As we’ve studied the educational process, it’s become clear that students learn in a variety of ways and that no single approach is always successful in a classroom. What makes complete sense to one student may sound like gibberish to another.
Competency-based or “personalized” learning allows students to master skills at their own pace with innovative support systems and new technologies. This method saves time and money and improves learners’ retention. But students are only half of the equation. When teachers receive personalized professional development, everybody wins.
Like their students, teachers have unique strengths and needs. And when a tool can specifically cater to those needs, it empowers teachers to flex their educational muscles.
Catering to teachers’ unique learning styles doesn’t just make professional development easier. Studies have shown that teachers are more competent at various classroom tasks, such as keeping students on topic, adjusting activities to address student interests, maintaining a positive atmosphere, and promoting a higher level of retention, when their professional development is tailored to their needs.
Here are four more reasons teachers should receive personalized professional development:
Teachers are professionals. Virtually every other professional environment utilizes specialized training that’s relevant to individual needs. Teachers deserve the same; the one-size-fits-all approach is unacceptable.
Teachers have individual challenges. Frankly, teaching is hard, and each teacher faces challenges that are unique to his or her professional experience, grade level, and classroom environment. By recognizing these discrepancies, it’s easier to open communication channels to discover how to best help students advance.
Teachers need empowerment. When professional development is personal and relevant, engagement and outcomes improve.
Teachers need to know what is and isn’t working. Under the traditional model of professional development, it’s impossible to assess efficacy because there’s no data evaluating whether a teacher’s needs have been addressed. Once personalized, it becomes easy to gather and analyze data to make sound recommendations on a case-by-case basis.
Personalized professional development offers an array of concrete benefits, but it’s essential to understand the difficulties that can arise.
It’s easy to confuse “personalized” with “isolated,” but personalization doesn’t mean teachers should receive professional development in a silo. To be effective, personalization must also promote collaboration (rather than focusing only on one individual’s needs).
It can also be difficult to recognize personalized goals and assess areas of need. In a perfect world, teachers would pinpoint exactly where their strengths and challenges lie so a development plan could be charted accordingly. But the reality is that identifying pain points — especially your own — is far from easy.
Personalized professional development also takes more time and effort, which can feel overwhelming compared to generic development programs. In the end, however, the results make personalization worth the effort.
With the explosion of technology in education, there’s a huge opportunity for educators to collect and analyze data that can be used to create individualized education plans for students.
IEPs have gotten a bad name due to the association with special needs or underperforming students, but with the right technology, a personalized, high-performing student learning environment can be adapted for adults.
Teachers can familiarize themselves with technology to support the development of their students by using it in their own professional development.
Browse online personal development options. The web is rife with great development platforms such as Coursera, which provides the opportunity to dig deep into specific subjects.
Join a professional learning community. There are a variety of new personalized professional learning communities such as Edmodo and the Core Task Project.
Explore online video libraries. Libraries like the Teaching Channel or PD 360 give teachers the ability to search for an array of resources that fit their needs.
Record lessons on video. Video has revolutionized the personalization of professional development in nearly every other performance-based profession. Teachers who have experienced it will tell you that watching themselves teach on camera has significantly impacted their instructional methods. It may be the most personalized approach to professional development, and companies like Torsh, SmarterCookie, and Edthena are doing some really interesting work in this space.
In the end, personalized professional development is all about emphasizing teachers’ strengths and addressing their challenges in a way that empowers them to become more effective educators. There are many innovative ways to go about it, but a personalized approach to teacher development is long overdue.