A Blueprint for Personalized Professional Development by Teachers, for Teachers

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I’m convinced that offering online courses led and constructed “by teachers, for teachers” will improve outcomes for all students.

To many educators, online professional development means watching a video or listening to a recorded presentation. We open the file and push “play,” watching while making dinner or folding laundry. However, technology can and should be used to bring people and information together in new ways. I have “listened” to many online presentations, but what has helped me grow the most were interactive online experiences that turned frustration into understanding and linked me with professionals from around the world.

Here in Delaware, we’ve made efforts to outline more effective practices for professional development in the recently-released Blueprint for Personalized Learning in Delaware, recognizing the importance of students, teachers, and systems in supporting a transition to personalized learning. But this isn’t just something that came out of the blue. As an educator, I can solidly say that this issue hits very close to home for me.

The benefits of teacher-created PD

As an early-childhood teacher at Richardson Park Elementary School in Wilmington, Delaware, I work to help children develop “the foundations for life and learning,” including the ability to feel safe and calm, sustain attention, problem solve, and think symbolically. But earlier in my career, I found myself growing frustrated.

During my sixth year of teaching, it became clear that I did not have a true understanding of the nature of my students’ developmental challenges. Many of my students had difficulty with attention and regulation, processing incoming sensory experiences, engaging with others, and using materials purposefully. Professional development that would help me gain a better understanding of my students’ needs was sparse in my district.

So, I did what many teachers have done in similar situations: I personalized my own professional development--both for myself, and later, for others.

With the Interdisciplinary Council on Development and Learning (ICDL), I found an outside agency who could offer me the professional development I needed, with the training largely provided via an online platform (Blackboard). After a few years, I became a trainer for the DIRFloortime® Training Program, the clinical training program for ICDL and co-taught my first online class with a social worker and a psychologist. Our class included psychologists, speech-language therapists, occupational therapists and teachers, and hailed from the United States, Australia, Canada and Indonesia. Weekly sessions began with a review of the assigned readings and lecture, a presentation by one of the students (including video), and further group discussion.

As a result of teaching and learning in this online environment, I have:

  • Colleagues from around the world I can call for their perspective on challenging cases
  • A deeper understanding of both typical and atypical child development
  • A multidisciplinary understanding of a child’s challenges and potential solutions
  • A deeper appreciation for the role culture plays in development
  • A deeper understanding of the ‘whole child’

Can this experience be replicated? Yes, with the development of an online course catalogue of interactive professional development opportunities led by teachers with unique and specific expertise. Whether educators need support with teaching self-regulation and engagement with young children, or with effective instruction methods to support students high-level high school math classes, teachers should be able to connect to statewide experts and peers to get the help they need.

How Delaware is leading the charge

As a member of the Delaware Rodel Teacher Council, I’ve worked with colleagues from across the state over the past year to create our Blueprint for Personalized Learning in Delaware. The Blueprint outlines steps that teachers, school leaders, and policymakers can take to personalize Delaware’s public education system, focusing on the student experience, the teacher experience, and the systems to support personalized learning. One important aspect discussed in detail? Professional development, including personalizing professional development for teachers based on their grade and content areas, as well as their specific strengths and areas for growth.

In Delaware specifically, there is an opportunity to utilize existing online systems to transition to more personalized PD. Delaware educators already have opportunities for online professional development through state and local partnerships with Blackboard, Edmodo, LearnZillion, and other online resources. Where the effort must be made--and really where the rubber meets the road--is in creating state-level policies that encourage teachers to provide and participate in trainings tailored to their needs, ultimately benefitting their students. We hope that the Blueprint will help achieve this.

Giving educators the ability to personalize their learning can be a winning solution for teachers, administrators, and students. This model encourages self-improvement and professionalism. Online professional development that infuses research and theory with practical and reflective discussions can become an effective method of helping everyone grow--a tool for lifelong learning. But best of all, it empowers teachers to become the catalysts for meaningful change in our chosen profession.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The author acknowledges helpful contributions to this work from my colleagues at the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, Rachel Wiggans Chan and Matt Korobkin. The Rodel Teacher Council is a group of diverse teacher-leaders convened by the Rodel Foundation of Delaware. They have produced a set of solutions-oriented policy recommendations for state and local policy makers interested in adopting personalized learning strategies statewide, called a Blueprint for Personalized Learning in Delaware. This article is part of EdSurge's Fifty States Initiative (representing the state of Delaware).

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