5 Best Practices for Personalized Professional Development

Thursday, February 23, 2017 -- Winnie O'Leary

Personalized learning has been one of the biggest education buzzwords of the past year—and for good reason. Educators agree that differentiating content for students based on their level of understanding and performance is critical to success in the classroom. But, with the growing body of research backing up personalized models, and increasing focus on delivering these kinds of experiences to students, why aren’t more districts considering a similar approach to professional development for teachers?

Teachers come to the profession with a variety of education experiences and professional backgrounds—not to mention the enormous array of innate skills and traits that make every person unique. If we want teachers to be lifelong learners (as we encourage all students to be), then administrators and technology providers alike owe it to them to provide readily accessible, ongoing professional learning that addresses their individual challenges, interests, strengths, and expertise.

One of the overarching goals of professional development is to help teachers bridge the gap between theory and practice. However, a frequent challenge that both teachers and facilitators face is that the understanding and familiarity necessary to actually bring new concepts into the classroom demands much more time and effort than traditional professional development sessions require. Gathering all of a school’s teachers in a room for one day and offering strategies with the intention of universal classroom application doesn’t work anymore—“one size fits all” is no longer an effective option. Instead, attention must be paid to the broader context of each teacher’s classroom world. The subject(s) they teach, the technology they utilize, as well as the ages and specific challenges of their students, all must be taken into account.

Professional development in its purest form will focus on deepening teacher’s knowledge and pedagogical skills. It provides time and opportunity for practice, research, reflection, and application.  It revisits skills that have already been taught and addresses any changes in best practices for putting them to use. And, a key element that is frequently overlooked—effective professional development is founded on collaboration. Teachers all-to-often feel isolated in the classroom; professional development is the perfect opportunity to come together to share challenges, solve problems, and ask questions peer-to-peer. These challenges are constantly evolving, so it’s vital that professional development formats are flexible enough to change and grow along with teachers’ needs.

All this being said, it must be acknowledged that implementing these personalized approaches to professional development is no easy task. Beyond the challenge of scaling these models to work for all of their teachers, administrators also must think about logistics like scheduling, staffing, and stipulations in teachers’ contracts. But, the benefits to teachers, both in terms of job satisfaction and their effectiveness in the classroom, make it worth the effort. To help you get started, here are five critical standards for personalized professional development:

Standard 1: The professional development should be tailor made to work with the unique circumstances of a program and address the process more than the product. The timeline must provide time for teachers to learn a new strategy and grapple with the implementation.  It must provide opportunities for active learning and be immediately applicable to their classroom experience. This can include:

  • Collaborative decision-making with administrators
  • Collective construction of programs with understanding of district and school needs
  • Inquiry-based ideas to discover unique these unique needs
  • Varied and timely delivery methods both virtual and face to face
  • Built in support systems that provides a multitude of avenues for that support
  • Context-specific process unique to grade and subject which allows for collective participation of teachers from the same school, grade or subject and empower them through peer collaboration
  • Andragogical instruction

Standard 2:  Time. Teachers need time to adopt, time to use, and time to adjust the learning to fit the context of their explicit situation and students. Revisiting and adopting to these new circumstance provides opportunity to further customize the application and process. This means professional development must have touch points through the year to provide shifting levels of support and context to teachers as their understanding and application grow

Standard 3:  Professional development is most effective when it is not passive. Multiple opportunities to engage and apply the learning in the classroom as well as varying approaches and providing time for participation make sense for unique implementations.

Standard 4: Concrete examples and modeling also make sense. See one, do one, teach one. Technology can give teachers access to the relevant professional development in the medium and time line that serves them best.  Webinars, virtual or self-directed professional development and online learning communities mean different learning styles and on demand support is available to teachers on their schedules.

Standard 5: and finally, one size most emphatically does NOT fit all.  Content needs to be specific to the discipline or grade level.  Collaborative homogenous instruction increases the success rates as well as the sharing of best practices.

At Edmentum, we feel privileged to work with outstanding educators every day, and we love the opportunity to share all that we learn from them. That’s why professional development and support is a priority for us. Want to find out more about how your school or district can partner with Edmentum for ongoing training opportunities? Check out this blog post to learn about our Commitment to Customer Success!