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Bright Spots: The Podcast

Michelle Hjelm and Professional Development (Ep. 2 Pt. 1)

Guest: Michelle Hjelm

Host: Cameron Yee

Referenced Resources

Table of Contents

  • [00:00 - 01:18] (1:18) Introductions and celebrating Halloween

  • [01:18 - 02:31] (1:12) Michelle’s background as an educator and what motivated her to join the WREN staff

  • [02:31 - 05:34] (3:37) Why the WREN needed a PD coordinator  

  • [05:35 - 07:55] (2:20) Overview of PD coordination

  • [07:55 - 11:39] (3:43) What informs Michelle’s practices

  • [11:39 - 18:08] (6:28) The importance of feedback (and acting on it)

  • [18:08 - 20:52] (2:44) WREN’s waitlist process

  • [20:52 - 28:29] (7:37) Upcoming PD

  • [28:29 - 29:37] (1:08) Conclusion



Cameron Yee  0:11 

Welcome to Bright Spots: Highlights from the Western Regional Educator Network. I'm Cameron Yee, Communications Coordinator for the WREN and I'm here with Michelle Hjelm, the WREN’s Coordinator of Professional Development. 


Professional development, or PD, as it's often called by educators, is one of the more high profile and popular things the WREN offers. So today, Michelle will be pulling back the curtain to reveal what's involved in getting all of our amazing professional learning opportunities off the ground. Thanks for being here, Michelle!


Michelle Hjelm  0:38  

Thanks for having me, Cameron!


Cameron Yee  0:40  

How are you doing? We are about mid-October. Halloween is coming up. I don't know if you're a fan of Halloween or not.


Michelle Hjelm  0:46  

I am a big fan, in theory. In practice, I'm not only a coordinator at the WREN, but I'm a coordinator in my home. So if I don't do the planning, nothing happens. So in theory, I'm like, “Yeah, super jazzed. Let's do matching costumes. Like let's do this and that.” And then I'm like, “Wait, but then I have to plan it.” So in theory, yes. In practice, a little less so. But fall is my favorite, so I'm really jazzed that summer's gone.


Cameron Yee  1:18  

Yeah. So thank you, again, for being here. Just want to spend the first part talking about your background as an educator and what led you to joining the WREN as a PD coordinator?


Michelle Hjelm  1:31  

Yeah, absolutely. So I taught preschool at a couple different preschools, dipped my toes in kindergarten here locally. And then I transitioned out of public education and into United Way doing some Preschool Promise coordination, so providing high quality preschool for families in low income situations across Lane County. That was super exciting. And then moving on from that I just kind of landed here. I just really recognized that there needed to be more educator-led solutions in our community and trying to figure out how to support that, because I previously had supported a lot of family-led solutions, which is huge, too. But I was like, “What would it be like to support some educator-led solutions?” And as a previous educator, myself, I know that the support I needed wasn't necessarily there. And I was just thinking like, “What would it have been like, were it to have been there? How can I be a part of that push?” So that's what brought me here.


Cameron Yee  2:31  

You know, I was part of the interview committee when you came through and like your experience with working with a regional program, like you were, lended itself to working for the WREN, which is not just Lane County, but three other counties, Linn, Benton, and Lincoln. So yeah, that was a great background for you, I think, coming through as an interview candidate. And also, you know, just looking at the role that you're filling – we really needed you! 


Michelle Hjelm 3:01
So I've heard!


Cameron Yee 3:03

You've heard this repeatedly. And it doesn't, you know, it doesn't get old, at least for me. 


Michelle Hjelm 3:07

It doesn't. It doesn't.


Cameron Yee 3:09
Because like all of the work that you do now was shared among like several people on the team, which is great in the sense of everybody stepped up and did their part. But then there was like, sort of a consistency problem. You know, everybody approached different methods or processes in different ways, you know. And it was amazing the way that we, we were able to get the PD that we did, but at the point that we identified this role, that it was needed, it was pretty obvious at that point, like this needs to be streamlined and, you know, made consistent in a lot of different ways. 


Michelle Hjelm  3:50  

Yes, streamlining was about the first hardcore six months of my job, just trying to figure out how everyone was doing everything. And then taking the best from each of them and working into a timeline, an equity-based timeline and templates and processes that were all the same so that the folks we're serving knew a little bit more what to expect. And so we could just do a better job at just serving people. And that was really exciting. Because, although I hate real life puzzles, like literal puzzles, I really love that type of puzzle. So it was a fun time.


Cameron Yee  4:23  

Yeah, like the whole problem solving. And I think reflecting back on sort of the initial meetings that you and I had, seeing the system in your own way, right, like, what is going on right now. I think as I was describing the processes I knew of, again, it became clear like, “Oh, this needs some work and improvement here.” 


Michelle Hjelm  4:50  

Yeah, it took some time. They did a great job though – the work that the folks that were lifting before I got here was great, too. So they set us up well.


Cameron Yee  4:58  

Yeah, and as a communications person, kind of in the same situation, like I came on and a lot of work had been done. Like a website had been created. A mailing list had been created, all these things that were done by people on our team, who, that wasn't really their job. But they stepped up and they did what they were able to do given the time and capacity. And then it reached a point where, hey, it makes sense to have a dedicated person to do this. So I inherited a lot of great things, just as you did. Then we've been tasked with, you know, making it even better.


So yeah, why don't you kind of walk the listeners through what does PD coordination involve?


Michelle Hjelm  5:41  

PD coordination generally takes about 11 to 13 weeks from start to finish. So when you're wondering about that timeline, it's probably a little longer than you might think. First, I do a heavy dig into our feedback that we get. I review all of that. I also look at previous interests. So gauging how interested the folks we were serving were previously in an offering. And what else they're looking for outside of what we're already offering. I definitely speak with our WREN Cabinet, which is a subset of our Coordinating Body, which is the governing group...


Cameron Yee  6:18  

I usually say it's the same as a board of directors or a school board.


Michelle Hjelm  6:23 

Thank you. Yes, yeah, well, I get more information in the room besides just myself. And then I reach out to contractors. Sometimes they're old contractors that we've already had for PD, and sometimes they're new contractors, because we're looking for new topics or just new perspectives. Then I just dig into some planning note creation, I make registration forms, participant messaging, take and process attendance, and then at the very end, I push forward stipend payments. So it's quite the process. And you know, everything has its own timeline that's equity-based, and it's working really well. It feels pretty seamless these days.


Cameron Yee  7:03  

Yeah, I think one major thing I've seen is just, you know, making those timelines clear to everybody at the front end of it, from the contractor, to my role and pushing it out in the newsletter and making flyers. And like, at any point, I can, like, look at, where are we at for this particular event? And then I know. So it's been really helpful for my part. But from what I've seen, it's been helpful for other people, too.


Michelle Hjelm  7:31  

It has been, because there's so many players in the game. There's me, there's the contractor, there's you. There's our whole team who's trying to spread the word, and then there's all the educators we're serving. And so if we do not have a consistent, accessible timeline that always is on time, it's, you know, it's tough to make things happen. So that timeline is like the lifeblood of what I do really, just keeping stuff on time.


Cameron Yee  7:55  

Like in your education, career experience, where did all that come from? It seems like, it makes sense to me, and I think it makes sense to other people. But I guess unless you're in the role of a coordinator,  effectively an event coordinator, like understanding, what does this process need? And how does it become helpful for people? Where did all that come from, from your experience?


Michelle Hjelm  8:23  

Where did all of that come from? I think – I feel like I've always kind of been the type of person that sees the big picture and then is able to narrow everything down into chunks, and then sees issues before they arise so I can like backwards plan a way so those issues don't come. It was really handy in teaching. It was really handy for Preschool Promise, like my Preschool Promise job was, in a lot of ways, quite similar to this job. So I got a lot of pretty high stakes practice, because that's education for littles, right? So that really honed my skills. But yeah, I've just always been able to kind of see, that's just kind of how my brain goes, you know? And I get to practice and use the best parts of my brain in this job, which is super exciting.


Cameron Yee  9:10  

I think we're the same Enneagram. We’re at least – you're a One, right? 


Michelle Hjelm 9:15
I can't remember. You made me a little wooden guy and I gotta look at it. I can't remember what I was.


Cameron Yee  9:22  

I think you are a One. I don't know if you're a Wing Two or a Wing Nine. But Tracy is also a One. So there's sort of this like, this synchronicity between the three of us when we start looking at like, like our meeting last week. When you were talking about the steps that you go through to, you know, do what you do. And one person on our team felt like really overwhelmed. Like, there's so many steps. And Tracy's like, “This is the most beautiful thing that I've ever seen!” And I would lean that way too, because it's all very well detailed and laid out. And I know what to do.


Michelle Hjelm  9:58  

Yeah, no surprises.


Cameron Yee  10:00  

Yeah, no surprises. But where was I going with that? Oh, so I watch, or have watched, a lot of movies and there's this movie Gosford Park. I don’t know if you've seen that. It's basically about sort of upstairs, downstairs classic British aristocracy and the servants who serve them kind of a situation. But there's this monologue that Helen Mirren, who is the like, the lead. She's in charge of the house and all the servants in it. But she shares this monologue that is all about anticipation. My job is to anticipate what my master, unfortunately, needs or what, who I'm serving needs. Sometimes they don't even know if they need it. I have to anticipate an unspoken need before it ever happens. And I've thought about that monologue a lot in the work that I do, and sort of just in terms of service in general, like what do you do when you're trying to figure out what somebody needs? And sort of anticipating that before it actually happens? 


Michelle Hjelm  11:07  

Yeah, you just like never stop listening. I feel like I'm constantly picking up bits of information from anything, from like, just random, super small feedback to really larger, intentional feedback. And, and just like being just thinking about like, okay, yes, I hear that. And what does that mean? And what could that look like if somebody had a slightly different perspective, or a really different perspective, so that I can kind of solve all of the potential barriers before we encounter them? That's the goal.


Cameron Yee  11:32  

Yeah. So one of the first things I remember when you started with us, was you saying “feedback is a gift.” And I agree. I don't know if most people agree. Or at least, most people say, “I agree if it's said in a certain way.” But I have learned that feedback is feedback. Yes, I would like it to be said in a nice way, most people would. But even the way that it is said is feedback, like what is this? I think I probably learned that in like Coaching for Emotions or something like that. The way that it is said is another piece of information. Like this person is upset, or this person is angry, and why are they angry? And sort of like, you know, separating yourself, not taking it personally, per se, but like, “Why is this person so upset?” And that's another piece of information.


But anyways, I remember seeing “feedback is a gift.” And it's like, “Oh, that's, that's great. How do we, how do we operationalize it?” And then you operationalized it!


Michelle Hjelm 12:42

Sure did! Yes. Yeah. 


Cameron Yee 12:45

Talk about how that was developed. And like, what you saw as a need and what steps you took there.


Michelle Hjelm  12:51  

Yeah, so when I first got here, I was really, I was just really excited about the idea of educator-led improvements. And part of, part of a large part of that, potentially, the only part of that, right, is knowing what educators are thinking, right? You can't, you can't have anything educator-led if you don't know where folks are. And so I was like, Oh, how do you know, how do we get that feedback and we, you know, we gathered it, gosh, I think four times a year, which is amazing. And it gave us some phenomenal data that Alyssa does magical things with. But I wanted some more, I wanted some quicker data and some more data that I could use to make small changes very quickly, because we run so many PDs, I have the opportunity to make changes fast and to have that change, reflect you know, a month later, rather than four months later, or a year later. So it's just thinking about feedback. And also just how, how do we figure out if, if there's any harm being done in the sessions that we are giving? So just trying to figure out, how can we catch any harm and manage that? And also, just how do we gather feedback? Like, are we? Are we providing things that are useful to the folks we're trying to reach? Not only is it useful, but is it a comfortable environment we’re providing, how's your experience? Because if we're not checking in on those things, then we're not really meeting our educator-led goals, right? So I made a feedback form. And, you know, just send it out after every PD, totally optional. Send it during PDs as well, just so folks can feel like, if anything does happen, or if a thought comes up, they can go ahead and share it with us. And we're gonna take it seriously. I always read the feedback constantly. There doesn't go, you know, two weeks without me having done a big feedback dive and just sharing that feedback, not just with myself, but with the team and with the facilitators so that we can just move forward in a positive direction for the folks that we're serving.


Cameron Yee  14:58  

Yeah, I mean, the other part, the other half of that, is acting on the feedback. We are asked for feedback all the time in different ways in our lives. I sort of feel, personally, 50-50. Like, “Is anything actually going to come of this?” And I do see that the WREN feedback has resulted in very tangible improvements in the way that we do things.


Michelle Hjelm  15:17  

Yeah, I've made a huge amount of changes based on feedback. I change my templates, I change what type of information we provide on registration forms. It helps me with my timelines. I will extend timelines or condense them based on folks’ feedback like, “Hey, I wish that registration would have been open longer.” Or like, “Can I still register for that even though it's closed?” That tells me that our equity-based timeline could be adjusted, right, to encompass a little extra time. It's led me to send more reminders for PD to folks. And in a huge way, it helped me create the attendance, new attendance policy, the inclusive attendance policy, as well as the two-level stipend practice that we do now. And now we send out PDU certificates. So I really am reading their feedback, I really am doing things with the feedback. And the feedback is really what I think has really made this such a successful job for me, because I can't, I don't, know everything, right? There's no way. My team doesn't know everything. So we really need that feedback to make improvements. Constant improvements.


Cameron Yee  16:22  

I believe the inclusive attendance policy was one of the first major changes, right? Recognizing holidays for other cultures and belief systems, respecting those.


Michelle Hjelm  16:35  

Yeah, just making sure that we weren't punishing folks for being involved in cultural or religious practices, that meant they couldn't join us for some period. Because those practices and those experiences are really important. And it shouldn't keep folks from joining us, or from feeling like we value them joining us. So just getting that policy in was big. Yeah.


Cameron Yee  16:56  

So like, I think on most of our team calendars now, or we encouraged everybody on our team to turn on these supplementary calendars that show holidays, and in not just the United States, but in other cultures. I myself only had experience, you know, viewing Asian, or Chinese, specifically Chinese holidays, I already kind of knew about that. But then there are tons of other calendars that I could turn on and be aware of. I still have those turned on, even though I'm not like planning things around them necessarily. But it's good to know, like, “Oh, this is happening right now.” And this is a bit of a tangent, but then also learning about, you know, in Chinese culture, the Mid-Autumn Festival, and then Sukkot in the Jewish tradition. And seeing those align was really super informative and interesting for me. 


Michelle Hjelm  17:46  

Yeah, yeah. Google Calendars is divided in an interesting way. I wish they just showed everyone everything, right, but they don't. But when you figure out how to see everything, it's really informative. And I've done a lot of searches on like, “Oh, what's that one? What's that one?” And it just helps me understand, you know, my community members better. It's been a real gift. Yeah.


Cameron Yee  18:09  

So waitlists. I know, there's been some questions around waitlists. I think the first thing people need to know is that it's not first come first serve. 


Michelle Hjelm 18:20



Cameron Yee 18:21

I mean, that was something stated to me as soon as I started. I don't know exactly where that comes from, but it does tie back to sort of the concept of equity. Like people's time is different, like their ability to respond to an opportunity varies quite a bit. So we don't want to punish people, right, for not having time. 


Michelle Hjelm 18:46

Right. For being busy.


Cameron Yee 18:48

Busy doing their jobs. So waitlists. How would you describe the process at sort of a broad level?


Michelle Hjelm  18:59  

Yeah, so in terms of waitlists, definitely not first come first serve, which I think is the biggest myth to bust because a lot of things in this, you know, world are first come first serve. So when folks sign up right when it comes out, and they don't get in, sometimes they do get a, “Well, I signed up right away. What do you mean, I don't have a spot?” and I just have to describe our waitlist process, which is: We hold some [spots] specifically for BIPOC folks, and then I use a bunch of data to figure out which districts we are potentially under-serving, with the help of Alyssa. So I figure out which districts we’re potentially under-serving and those districts that are being underserved get prioritized for the next. I usually do it about every three or four months. And so that's constantly evolving so that we're continuously reaching new under-served districts. Which is really exciting because in the data I can watch it work, I can watch the month after I prioritize a certain district, I can see more people getting in from that district. And then you know, three months later, I can change those prioritizations and notice that my new prioritizations aren't getting in, but will now, and so the data is showing that that's working. And then the last thing that we double check with everyone is how many touches they've had with the contractor. So we're always taking into account how much opportunity an individual has had with this contractor because some folks have never met Victor Small, Jr., haven't ever been in a class with Amanda Coven, while others have 2, 3, 4 times, right. And we want to make sure that we are spreading that access opportunity across our educator community.


Cameron Yee  20:46  

Well, hopefully that answers the question most people have around waitlists. So upcoming PD in the next few months. 


Michelle Hjelm  20:57  

Yeah, absolutely. So in the next few months, we have three new contractors we're working with. Those new contractors came about by just listening to, listening and reading the feedback we're getting, thinking through what it is that educators are saying that they need in their PD, what topics are they looking to have. And if we're not already offering those topics through our current contractors, I go ahead and do some research to find new contractors that are offering that. And you know, I do some digging to make sure everything's high quality. 


So what's coming up is a third round of Bystander Intervention for Educators, which is just how to be an active bystander, when you know, when things go wrong, when you see harm and harassment. How can you respond to somebody in that room. We also have a session of Regulate, Relate, Reason coming up, which is a social emotional learning opportunity from Lane ESD’s Daniel Gallo. This is going to be great. It's going to help with that, what people like to call, classroom management. And then we also have a couple offerings of More Than a Rainbow Training, which is basically an informational training on how to be more inclusive, to the LGBTQIA2S+ community, be they students, co-workers, staff, just community members, how to make sure that we are going in the right direction and being inclusive and not harmful. And those three topics were all things that lots of educators were saying that they were interested in learning about. So I'm super excited to be able to offer that here coming up.


Cameron Yee  22:40  

Yeah,and you mentioned earlier about involving the WREN Cabinet, which is a task force that's part of the Coordinating Body. So describe what their part in sort of looking at these.


Michelle Hjelm  22:55  

Yeah, so these specific three, I don't know that they specifically looked at. But we have been listening to the things that they are, gosh, that must have been multiple months ago. So I'm trying to recall the exact conversation.


Cameron Yee  23:05  

Yeah, because our task force meeting model has changed a little bit. So it's a little different from last school year, basically.


Michelle Hjelm  23:18  

Yeah, but I think what they would have done in this case is just sharing some feedback about topics that they're interested in. And me reviewing the feedback from the feedback form. And just listening to educators, whenever I'm able to, you know, when they're around, just gathering that sort of information. The WREN cabinet was super duper helpful in selecting some of the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education offerings that we did. We had a wide variety of options, and they really helped us narrow those down. We actually offered those ones during the summer and the fall, so they aren't included in these upcoming three, but they were super, super helpful in helping us figure out which of those to prioritize and when to offer, and who to offer them to, and all of that.


Cameron Yee  24:03  

And Bystander Intervention that's from Right to Be?


Michelle Hjelm  24:10  

Yeah. Yeah, formerly Holler Back. Right to Be is, it's just a really phenomenal organization that I ran across during my time at Preschool Promise, actually. So when people were thinking about “Well, okay, but like, what do I do when things go wrong?” I thought, “Oh, I know who I can email.”


Cameron Yee  24:23  

Yeah, it was interesting when you, I guess, introduced the topic to our team. And Alyssa, Alyssa has come up a few times in our conversation, so that’s Alyssa Leraas, who is the Data and Measurement Coordinator. She knew them as Holler Back. 


Michelle Hjelm  24:41  

Yeah, Holler Back. Previously known as Holler Back.


Cameron Yee  24:44  

Previously known as Holler Back. So she, as you were describing, like what they do, she said, “Oh, this sounds familiar, or similar to this other organization. Like oh, it's the same one.” 


Michelle Hjelm  24:52  

Yeah, they changed their name within the last couple years. So yeah, she's a fan. I'm a fan. And now that we, we actually ran that PD in August and October, and it went just phenomenally. People were really jazzed to sign up for it, and then gave really great feedback. So I'm super excited to be able to offer this new contractor opportunity again, coming up, I believe in December. Yeah.


Cameron Yee  25:16  

Yeah. And you encouraged all of us to try their free demo and I did. And it was shorter than the one that we're offering, but even then, that was like, really great, and had a lot of promise for what, you know, what would an extended one look like? And I think the main takeaway for me was just the facilitator asking, like, “What's your superpower?” Because we all have a set of skills or things that we are comfortable doing. There are ways that we can intervene. I think for my own self I was sort of envisioning intervention as this very dramatic action that needs to be taken every time. And I think sort of framing that in a different way. Like, “No, you don't have to do that.” Because sometimes it's not safe. It's not safe for you, it's not safe for the person who you're intervening on behalf of, but there are other things that you can do. And like my superpower was documentation. And the piece that I appreciated even more around documentation was like, “Well, what do you do with that?” Well, you give it to the other person, because it not only validates their experience, the harm that they experienced, but it also gives them information to take it somewhere if they choose to do so. And so that just sort of opened my thinking about what does intervention even mean? What could that look like in a safe and supportive way?


Michelle Hjelm  26:41  

Yeah, I love the diversity of thought that comes along with that training. It's like, no, you don't need to bust down the door in your cape and start yelling, right. That's, that doesn't have to happen. There's lots of other options that will make the situation better for the person being harmed. Way better than doing nothing, which unfortunately, is often what happens. So yeah, that training was a real eye opener for me when I first took it like, oh, yeah, like I can do these things. I can do these things. And I know other people can. And if we all just learned a little bit more, this would just be a much better place.


Cameron Yee  27:15  

And I've seen Regulate, Relate and Reason come through Lane ESD workshops quite a bit. So it's cool to 


Michelle Hjelm 27:22

It's popular. It's a really good one.


Cameron Yee 27:25

Yeah. And being able to partner with Daniel around that would be great. And I'm intrigued by the More Than a Rainbow Training.


Michelle Hjelm  27:31  

Yeah, one of our other REN partners. We’re the W-REN, but there are other RENs, right. One of the other RENs suggested this contractor and said that this opportunity was phenomenal. So I'm super excited. Because yeah, it's just, it's great to be digging into new topics with our community.


Cameron Yee  27:53  

Yeah, I'm sort of realizing as we're talking about and sort of promoting these opportunities, I think one of them has been – Bystander Intervention has already gone out for promotion, I believe.


Michelle Hjelm  28:06  

The December one? You are probably right. Yes, it's October. Yeah, I bet you're right. 


Cameron Yee  28:10  

Yeah. So that one is already out and available and maybe closed by the time this podcast episode is published. 


Michelle Hjelm  28:17  

But it's been so popular, I would not be surprised if we offered that again.


Cameron Yee  28:21  

And the other ones are in January, I believe, or thereabouts.  


Michelle Hjelm  28:25  

May or January


Cameron Yee  28:27  

Yeah, so keep an eye out. 


So our next segment will be, Michelle and I, visiting with Anil Oommen from Pacific University, who has been one of our contractors for a number of very, longtime, popular PD. And he's also a founding member of the Coordinating Body. So that will be another opportunity to talk of joining the WREN.


Michelle Hjelm  28:51   

Anil is a fountain of knowledge. I'm excited to have him on. 


Cameron Yee  28:54  

Yeah. Thank you for being here!


Michelle Hjelm  28:56  

Thank you so much for having me. This was great. 


Cameron Yee 28:59

Thank you. 


Michelle Hjelm 29:00

All right. Thanks, everyone.


Cameron Yee 29:01

If you enjoyed this episode, please like, subscribe or follow us on whatever podcast platform you're hearing this on. For more information about our equity-based professional learning, follow the links in the episode description which go to our website at Thanks again for listening and we hope you can join us for the next episode of the Bright Spots Podcast: Highlights from the Western Regional Educator Network.


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