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Professional development with a personal touch

Updated: Mar 2, 2022

An exercise for better teaching

Professional learning takes hard work. You put in a lot of time and effort, and over the Ma years you might start feeling like you're just spinning your wheels.

At some level, you understand that professional learning and professional development aren't designed to teach you all the things you really want to know. So you smile, nod, and take what you can use year after year.

You're not tripping though. You get it.

You have nothing but love for professional development. You've picked up and held on to good tactics. Your skills show it, too:

  • capable classroom manager

  • instructional styles that are well refined

  • learner-friendly classroom design

  • painstaking attention to detail when supporting students

And those are just tip-of-the-iceberg things.

Personal professional development in three steps

School systems serve professional learning that attempts to be palatable and convenient for all teachers. Because of this broad audience reach, the learner experience can sometimes be meh. For some teachers, those who want to stick it to the meh, this is a reason to put personal touches on their professional development.

One way to put a personal touch on your learning is to mimic the efforts of people in other fields.

Rinse and repeat with this little trick; you get to be a more valuable teacher by connecting learning to more of what interests you.

Start off as simply as 1, 2, 3:

  1. Consume content from your usual non-education channels

  2. Take note of someone impressive

  3. Search for more information about the person's work

During the search for more information, highlight valuable ideas. Then, think about them: how can you use these outsider ideas as a teacher?

This applied thinking results in sound teaching practices that are shareable mental muscles get a little tug, too


Ex. Apply an inventor's ideas to professional development

called otherwise Mimic the efforts of an inventor: a personal professional development exercise

Matthew N. Portis, Founder & President, SolGreen®

About the inventor, Matthew N. Portis

[Step one | consume content] While scrolling the usual content channels, a post about Matthew N. Portis appears.

[Step two | take note of someone] Portis is:

  • the founder of SolGreen

  • the inventor of the Evodia Solar Workstation

  • an engineering technologist and systems engineer

[Step three | search for more information] While searching for more information about Portis and his work, we highlighted and noted interesting ideas.

These are some of the ideas we highlighted.

Highlight(s) | from website:

  • "We asked ourselves how we might move the needle on sustainable design to create products that are more practical to the evolving needs of communities around the world." Matthew N. Portis, Founder & President, SolGreen® (see fig. h.w.1)


Highlight(s) | from Linkedin:

  • At SolGreen, Portis produces and delivers "key technologies and services on a commercial scale"; he ensures "safety, compliance, and high quality of deliverable(s)"; he limits risk, spots new opportunities for growth, and advocates goals to stakeholders (see fig. h.l.1)

  • Portis shares a vision and goals for the future in "SolGreen Annual Letter From the President" (see fig. h.l.2)


Highlight(s) | from other sources Afrotech:

  • Says Christiano M. Terry, Global Head of Strategic Partnerships: "...obstacles have not stopped SolGreen from priding itself as a Black-owned company and continuing the lineage of historic Black inventors" (see figs. h.os.1, h.os.2).

  • He also says: “SolGreen is about innovation. We are a Black-owned company so we look at the lineage of all the Black inventions that came before us and didn’t get a chance to take ownership of the things that they invented" (see figs. h.os.1, h.os.2).

fig. h.os.2

Applied thinking: turn highlighted ideas into assignments

In this personal professional development exercise, you mimic the efforts of someone in another field. In this case, Matthew N. Portis, inventor.

We've searched for more information. We've highlighted some valuable ideas.

Next, we outline what we decide to do with our highlighted ideas. Long story, short: we turn the highlights (the ideas copied from Portis) into four professional development assignments.

Highlight from SolGreen website (fig. h.w.1) becomes ---> assignment number one

one | Question your academic design

Portis and his team asked the question; how to move the needle on sustainable design (see fig. h.w.1)? At Tab & Mind, we think this is a valuable idea. So, we try to apply it to teaching.

We have to adjust Portis' a bit to see how it guides a teacher. And watch what happens when we do:

As teachers, let's ask ourselves how we might move the needle on sustainable academic design to create lessons that are more practical to the evolving needs of students.

Imagine you're the teacher that this post is made for. You come across the following assignment.


Assignment | Question your academic design

What are your ideas?

  • How can you move the needle on sustainable academic design?

  • How can you create lessons that are more practical to the evolving needs of students?

Directions: Ask yourself, your books, and the internet the types of questions that make you go hmmm.


  • changes in class design and delivery that are noticeably different than what you do now

  • how to get students using their academic skills beyond theory and testing

  • the evolving needs of students



What starts as a recreational social media scroll session has grown. From just one highlighted idea, we've made a challenging professional development assignment. A professional development activity pulled from personal interests and that's helpful in real ways.

When used well, the assignment adds real value to you as a teacher. There are some best practices you can use to make sure you get a profitable, usable, dignified return on your time-and-effort investment.

Highlight from Linkedin (fig. h.l.1) becomes ---> assignment number two

two | Produce and deliver lessons on a commercial scale

At SolGreen, Portis produces and delivers "key technologies and services on a commercial scale."

To get to how this guides a teacher, just question yourself. What happens when we do?

We ask questions like: as a teacher,

  • what all do I produce?

  • what all do I deliver?

  • what all do I produce and deliver?

  • what key technologies can I access and use?

  • what are all the key services I perform?

  • what does it mean for something to be produced and delivered on a commercial scale?

So, it's you again, the teacher this post is made for. Answer this question if you can:

If students had to pay for every lesson you taught, how much better would you teach them? What support would paying students get? What problems would each lesson solve?

Highlight from Linkedin (fig. h.l.2) becomes ---> assignment number three

three | Write a letter to stakeholders

Portis writes "SolGreen Annual Letter From the President", a letter to investors that shares a vision and goals for the future.

As teachers, we may not have traditional investors, but we do have stakeholders:

  • students and their families

  • school employees

  • local business leaders

  • elected officials

Really, anyone charged with the success and well-being of a school and its students can be considered stakeholders.

By taking Portis' letter as a model, we reveal six sections for the letter you'll write to the stakeholders you choose.


Assignment | Write a letter to stakeholders

Write an open letter to your most important stakeholders that:

  1. casts a vision for the future

  2. overviews what you've done the previous school year and a problem that was revealed (bonus: include an idea to fix the problem)

  3. establishes a mission for the current school year

  4. outlines the content for the year (in five bullet points)

  5. lists your top seven personal professional goals

  6. includes a professional purpose statement (signed)


Highlights from AfroTech (figs. h.os.1, h.os.2) becomes ---> assignment number four

four | Tap into lineage

Portis leads a company that values and looks at its historic lineage.

On AfroTech, Devin Crudup writes, "obstacles have not stopped SolGreen from priding itself as a Black-owned company and continuing the lineage of historic Black inventors."

The company is proud to tap into a lineage of historic inventors. This pride helps the continued forward push.

Take pride in a proud lineage of historic teachers. Continue that lineage by noting the significance and the obstacles of past teachers and building on what they have set in place. Learn from them; teach with them.


We have to guide ourselves with questions to grow professionally, grow students

When it comes to professional learning and professional development, conforming to best practices is nearly always a safe bet. Adding personal touches can help make your safe bets more memorable, compelling, and practical.

Your signature curiosities can and should be made into real learning and teaching assets.

Sure, check the boxes of the generally accepted, but don't be bound by best practices. Be supported by them.

At the beginning of this, we introduced teachers using outsider ideas:

  • you can observe and mimic the ideas of people in other vocations

  • you can make those ideas helpful to other teachers

  • and good pedagogy will back you up

We actually do this when we mimic Portis' ideas and bend them to the purposes of teachers. This very exercise yields us four assignments that are helpful in different ways. for teachers and students both.

The four assignments

made from Apply an inventor's ideas to professional development

called otherwise Mimic the efforts of an inventor: a personal professional development exercise

  1. Question your academic design

  2. Produce and deliver on a commercial scale

  3. Write a letter to stakeholders

  4. Tap into lineage

All four of the assignments can be used in an assortment of ways and turned into a number of useful tools.

Each one can be interpreted as a do this now activity, or as a think, brainstorm, or brain dump activity.

Turn the four assignments into any number of useful tools, but make your considerations with sustainability in mind. You'd rather keep up with any changes you inspire yourself to make than to get bogged down.


Images by

Adeolu Eletu via


[neat] - Tab and Mind | How to make professional development assignments with a personal touch

Learn to create your own professional development assignments. In this exercise, teachers mimic the efforts of someone in another field.

[tm_neat] How to make professional devel
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