banning binders in professional development

Our new principal decided to institute a "norm" (just call it a rule, please) regarding the use of paper and pencil in professional development meetings.

"I'm not angry with anyone, but I did notice some grids of Buzzword Bingo and several people who were passing notes or drawing pictures instead of using their paper for note-taking.  To avoid the distractions, we will add this to our collective norms."

I feel split on this issue.  On one hand, I agree with him.  Members of our staff are not truly present when their head is in a notebook.  Often, the note-passing becomes a distraction and they miss crucial information.  Besides, it can feel disrespectful to the presenters when the teachers are playing a game of Buzzword Bingo.  I don't buy into the teachers' claim that they are taking notes.  Who could possibly find the need to access information from an incredibly dull professional development?

However, I see this as a bandage on a massive open wound.  Teachers are not actively engaged in professional development, because the meetings are not engaging.  If I sit silently without a paper in my hand, my mind will wander.  And, while the system would love to take that as well, as long as I have self-determination, I have my own mind.

Honestly, when I am sketching pictures I am listening.  It's a hands-on way for me to keep my attention.  Would a presenter rather me focus on a sketch or on that person's bad comb-over? It's not about physical engagement as much as mental engagement.

A better solution would be to change professional development so that:
  1. It is relevant and job-embedded so that teachers feel that what they are doing connects to the subject they are teaching
  2. It is collaborative and horizontal so that teachers can provide their own expertise
  3. It is assessed on a student or school-wide level
  4. It is interactive
  5. It takes into consideration issues of self-efficacy and motivation and not simply skills.  Yes, it's cool to know a skill, but what about the conceptual knowledge and the notion of how a skill will be used in the classroom?
  6. It models how we would want to teach.  Don't lecture to me about the vices of lecturing to students.
  7. It is pencil-integrated. Yes, allow teachers to use our binders and paper and pencil in graphing data, writing up proposals and creating lessons together.   
So, instead of banning binders, I would use them in a pencil-integrated approach to professional development.  If you make it interesting, you might find that I won't be sketching cartoons making fun of former president Grover Cleveland.


  1. Anonymous1:26:00 PM


    we play buzzword bingo all the time and yet they ban our computers

    I love this post!

  2. I accidentally forgot my pencil at today's differentiated instruction meeting. Normally I bring one now. My mind is a muddle these days so I find it simpler to write jot notes on a calendar. When I want to recall what happened I just go to the date. Half the time I am being told deadlines anyway. Not much point in writing it on a scrap of paper just so I can transfer it later.

    The people who bring binders these days are often the ones fully engaged. Despite the grumping about too much paper in the classroom these days everything seems to come to us in a letter or postcard. Nobody can remember the contents at the meeting either. Seems pointless leaving all those scraps of paper in your inbox on the desk when they could be in the binder in front of you.

    As you said, doodling on a piece of paper is not always a sign of attention. Sitting with a glazed expression is telling too. It was not so long ago when someone had to wander around the church with a pointed stick waking people up.

  3. I attended a district-wide training for the Fountas & Pinnel Benchmark Kit a couple months ago, even though I had already attended the meeting for "select" teachers at the end of last school year, and another refresher during the summer. I thought I would be getting something new out of this get together. Alas, I did not.

    I sat there thinking about how my district wants me to differentiate my own teaching, but refuses to differentiate professional development to its own staff. There are so many of us that had been previously trained and didn't need to hear the beginner training again. Instead, I would have liked to learn how to utilize other resources from the kits or how best to use the information to work with my guided reading groups, etc.

    I was guilty of doodling during this meeting because I was bored and needed my own differentiation (aka: intermediate level or advanced level). I don't necessarily agree with the "pencil free" rule, but would appreciate some changes in the professional development arena so that maybe a pencil wouldn't be necessary.

  4. It's so important to move BEYOND the big three ring binder. I've found that web-based resources (delicious, for example or diigo) are more dynamic than paper. Thanks for the reminders!

  5. On the flip side, the Promethean training last October was more useful than any professional development I've had in 6 years of teaching.

    We were given USB drives with copies of all the presenters' notes and flipcharts. People posted blog links so that we could download more resources. Yeah, I checked my email and chatted and tweeted, but I learned and collaborated and thought about the way I teach.

    The day wasn't perfect, but if professional development moved toward using rather than banning the tools we have, I'd bet that we would see more people looking and thinking instead of nodding off and daydreaming.