When planning professional learning sessions and meetings, the phrases “Begin with purpose” or “Start with WHY” consistently echo in my mind. Gaining clarity of purpose is crucial for our workshops, webinars, conferences, and classrooms alike. In The PD Book, authors Elena Aguilar and Lori Cohen emphasize the significance of a clear purpose, stating, “When the purpose is clear, everything flows from there - the planning process is more meaningful, and the time spent in the PD matters to participants more.”
One effective strategy that has guided my planning for several years is the idea of determining the -INGs of each event or work. In the book The Space, Dr. Robert Dillon and Rebecca Hare pose the question, “What do you want your students to do in the space?” This concept encourages finding the verbs that define our learning spaces. For instance, if we aim for students to collaborate, problem-solve, create, and write, how do we design learning spaces that facilitate those activities?
Adapting this question to professional learning workshops and meetings, I consistently ask, “What do I want my participants to be doing during my session?” I identify the -INGs relevant to that work, and those words provide clarity on my session’s purpose. Subsequently, I select activities and assess agenda items to ensure alignment with the identified -INGs.
I initiated the use of this -ING strategy in 2018, and throughout 2020, I discovered its applicability in virtual environments. I have since expanded its use to refine the purpose of meetings, conferences, newsletters, social media posts, and even podcast episodes!
As we examine practical applications of this strategy, let's first explore the foundational step: determining the -INGs. This initial phase sets the stage for our design process, where we envision what we want learners doing during our sessions. By identifying key -INGs, we lay the groundwork for enhancing the clarity and purpose not only in professional learning experiences but also in meetings, conferences, and various other contexts.
Determining the -INGs
As I begin the design process, I envision what I want my learners doing during our learning experience. I usually jot down six to ten -ING words, such as exploring, collaborating, learning, evaluating, experiencing, reflecting, applying, synthesizing, and so on. As I develop the session, the content, and the processes, I refer back to my list and adjust as necessary, and a few -INGs begin to emerge as the most relevant.
I typically limit my -ING words to two to four per session, but some words, such as connecting, can offer multiple meanings: connecting to people and connecting to ideas, for example. Once I choose my -INGs, I start evaluating my agenda items. Does every agenda item and activity align to one of the -INGs? If not, I need to adjust something.
For repeating sessions, I often keep the -ING words consistent. For example, for two regional groups, colleagues and I helped refine the purpose of our monthly meetups using the -INGs problem-solving, learning, and networking (PLN!) Each month, whoever designs and facilitates the session knows that we will spend our meetup time problem-solving, learning, and networking.
-INGs in Action
Well-chosen -INGs are very versatile. One of my favorite -INGs is collaborating, so consider how collaborating might “look” in a variety of environments. If a goal of my session involves learners collaborating, participants can:
talk with a shoulder buddy,
pull chairs together to form a group,
chat in a breakout room,
respond to a comment in a Zoom chat,
work asynchronously in a collaborative Doc (Slide, space, etc.)
Once I identify the -INGs, the purpose becomes clearer, and everything flows from there.
In The Art of Gathering, Priya Parker says, "We often choose the template—and the activities and structure that go along with it—before we’re clear on our purpose." It’s relatively easy to create a clear purpose statement once you determine your -INGs, and you can continue to design everything around that purpose rather than just assign random activities.
Last year, I facilitated a semester-long book study with a group of principals. I told the executive about the strategy of -INGs, and she decided on the -INGs of growing, learning, connecting, and reimaging. So, our book study was not just “to read and discuss a book,” nor was it to “apply concepts of the book to our everyday lives.” Instead, the purpose was for the principals to spend time “Growing as learning leaders, connecting with ideas and with others, and reimagining how we gather professionally and personally.” Now, that’s a clear goal, and all session activities and discussions aligned beautifully to that purpose!
A Word of Warning!
As you plan your next meeting, if your -INGs are things like “catching up, updating, and housekeeping,” please consider communicating that information in an email or using another format. Those -INGs do not contribute to a motivating purpose, and with the technology available, I hope all meeting planners will use the strategy of -INGs to develop content that makes the best use of our synchronous time.
Inspired to Identify -INGs
Once you’re comfortable choosing -INGs for your professional learning sessions, consider extending the strategy to various aspects of your work. I apply the -ING strategy to my social media posts: documenting and modeling my own learning, advertising learning opportunities, and connecting with others. A colleague recently employed the -ING strategy for her conference strands: navigating solutions, exploring technologies, gaining strategies, and evaluating accessibility.
In embracing the -INGs strategy, I've not only found clarity in my purpose and alignment in my work but also experienced the transformative power it brings to the design process. As Greg McKeown highlights in his book Essentialism, a high level of clarity in purpose fuels thriving teams. So, let's continue exploring and applying the -INGs, not just in our professional learning sessions but in every facet of our work. Together, we can elevate our experiences and thrive in the pursuit of purpose.
Aguilar, E., & Cohen, L. (2022). The PD Book: 7 Habits that Transform Professional Development. John Wiley & Sons.
Hare, R. L., & Dillon, R. (2019). The Space: A Guide for Educators.
McKeown, G. (2014). Essentialism: The disciplined pursuit of less. Crown Currency.
Parker, P. (2018). The Art of Gathering: How we meet and why it matters. Penguin.
Kathryn Laster brings 34 years of education expertise, as a math teacher, instructional coach, and digital learning consultant. Now, as an independent consultant, Kathryn designs technology-infused professional learning experiences and facilitates learning communities that foster collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and continuous growth. Kathryn is a member of the Learning Forward Academy Class of '25, an ISTE Certified Educator, and a Google Certified Trainer. Hear her learning journeys and inspirations on her first podcast, Digital Learning Radio, explore Kathryn's insights at Refined Learning Design, and connect with her on Twitter @kklaster.