​From Blah to Aha! Your Guide for Personalizing Professional Development

Professional Development

​From Blah to Aha! Your Guide for Personalizing Professional Development

By Desiree Alexander     May 19, 2017

​From Blah to Aha! Your Guide for Personalizing Professional Development

This article is part of the guide: What Personalized Learning Looks Like Across the Country: The 2017 Fifty States Project.

We all know our students deserve to be taught according to their individual needs. But when it comes to designing personalized professional development (PD) for adults, many administrators take the "do as I say, not as I do" approach.

There are a variety of reasons for this. Some administrators say, “Who has the time to plan more than one PD session? We barely have enough time/topics/presenters for one!” And then there’s always the classic, “Teachers are adults and shouldn't need such things.” Well, I call foul! Why would adults not want to be just as engaged as we want our students to be?

As Cameron Mattis, Head of Sales at Teachable, says, “One moment of aha is worth hours of blah blah.” So the question is: How do we give teachers more “aha moments” during PD and less “blah blah” moments? And how do we make sure administrators have the time to do it right?

Setting the stage for more "Aha!": Needs assessments

The first step to delivering good personalized PD is figuring out what it is—and why it matters. Personalized PD is all about knowing what your faculty needs and offering it to them in the format that’s best for them. After all, why give a single mandatory PD session to the entire staff when everyone’s needs may be different?

You may be thinking right now, “I get it. But how in the world am I supposed to know what teachers need?” Guess what? You aren’t—because the professionals you hired do! You just need to ask them. Start by creating a needs assessment with your faculty to identify areas of strengths and weaknesses. Don’t have time to create one? Use one of mine!

Some popular options on needs assessments are classroom management, data aggregation, technology integration, cultural responsive pedagogy, or having teachers suggest their own needs. You also want to include questions on what format they learn best in (online? in-person? 1:1? teacher-led?). Notice which educators have strengths in certain areas; these individuals can become part of your presenter pool down the road.

Logistical nightmare? Nope!

After you have the needs assessment results, choose the top three or four needs identified. Offer a few of these session at the same time and allow teachers to choose which they’d like to attend. Of course, to make this happen, you will need multiple classrooms and presenters. This is where you can tap into the best resource you have: the teachers themselves.

Ask some of your teachers who have identified strengths to present to staff on those topics. If you have resistance, think of little ways to appreciate those who present (gifts, recognition, comp time), and give them input while they are planning their presentation. As an administrator, you can choose your role in these session: presenter, observer, or attendee. It really depends on your and your staff’s preferences!

Finally, make sure to have some type of evaluation system to monitor the effectiveness of the sessions: traditional rubric, written or video feedback, a comment board where teachers can anonymously post comments about the session. Each of these evaluation systems can be either digital or tangible. The true effectiveness, however, should be based on student success. If students are growing, you know the PD is working!

Diversify your PD

Once you’re comfortable offering personalized in-person PD, you may want to look into how you can offer PD in other formats. There are a variety of different options: instructional videos, online or in-person professional learning groups, webinars, in-person or online follow-up trainings, etc.

Before you start to panic, here are some ideas to get your started:

  • Have teachers and students create instructional videos about various topics that they can submit in one place (YouTube Channel, website, Google Drive folder, etc.).
  • Get teachers to run a webinar on their strengths using some free software (or software your district may already own) and remember to give them something for their time!
  • Create an online space for your teachers to communicate about the professional development you are offering them. By doing this, you give your teachers a space to collaborate 24 hours a day.

Of course all this takes a little preparation time on your part. But in the end, it will equate to a better learning experience for your educators, and better student outcomes. And once you prioritize PD, you’ll have a team of educators who understand the value of this type of learning.

For those still on the fence, check out my response to the most common (albeit, understandable) PD excuses, which I call...

The most heard reasons why everything I just said will never, ever work on your campus!

1. We only have an hour for PD…and we just don’t have time to have multiple sessions.

Although this may take some creativity—ultimately less can be more. Approach it like a challenge: What can you accomplish in an hour when the content is tailored to be exactly what that educator needs to hear? This way, you’re not wasting any time on blah blah.

2. I need everyone in one group because I have some things that everyone needs to hear.

You are mixing up a staff meeting and professional development. Those are two different meetings and should be done separately, or even do the staff meeting over email.

3. I don’t know how to “do technology” so I can’t offer all of that “online stuff.”

The answer here is two-fold. First, it sounds like you are in need of some personalized professional development on how to reach educators online. Also, I promise if you do not know how to do something dealing with technology, someone you know does! Reach out to your teachers, parents, district’s IT/Ed Tech departments and any other stakeholder to ask them to help you! You will learn in the process of ensuring your teachers have options in their learning!

4. We have so many other issues; this is just not important to me right now.

I hear you, but guess what? Professional Development can solve some of those issues. As you are giving your teachers their needs assessment, you should complete one about yourself and about your campus overall. Think about what PD you can offer your faculty, staff and other stakeholders to solve those problems. Your campus issues will not be solved by you alone. You need your faculty, staff and appropriate stakeholders to understand the problem and get training on how they can use some of their strengths to solve it.

Ms. Desiree Alexander, Ed.S. is an award-winning, multi-degreed educator. She is the founder of Educator Alexander Consulting, LLC and was a PBS 2017 Digital Innovator of the Year.

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