Individualized, learner-centered professional development, part 1

It started, perhaps, two springs ago.

A colleague and I were complaining to each other about how, well, complainy we were getting.  It was nearing the end of a long winter, so we weren't in the best of physical or mental health - not ill, you understand, just not fit.  It was also nearing the end of another contract - at least, the end was on the horizon - and we were growing aware of the gap between what we'd hoped to accomplish this year, and what we were likely to given the time remaining.

In any case, we were grumpy.

So, we decided to get some help.  We designed a professional development session, for and by ourselves, based on choice theory.  We sought out someone who worked in the field as a CT counselor, and who also knew something about our jobs.  Then we spent four hours refreshing our understanding of CT and sorting out plans for moving forward in a better state of mind.

I say it started then, because the next spring we found ourselves in the same position (perhaps not quite as grumpy, but nonetheless ready for a CT session).  We again organized our own PD, outside of work hours, in order to talk and reflect and plan with the guidance of a skilled professional counsellor.

By this time, I recognized that what we were doing resembled the unfortunately named "Choice Theory Focus Group Sessions" Bill Glasser described in his book Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health.  This is an interesting little book because of its anti-institutional tenor.  At a time when his CT-based William Glasser Institute was looking more and more like a pyramid scheme (spend thousands of dollars in formal workshops to become certified to deliver workshops to others as they spend thousands... etc.), here he was saying, you know, you could just get a bunch of like-minded people together in your living room and talk.  (To which the Institute promptly responded with a "Focus Group Curriculum".)

There were caveats:  he didn't think these should be therapy groups or interventions or attempts to meet the needs of people who were likely to try to harm themselves or others.  He writes:
The people in [a focus group] are not there to hear extensively about your past or present unhappiness, ... or ... how much pain your are suffering or how unfair life has been to you. They will be interested in hearing about how you are applying the choice theory ideas of this book to your present problems. And in helping you to learn to do this more effectively as the group continues to meet.

But then, CT, as he imagines it, isn't just about counselling people with psychological troubles.  It's also - maybe more - about giving people tools to self-reflect on their choices, and so choose differently, maybe becoming a little less unhappy, frightened, unhealthy and alone.

So, as I say, we planned a second round this spring.  And then a third and fourth in the summer.  We brought another colleague on board: she, too, was experiencing some uncertainty and frustration in her work.  We organized our time around the question, How can we do this work and stay emotionally and physically healthy?

(And I'm going to stop there for now)

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