Mulling Time

The topic of what good professional learning looks like is always contentious. Some of us love to sit and listen and soak up some new knowledge from a great speaker. Others argue that the best professional learning happens in schools with colleagues through inquiry, observation and dialogue.

I think that there is a place for both and more. But both are useless we are able to do something with the new knowledge.

On the Coffee Pods podcast with Holly Ransom¹, I listened to Dom Price (work futurist at Atlassian) say that for a professional improvement event of some kind, we should ensure we have “equal parts consumption and equal parts reflection“.

This reflection is what I call mulling time.

I am a serial professional reader. I am always looking into new information, ideas, concepts, research. But sometimes I spend so much time reading that I don’t make the time to think it over and take action.

This is essentially a waste of time… what’s the point of all that reading if I don’t spend time mulling, questioning, using, discarding, sorting, trialling, implementing?

Plan to think deeply and at length

Price says he asks himself “What did I learn? What can I challenge? What foundations does that really go against? What might I do differently? What else could I go and read or consume on any of those topics?”

To mull, we need to think deeply, and at length. This can be difficult if we don’t set aside time or make a plan for it. Perhaps your school or organisation isn’t able to provide you with this extra time to mull but it is integral you find a way to process what you have experienced. With schools doing so much, we need to avoid going ‘an inch deep and a mile wide’. We need to make space to think deeply and at length.

After reading research, listening to a speaker, seeing a though-provoking tweet or attending a conference, think about the things you can put in place to prioritise this mulling time.

Schedule time to mull

Very soon after your professional learning, dedicate time to mulling and commit yourself to it. When you make plans for professional learning, like a PD day or finishing a chapter of a book, you could lock in a time you will not look into anything new, but instead process what you have already seen or heard.

Find a challenge partner

Make a time to meet with a colleague, mentor or someone who you can bounce off. Schedule in time to discuss your thoughts with them. Articulating your questions and conclusions out loud can help you solidify your ideas.

Record your thoughts

Sketchnote, journal, mindmap, blog, make lists, tweet… whatever works for you. Find a way to sort your thoughts and get them down on paper. Or iPad.

Don’t forget about your notes

It’s easy to put your notebook down and turn the page once you get back to work. But you most likely jotted some dotpoints or stuck in some sticky notes while listening or reading… don’t waste them. Instead reread them more than once to find the diamonds in the rough.

Teaching can be an overwhelming profession, with an overwhelming amount of knowledge, conversations, research and ideas on our digital doorstep at any moment. It is so important for us to identify and sharpen our professional learning needs, so we do not simply not just soak up endless information but balance out our learning with reflection so we can truly create a positive impact on student learning.

What do you do to make your professional learning hit home? How do you prioritise time to mull it over and make a plan for action?

¹Coffee Pods with Holly Ransom Coffee Pod #2: High Performing Teams & Leaders, and What to Expect from the Future of Work with Atlassian’s Dom Price

2 thoughts on “Mulling Time

  1. Hi Emily,

    What a great line about professional learning being “equal parts consumption and equal parts reflection“. This is so true but so easy to overlook.

    I’ve never been a big note taker at PD events because I know I’m not going to read back over pages and pages of notes (unless maybe I was writing a blog post or something). I prefer to jot down a few key takeaways.

    Like you, I love podcasts and I often feel like I want to be consuming something at all times. So I’ll listen to a podcast when I’m driving, running, cleaning etc (if I don’t have kids with me!). But sometimes I have to force myself not to, just so I have time to … mull!

    Thanks for a great post, Emily 🙂



    • Thanks for the comment, Kathleen. I get the fear at conferences that if I don’t jot it down, I’ll forget it forever. Perhaps your method of distilling a few key takeaways is a good way to reflect on what you’ve heard and get the essence down, rather than the minutia.


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