Over the past few years, technology has enabled educators to shift towards creating personalized learning experiences and allowing learners greater agency in the classroom. But what about teachers? The educators in your school can benefit just as much as their learners from being able to personalize their professional learning. Teachers should be learning about the topics that will impact their practice the most, in the formats that most benefit their professional goals.
Just as we aim to honor student voice, teacher voice should be an integral part of planning professional learning, and this shift is starting to catch on. Karen Hawley Miles, the President and Executive Director of Education Resource Strategies and Ross Wiener, the Vice President and Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s Education and Society Program recently wrote that “traditional ‘professional development’ for teachers has rarely improved outcomes for students—because it is separate from the daily work teachers do.” Traditionally, teachers are pulled from their classrooms for one-off professional development workshops with little or no follow up. Miles and Wiener argue that successful professional learning should instead be tied to curriculum and reflect how we teach learners — it should be iterative, grounded in the daily work of the classroom and built upon based on the teachers’ experiences implementing their learning.
The recently published report “Investing in What it Takes to Move from Good to Great,” based on a survey of National Board Certified Teachers, supports this thinking as well. The report shows that self-selected professional development is one of the most important supports for NBCTs. According to these teachers, the most important characteristics of good professional development are that it be “self-selected for relevance and grounded in day-to-day teaching practice.” Just as we aim to provide learners with greater agency, we need to empower teachers in the same way.
So where do you start when building a personalized professional learning program? One way is to encourage educators in your school to pursue micro-certifications that are meaningful to them, outside of district mandated PD. This could be done through programs like Google or Microsoft Certification or the Hapara Champion Program. Consider curating a list of micro-certification programs for educators in your district to browse, helping them identify the programs that would be most beneficial to their practice.
Micro-certification courses can also be set up at a district or school level, tailored to the specific needs or your teachers and learners. Offering professional learning opportunities online enables educators in your district to choose the courses that are most relevant to them, and complete the necessary work at their own pace. We’ve seen districts start to set up these types of learning experiences for teachers with Workspaces like this one. To set up web-based professional learning, you’ll need to create a catalog of courses that educators can choose from, and through which they can engage in authentic activities and receive relevant, personalized feedback that’s grounded in their daily practice.
You may also consider setting up Professional Learning Communities in which educators can work together and drive their own professional learning as a group. When educators are given the time and space to work together, share ideas and really focus on helping each other improve as practitioners, amazing things can happen. In the NBCT survey, career stage teachers named being able collaborate with peers as one of the most impactful forms of PD, after self-selection.