Choosing To Be Together (Belay ON!)

Close your eyes and picture professional development. Where is it happening? What is happening? What are you doing? How are you feeling? Education is full of archetypes and mythologies (homework makes you smarter, etc…); I mean, the letter grade originated at Mount Holyoke College in (wait for it…) 1897. So when we close our eyes and picture PD my guess is that we put ourselves in a library or cafeteria or gym or conference room or classroom – somewhere inside, somewhere where we’re seated, a landscape that we’re very familiar with. A day we might end with a backache.

So what happens when you take two days before the start of school to go to a ropes course and to the beach? I could write a whole lot of things about what happens, but I think the picture book approach to this post tells it better. I’ll throw in a few feedback comments from participants at the end.

DAY ONE: Fort Miley Ropes Course, facilitated by Pacific Leadership Institute.

 Switching sides on one rope – 20 feet up.

Having fun is a pretty low/no-tech affair. This can be done in your next faculty meeting – assuming you have FIVE minutes to spare…??!

Team challenge – get from wooden box A to B by making a bridge with only two planks. Getting cozy while providing some counterbalance. BEST part: debriefing the experience and reflecting on how a big group tried to make decisions – often with good ideas getting drowned out by louder voices. Hmmm…implications for organizational well-being? (Rhetorical question)

It’s not really professional learning unless you eat together. Another group saw whales.


Our superintendent climbs up, and leaps from, the telephone pole blindfolded. The Force Awakens.

Ms. Tate levitating!

Full disclosure: this day, for 35 professionals, cost $1,600 (I know it’s impolite to talk money, but let’s not stand on ceremony here). There are speakers who will come give a one hour (or less) speech to a school for $5K (or more). PD consultants who will come for $5K-$10K a day. Or, send 35 people to a $200/day conference. In 10 years of school leadership, I have never been a part of a paid-for PD experience with such profound value. Then, of course, comes the venue you pay nothing for…

DAY TWO: Muir Beach, California (and the nearby Green Gulch Zen Center)

Admin team checking out some new “flexible seating.” (We approve)


On March 4, 2015, we debriefed a staff survey focused on school culture, professional climate and morale. Ideas for changes we needed to move from “we work at the same school” to “we’re a family:”

  • Staff lunches: potluck, salad/soup days.
  • More bonding/fun stuff together. Be a place that trusts each other.
  • Day at the beach/hike.
  • Come at our problems straight on: “What do we suck at most?” Then go do it.

Feedback on Ropes Course/Beach PD (verbatim):

  • Wonderful. Want to go back and do it all again!
  • That day was incredible inspiring and motivating for me. I also really enjoyed being with everyone in a completely different context and environment.
  • Great idea, anytime that we can work as a team/family benefits all of us and helps us to be more aware of ourselves and each other
  • It was great! Wonderful team building, focus was off school specifically, but we were able to debrief and make connections. Learned new things about my colleagues, took some risks. Loved being outside!
  • Mentally challenging.
  • Fun, team building, bravery, awesome.
  • Great day getting to know fellow staff members outside of the work environment.

One thought on “Choosing To Be Together (Belay ON!)

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