What Professional Development Can Offer Us

By Michele Christle (though Michele Christle works for the UMaine Hutchinson Center, these views are her own and not the views of UMaine)

My name is Michele Christle. I live in Waldo County, where my two young children attend school. (Okay, I’m also the marketing and communications coordinator here at the UMaine Hutchinson Center.)

You may have heard that investing in an employee’s professional development is one of the number one things employers can do to retain workers and prevent burnout. Outside of fair pay/benefits and a healthy work environment, I’d say this is often true. Through our need-based scholarships and funding for workforce development from the Harold Alfond Center for the Advancement of Maine’s Workforce, professional development at the Hutchinson Center is more accessible now than ever before.

Working at the Hutchinson Center over the past few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have participated in a number of powerful professional development programs and to know the talented people who facilitate them. Here’s what I learned…


Last year, I participated in the Foundations in Restorative Practices program with the Restorative Justice Project of Midcoast Maine. This program couldn’t have arrived at a better time. If nothing else, the past few years have taught me not just that we all need more support, but that many of us would benefit from having a better sense of how to support one another and connect — in times both happy and hard. How do we hold space for safely and collectively sharing and witnessing reflections? What models are available to us?

Restorative practices are rooted in indigenous knowledge ways and can improve and repair relationships between people and communities. Frequently used in schools, criminal justice, and social justice/activism work, restorative practices can help build healthy communities, increase social capital, decrease crime and antisocial behavior, repair harm and restore relationships. As stated on our website, “Global indigenous communities have a long-standing history of living in alignment with what we now refer to as restorative justice and restorative practices.” (Essentially, while there’s a lot of talk about restorative practices and restorative justice now — both outside and inside indigenous communities — these ways of being have been around for thousands of years and it’s important to be mindful of this and how we relate to it.)

My kids on top of a mountain with their dragons.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from the superintendent of my kid’s school district, informing me about a challenging “incident” that had occurred at a neighboring school (that didn’t involve my kid). While my first thoughts were about safety, I quickly moved into hoping that the schools are using restorative practices to support youth in these moments of conflict/challenge (and, to help them feel more connected in more positive moments, as well). Restorative practices have helped me to realize that making space for collective reflection on such “incidents” can generate deeper understanding, empathy and connection. This connection helps prevent the secondary harm of pushing perpetrators into further isolation and increasing the likelihood cycle of harm continuing.

The Restorative Justice Midcoast facilitators are incredible — their tech skills are top-notch, they are hilarious, wise and nonjudgemental — true experts at creating “brave” spaces. Our session included a wide range of people including teachers, healthcare workers, community organizers, researchers and chaplains. Anyone who wants to participate and learn how to incorporate restorative practices into their work is invited to register for an upcoming session.

Have you heard about the Harold Alfond Funding for workforce development? Quick, tell your employer! It’s very possible you could take this training at no cost to you or your employer, especially if you participate in a program that starts before December 2022. Learn more about this funding opportunity here.

Next Sessions of Foundations in Restorative Practices

Fall-Winter Session
Nov. 17–18, Dec. 16, 2022, Jan. 12–13, Feb. 17, 2023
9 a.m.–4 p.m. ET

Spring-Summer Session
Apr. 20-21, May 19, June 29-30, July 21, 2023
9 a.m.–4 p.m. ET

Read more about Foundations in Restorative Practices


I’ve also had a chance to participate in the Nonviolent Communication programs we offer, and to connect with Gina Simm, facilitator of Teaching From the Heart: Nonviolent Communication in the Classroom.

While I haven’t taken Gina’s program yet, I’ve utilized some of the resources I’ve learned about through her (and Peggy Smith) with my own children, including her kid-sized feelings and needs cards. These cards can be used to teach kids about empathy, understanding, and developing their self-awareness.


For example, my six-year-old just transitioned to first grade at a new school. The school is great but the transition has been challenging, nevertheless. After an afternoon full of volatile outbursts and aggression last week, I got out the cards. My kid immediately identified that she’d been feeling a bit insecure because she hadn’t found a friend to play with on the playground at recess and that she was feeling frustrated because she hadn’t gotten to play outside for as long as she did at her old school.

The cards grounded us and allowed space for stories to come forth that might not have if I’d just asked, “How was your day?” While I can’t find her a friend to play with or magically extend the amount of time that kids (and adults!) of all ages get to be/play outside, my ability to listen without judgment to what was coming up for my kid helped her to regulate her body and emotions in a transformative way.

“Gina emphasizes the idea that kids don’t need us to solve their problems for them, they just need to feel heard and cared about.”

As I see it, one of the most powerful elements of what Gina offers in her Teaching From the Heart program is the ability to shift the dynamic (whether in your home, classroom, or educational program) to one where the grown-ups don’t have to be the problem solvers. Gina emphasizes the idea that kids don’t need us to solve their problems for them, they just need to feel heard and cared about. Wow.

This simple concept can be a game changer both for grown-ups who can then shift their focus to teaching, training (and fun!) as well as for kids, who learn how to identify and express what they feel and what they need. These are powerful skills to have — on both sides of the equation.


There’s a lot more to the curriculum Gina offers. You can read more about it here.

Next Sessions of Teaching From the Heart: Nonviolent Communication in the Classroom

🎃 Halloween Edition 🎃
Mon., Oct. 31, 2022
8:30 a.m.–4 p.m. ET

🌷 Spring Edition 🌷
Fri., Apr. 28, 2023
8:30 a.m.–4 p.m. ET

A continental breakfast and catered lunch are included.

Read more about Teaching From the Heart


We’re always trying to ensure that our programs are accessible to the people who want to take them.

Need accommodations in order to participate? Contact um.fhc.pd@maine.edu, call 207.338.8002 or stop by and visit us at 80 Belmont Ave. in Belfast.

Need-based scholarships are available for people who live or work in Knox or Waldo counties.

In addition, thanks to our new partnership with the Harold Alfond Center for the Advancement of Maine’s Workforce, most of our programs are free for most Maine residents for a limited time. This partnership offers $1,200 per worker through December 2022, with an additional match in 2023-25.

You can learn more about the Harold Alfond workforce funding here. It’s truly a unique funding opportunity. I haven’t always worked for institutions that have been so able to invest in my professional development. Budgets are real, as are shortfalls. This funding could make it possible for employers of all sizes (and all budgets) across Maine to offer professional development to their employees. Self-employed contractors who plan to use the funds to benefit their business or trade are also welcome to make use of these funds.

Contact alfondtraining@mccs.me.edu with any questions.



View all of our upcoming professional development programs