Why Teachers Need Personalized Professional Development

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.

personalized professional development

A Case for Personalized Professional Development

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.

Leveraging Technology

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.

Using Technology to Support Teacher 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.


  1. Toni Chamberlain

    August 17, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    You grabbed me with the words “teaching is hard.” Without going into the frequently argued subjects of how teachers are consistently underpaid and not appreciated, it is extremely difficult to be a teacher in the world of education. We need to adapt our lesson plans to accommodate all learning styles, stay up-to-date on the latest technology used in the classroom environment and fill the role of instructor, nurturer, role model, and friend, while maintaining professional boundaries.

    Professional development does indeed take time and effort. The administration must be aware of this in order to support its staff members. Since support is indeed scarce in the educational arena, it must be a given from the administrative leaders to avoid feelings of isolation in a silo-filled world.

    Empowerment is what it is all about.

    Thank you for shining a light on a darkened stage.

  2. Joe Beckmann

    August 18, 2014 at 10:51 am

    Teachers need professional development that reflects the kind of instruction they are expected to deliver: personalized for kids CANNOT be taught, but must be personalized for teachers.

  3. Beth Mejia

    August 18, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    As more districts move to 1:1 environments, we need to be able to provide teachers with personalized professional development around the digital transformation– especially as it pertains to effectively using technology to drive student achievement. Just like with our students, this learning must be personalized–meet each teacher where she is and take her where she needs to be. Districts must be prepared to offer more than traditional PD courses and more than vendor-provided product training–they need to be able to provide and assess their teachers around an integrated digital transformation curriculum that provides both the theory and the practice to differentiate, personalize and assess instruction.

  4. William

    August 22, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    Reading this I came to a couple of conclusions:

    1) When was the last time you attended any mandatory Professional Development outside of Education? There is nothing personal about it. Specialized yes, but certainly not personal. I am not saying that making it personal is not important, but the idea is the individual will seek out the extra training for what they are struggling with. That is the true idea behind professionalism. Just like in any organization. The GOOD teachers do this on their own. The Mediocre teachers are told what developkent they get. The BAD go, but never learn anything.

    2) We have mixed up training and Development. Training is what occurs when your District puts in a system like MAP testing. Training should be done so that teachers know how the testing works, and are able to read the results after the tests. Professional Development is the next step: How do you take those results and use them to help educate your students. However, only some teachers are ready and able to take that step; so doing Professional Development with the whole group is a major waste of time, money, and effort.

    3) School Systems are almost never going to be able to do more than training with their staff. This is the same as in the private sector. Districts do not have the overhead to hire the specialized people needed to offer the Professional Development.

    I would argue, that schools should STOP offering Professional Development all together, and concentrate on training. They should, however, allocate enough budget, so that teachers desiring Professional Development, are able to get it.

    • garry

      September 11, 2014 at 1:07 pm

      Thank you William! Differentiated Learning is filtering into our appraisal system in Texas. My issue as a teacher, instructor, facilitator is this…do college professors change the mode in which they offer instruction? In our attempt to make sure EVERYONE is learning based on EVERYONE’S INDIVIDUAL needs, we cater to each person’s specific learning styles. How many professions allow the employee to determine how the task is to be completed? Food processing? Auto mechanics? Banking? The administration of injections? The administration of medications? The manner in which a building is constructed? If I do not follow certain guidelines, procedures, protocol, then I will be dead or maimed because I did not use a tool correctly or drive on the correct side of the road.

      Our schools are in the process of having a math curriculum provided to students by an individual who has only taught on the university level. Were grade level specialists involved in the creation of the curriculum? I am not sure. Sadly, I think we will have a generation of students who when given a task, will be sitting for a very long time trying to figure out what they need to do. In the meantime, the generation before, will have already completed a similar task because they knew the basics, the foundation of content. The second group, having had been taught the basics, can then proceed with brainstorming ideas about how to solve the problem.

      I hope I am wrong, but I believe our educational system is in a crisis mode.