InSourced: A Professional Learning Event

photo 2A year ago, I had a crazy idea.  Crazy ideas coming from me are not uncommon, but this crazy idea involved going “big” with one of the professional development days for my secondary staff during the 2013-2014 school year.  It meant getting “buy-in” from the administrators in the district to allow me to do something very different than anything we’d done before for a PD day.  They’d have to relinquish an entire day of PD and let me plan a PD event—no staff meetings, no curriculum writing, no “usual” PD day stuff.  This crazy idea meant assembling a team of willing and like-minded people to help me pull this thing off.  It meant many hours of networking with businesses and industry partners and making tons of phone calls.  It meant many hours of planning, visioning, and communicating with stakeholders.  This crazy idea meant countless hours of set-up by many people.  But above all, it meant that the educators in my district would feel like they were going to a conference and not PD.  It meant that the day would be memorable, focused, engaging, insightful, professional, worthwhile, and fun.

Our district has three major goals in itsplanning for our students to be successful and grow in the core academic areas.  Goal #2 of the Strategic Plan insists that our students be college and/or career ready by the time they complete high school and Goal #3 focuses heavily on the acquisition and application of core 21st Century Skills.  The 4Cs—Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication and Creativity—have emerged as the central and most important 21st Century skills that people need to be able to apply in daily life.  These skills are the skills that will allow our students to be ready to innovate for tomorrow and be prepared for jobs that haven’t even been created yet.  Case in point—there hadn’t been any PD on Goal #2 and #3 since the adoption of the strategic plan, thus the inspiration for InSourced Day of Professional Learning.

I wanted to create a day where the focus could be on the 4Cs (critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity) and would link those 4Cs to the business and industry community.  I envisioned a “TED-like” experience for our teachers—with dynamic speakers from various career clusters sharing about what he/she does in his/her work and how the 4Cs are used daily in his/her profession and company.  I also envisioned an afternoon where our secondary educators would get out into the community to various business and industry partners and actually “see” the 4Cs in action…for real.

I assembled an amazing planning team and we got to work, meeting bi-weekly to keep the ideas rolling and to divide the work.  It would be a “heavy lift,” but we all knew it would be worth it in the end.  We arrived at a name early on—InSourced.  This day would about building capacity withIN our educators to make the 4Cs come alive in classrooms across the district.  We weren’t about “outsourcing” the work of getting our students college/career ready to other people.  It needed to stay withIN, thus the name and tagline InSourced:  Tomorrow’s Workforce through Today’s Educators.  This intentionally played off of our district’s mission statement—“Educating today’s learners for tomorrow’s world.”  The day would focus heavily on college/career readiness and the 4Cs and would help to bring the district’s goals to the forefront of all of our educators’ minds.

InSourced Logo

InSourced: Tomorrow’s Workforce through Today’s Educators was not going to be professional development; it was going to be a professional learning event.  There is a difference. 

The planning team thought long and hard.  As educators, we need to be able to connect our disciplines to the “outside” world.  We need to understand what today’s businesses are expecting our graduates to be able to do when they enter the workplace. 

Who would be the best speakers that would be able to bring this message “home” to our staff?  We worked with our career coordinator to make sure that the main career clusters that are used in our district were represented in the speakers that we chose. After lots of brainstorming, we finally whittled it down from a long list of potential possibilities to the following speakers: 

Dr. Kristi Jean, chemical engineer and nanoscience coordinator for North Dakota State College of Science (sciences/education);

Rick Davis, owner and CEO of Insight Technologies, a communications and technology company in Fargo (business technologies);

Katie Kuker, director of human relations for John Deere Electronics Solutions in Fargo (engineering/human services);

Chef Eric Watson, executive chef and owner of Mosaic Foods/Catering and Mezzaluna in Fargo (food and natural resources);

Kirsten Baesler, North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction (education);

Dayna DelVal, director of the Arts Partnership in Fargo (arts and communication);

Jake Joraanstad, CEO of Myriad Mobile, a mobile app company in Fargo (business technologies);

Paula Klein, owner and CEO of SMARTT Interior Construction, a female-owned and operated construction company in Fargo (communication/industrial technologies);

Dr. Jeff Boyer, learning technologist and professor at North Dakota State University (technology/education).

I worked with each speaker to curate the “talks” by asking the speakers to share a bit about his/her company, to share briefly about the journey that got him/her to his/her current place in his/her career, to think about what college/career ready skills and 21st Century skills are used in his/her company on a daily basis, how his/her company fosters the 4Cs in employees, and lastly to be critical and share what the educational system could “do better” to have the students education produces ready to tackle the intensity of the workplace.  I met with each of them as InSourced neared to communicate expectations and make sure the “talk” was in line with what we needed it to be.  As I met with them, they were spot on with their planned messages and I knew they were going to be awesome.

Our speakers were only one aspect of the day, though.  The InSourced team worked hard to create connections with business and industry during the planning of this professional learning event.  Our local economic development corporation shared a list of businesses and contacts to get us started.  We selected and contacted businesses from the various career clusters that our teachers would self-select to attend an “adventure” in the afternoon.  The business/industry partners would provide a tour of the business and then address the same things that the speakers addressed—overview of the company, college/career skills and 21st Century skills used in the company on a daily basis, how the culture of the company fosters those skills, and lastly what the educational system could improve to produce the employees that are needed for the future.  We left it up to each business to design the time that the educators were with them; we simply gave them a loose vision of what the time could look like.

The logistics of getting the educators registered for the event were daunting, but with the help of an amazing colleague and several days dedicated to the task, we were able to compile all of the information, organize it, and create lists of who would go where for which “adventures.”

The “feel” of the event was important to me and to the planning team. 

We wanted our educators to feel appreciated from the time they walked in the door of the school and throughout the entire day.  We had our district administration and building level principals stationed at the front doors to welcome our educators to the event and invite them to partake in an amazing breakfast.  Our local education cooperative sponsored the food for the day.  Our administrators modeled servant leadership and served the food and did the clean-up.  We skipped the donuts and went with healthful snacks, good coffee and water, and lots of fresh fruit.  We were feeding our teachers’ souls as well as their bellies.

We invested in design time with a local graphic artist.  She designed a branded logo, program, and banner for the event.  Our set up team created an atmosphere that was inviting with balloons, flowers, and table decorations.  As educators entered the space, they were invited to experience the day fully.


As educators entered the theater for the morning of speakers, they were handed a program, upbeat music was playing, the stage was set and lit, the banner popped InSourced, and it didn’t feel like PD.  We had a local production company produce the event, and much of the production was given to us “in kind” and for the greater good of the district.  I was the producer of the event.  I had written the script, changed presentations, made sure that everything was running smoothly behind scenes, but the production company came through and cabled it all, set cameras, had people to run cameras, created graphics, switched multimedia pieces, and made everything “feel” like this event was important because it was.  They recorded the speakers and professional videos have been created for us to post to a YouTube channel (wfpsinsourced) to continue the learning and share the learning throughout our education cooperative.  I am eternally grateful for the work that the production company put into this event.


The speakers rocked the InSourced stage.  Each one brought a different and unique take to the same message—we want all of our kids to be college/career ready and possess and apply the 4Cs.  Each speaker pushed the educators to think differently about our profession and our work.  They all were given the same parameters, but they each shared a different “take-away.”  We had “I Want to Hire THAT One” and curiosity as the 5th C.  We had the idea of a “hackathon” at work and the idea that creativity is something a person earns after mastering the basics.  We had a reminder from the state superintendent to continue to innovate for the future.  We had a push to not forget the arts in our work with STEM and a young entrepreneur remind us what Sir Ken Robinson has shared—“Collaboration is the stuff of growth.”  We were reminded that people’s journeys don’t always go in a linear progression—the highway vs. “cowpath” analogy will live forever.  Lastly, our paradigms were shifted to think of “constructionism” as an additional “C” and to remember that there are parents in our district that truly care about what we are doing to create engaging and relevant learning experiences for all of our children. 

Throughout the morning, we encouraged teachers and administrators to “backchannel” using the Twitter hashtag #wfpsinsourced or to use rooms that we created using  We frontloaded the experience for staff by providing opportunities to learn how to backchannel prior to InSourced through our technology integration staff.  Some embraced the backchannels fully and contributed to the discussion, some signed up for Twitter and shared their first tweets at InSourced, and some were not comfortable with the backchannel.  We met people where they were and allowed them to backchannel in whatever way felt comfortable.


The morning concluded by having all of our speakers on the stage again for a short panel discussion sponsored by our local economic development corporation.  The questions were taken from the backchannels and curated by Brad Schmidt, professional engineer with Cass County Electric.  We wished we could have had longer for this discussion.  The time went by quickly.


After a long lunch, teachers went on their “adventures” to various business/industry partners.  Teachers had “registered” for the event several weeks before and the team did its best to give teachers the first, second or third choice for the “adventure.”  The following business partners offered their time and space for the adventures:  

 Aldevron—a biotech company

Appareo Systems—electronic software company

Bell State Bank & Trust—locally owned/operated community-focused bank.

ByteSpeed Computers—custom built desktops, computers, and servers

Discovery Benefits—innovative employee benefits administration and solutions.

Eide Bailly—accounting and consulting firm

Elevate Rock School—music lessons in a fun and new way

Fargo Jet Center—aviation services

Insight Technologies—technology solutions with strategic outcomes

Integrity Windows and Doors—design and manufacturing of windows and doors.

Intelligent InSites—technology company focusing on healthcare with real-time operational intelligence

IRONCLAD Marketing—advertising, marketing and public relations company

John Deere Electronic Solutions and Manufacturing—solutions for reliable and rugged electronic components for machinery

MBA Architects, Northern Home Furniture and InterOffice—architecture  firm that also houses interior design and commercial construction services

Mezzaluna—upscale contemporary American cuisine with French and Italian influences

Microsoft—help people and businesses realize full potential using Microsoft solutions

Moore Engineering—civil engineering and landscaping consulting firm

Myriad Mobile—technology company specializing in mobile app development, consulting, design and strategy

North Dakota Research Park & Business Incubator—university researchers and private industry combine talents to develop new technologies, methods and systems

North Dakota State College of Science Nanoscience CNTT Labexploration of nanoscience and the properties of the particles

Plains Art Museum—gallery looking games that celebrate the 4Cs

Promersberger—full-service marketing and communications company focusing on agricultural clients

The educators kept the backchannel alive while at the “adventures.”  We saw pictures posted, “take-aways” from the experience, and excitement from the experience.  At the conclusion of the event, teachers had the opportunity to share about their “adventure” with others in person and have another gourmet snack.

The best part is that we get to keep the gift of InSourced going in the coming weeks and months.  A colleague and I are keeping the Twitter hashtag #wfpsinsourced alive by sharing teacher take-aways (with permission) from the survey we administered at the conclusion of the event.  In addition to that, the videos of the speakers are being released gradually on our YouTube channel (wfpsinsourced) so that educators can listen again and reflect/have conversations with colleagues about the content our speakers shared. 

One teacher said to me at the conclusion of InSourced, “This was not PD that was done to us.  It was PD that was done for us.”  InSourced was a labor of love by a great team of committed individuals.  Did we meet the objective of making college/career readiness and the 4Cs come alive for our educators?  Yes.  Did we create a professional learning event that made our educators feel valued?  I hope so.  Did it take a lot of time and effort to pull it off?  Yep.  Did everything go perfectly?  No.  Are there ways we could redesign the experience?  Most definitely.  The biggest question of all–will we do an event like this again for our educators?  I keep getting asked by our staff, “Are we going to get to have another PD day like InSourced?”  I guess that’s a resounding YES! 

Note:  Follow the hashtag #wfpsinsourced to see the continued conversation about InSourced.

Here are the Links to the Speaker Videos from InSourced:

Dr. Kristi Jean with “I Want to Hire THAT One!”

Rick Davis’ “talk” on the 5th C—Curiosity:

Chef Eric Watson’s “talk” on the Evolution of Food in Fargo:

Superintendent Kirsten Baesler’s “talk” on College Career Readiness for ND Students:

Dayna DelVal with her “talk” about the Arts and the 21st Century:

Katie Kuker’s “talk” about “Inspiring the Next Generation of Innovators”

Paula Klein’s “talk” on “Building Smartter” and the cow-path vs. the highway…

Jake Joraanstad’s “talk” on Pursuing Your Passion

Dr. Jeff Boyer’s “talk” about Constructionism—the C to Rule Them All!

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