentional about unintentional learning.

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