Personalized PD: 21st Century Learning for 21st Century Educators

Professional development is a process that can inspire teachers to improve pedagogical practices to help their students grow. When it’s irrelevant, however, PD can simply inspire a lot of eye-rolling. As educators, we’ve all been there—a professional development opportunity that just “can’t be missed,” that we came to find had nothing to do with our particular field or our students. It didn’t shed light on new ideas, or cater to our particular classroom challenges. Oftentimes PD seminars state a problem without providing a solution, or focus entirely on a strategy that would be impractical in our real-life classrooms.  The 21st century learning shift towards continuous, collaborative education is revolutionizing the way educators and administrators utilize PD in school districts. Personalized PD provides teachers with material that’s catered to their specific needs. Just like their students, teachers fare better when they’re provided with individualized content.

Personalized PD takes into account many of the things educators consider when crafting a lesson plan for their own students—learning styles, group work, opportunities to incorporate technology, and content delivery. A personalized PD plan also takes self-guided and self-paced learning into consideration. This approach emphasizes reflective practices and encourages deeper exploration of content.

Dive into your PD
According to a report on professional development from the Center for Public Education, “the duration of professional development must be significant and ongoing to allow time for teachers to learn a new strategy and grapple with the implementation problem” in order to be effective. PD shouldn’t “scratch the surface” of an issue; it needs to be ongoing to prove worthwhile. While a one-week workshop on improving classroom management may be useful, it’s only one part of the bigger PD picture, and teachers should be supported and encouraged to make a long-term plan for their continued development.

Collaborate for success
While it may sound like an individual endeavor, personalized PD should also take into account the benefits of collaborative learning. According to a 2003 report from the National College for School Leadership, “teachers who used peer support for mutual problem solving, observations, collaborative teaching and planning were more successful in transferring new skills to their own practice.” Districts looking to personalize PD programs can support teachers by providing a platform for this collaboration to take place, whether it’s by setting aside time for teachers to meet face-to-face, or setting up an online system where teachers can share tips, tricks and content.

The first step in creating a school system that is conducive to personalized professional development is getting administration on board. To establish a system that can be customized for educators, teachers should be surveyed on how they’d like the PD process to take shape. This means getting a consensus on how teachers access content, collaborate with one another, and be assessed for content retention. Perhaps the process might include online courses, with in-person small group meetings, or teacher committees dedicated to exploring specific educational issues. Whatever form PD takes, it should honor the diversity of a school’s unique and ever-changing ecosystem of educators, students, challenges and triumphs.