How Districts Can Support The Power of Personalized PD

How Districts Can Support The Power of Personalized PD

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For many teachers across the country, learning about learning has become really interesting. There are EdCamps where teachers determine the topics and share tips, tricks and thoughts in small groups. They are constantly tapped into online networks of their peers, who they can turn to for advice. Courses on anything from biomechanics to facilitating deeper learning can be found for free online. And the worlds foremost education thought leaders are just a tweet away. There are so many choices and modes of learning, at a teachers fingertips.

That’s the power of personalized PD -- but not yet an experience most teachers have. Districts often provide teachers with five days a year of sit and get PD, with interspersed support throughout the year.

But there is no question that districts play an important part of the process in encouraging teachers, building them up and providing powerful resources. So we asked the question - how will technology change the way districts design and deliver their professional development?

To answer this question, EdSurge embarked on a year-long research program exploring the tools and products available to districts and how they systematically support teacher development. We spent a year investigating how districts are changing their use of technology and created this 64-page report “How Districts Get Personal: Retooling Professional Development.” We are delighted to make this available to you freely, thanks to support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The reports offers a framework to help districts identify how to get the most from the tools they are already using, and to find others to fill in the gaps. We also profile 15 professional development tools that support how districts deliver PD. This report extends the research that began a year earlier when we delivered our first report about professional development, focused on what tools individuals teachers could use to support their learning.

Here are a few of the insights from our research about how the technology can evolve to better support personalized PD:

  • Put teachers in the driver’s seat. While many tools are configurable, few intentionally give teachers autonomy over their learning experience, instead subjecting them to the district’s general PD experience. Finding ways to use configurable tools to give teachers more autonomy will be important in the future to personalize PD.
  • Focus on proficiency-based rather than time. The biggest shift for PD systems of the future will involve recognizing when teachers gain proficiency or mastery, rather than how much time they spend in a workshop or whether they complete an online course.
  • Instructional support is needed. Instructional support tools give teachers resources such as lesson plans or assessments. But scaffolding these resources so teachers can learn how to implement a specific standard is surprisingly rare.

Through our research, we developed a framework for understanding of how tools can assist effective professional learning. We hope the framework we present will help district and school leaders find where in the PD cycle their teachers need support, and see how different tools can play a role in the development process.

As you read through this report, we’d love to hear your reflections on whether technology will help catalyze a transformation in professional development--or whether it will simply digitize today’s well-worn processes. Let us know what you think at We’re all ears!

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