Personalized Professional Learning

As we shift schooling back to the student, with differentiated instruction and project-based learning, it makes sense that we follow the same trend with professional development for teachers–self-directed, highly relevant, differentiated learning opportunities.  Now, for some people and districts, personalized professional learning means a tech-heavy approach: everyone selects the online courses and trainings they want, and completes them independently on their own time.  Sure, that can be extremely differentiated, and choice-based, but…is it high-leverage?  Does that learning stick, does it get implemented in the classroom, and result in positive outcomes for student learning? How do we know?

Luckily, my district understands that while tech-rich trainings can be valuable, and offer more flexibility for busy adult learners, the crux of powerful professional learning lies in collaboration with colleagues.  We believe that when learning is done collaboratively with teammates, there is a much higher rate of return when it comes to teacher satisfaction, classroom implementation, and impact on student learning.  That’s why, in our professional development offerings, it’s possible that you’ll find an online course–but if you sign up for it, you are placed into a cohort of colleagues that meets regularly to discuss, share, and reflect upon the online content!

All of this was a very long intro to my favorite day of personalized professional learning.  Last week, about 1,000 educators came to the high school for our professional day, #lexlearns16.  The day has an opening convocation, followed by two breakout sessions, lunch, then a third breakout session.  During each breakout session, educators had the choice of attending between 45-48 different sessions, for a total of 138 sessions facilitated entirely by our own faculty.  Two hundred eight facilitators.  It was AMAZING.  There were sessions on: mindfulness, productive struggle, quality questioning, Hamilton, #BLM, robotics, writing fiction, diversity in literature, using SMART technology, supporting transgender students, badminton, homework, playing a string instrument, standards-based grading, math problem-solving, integrated performance assessments, Google Classroom, the list goes on and on.  The expertise we have in our own district is awe-inspiring.  For much of the day, I was busy behind-the-scenes, but during the third breakout session, I took a moment and just walked the second floor of the main building, where classroom after classroom was filled with educators engaged in learning from one another about a variety of topics, and it was truly powerful.

Of course, the day had some glitches!  Registration for one thousand educators into 138 sessions is tricky.  Registration opened at 5:00 p.m. on a Monday, and by 5:30 all five mindfulness courses were full.  Many other “hot” classes filled up quickly as well, and we ended up with educators not being able to take their first, or second, or third choices because the classes were capped and closed.  That certainly makes the day less relevant and enjoyable  for some people.  In addition, facilitating a session takes time for preparation and planning–teachers and staff volunteer for this, and do this on their own time.  We know how busy teachers are, and it’s hard to ask them (beg them) to take on this one more thing on top of all they are already doing for their schools and students.  So there are certainly things to look at on the logistical side of this event, to keep improving.

But the feedback!

“What a gift to have a day to learn from each other.”  

“One of my favorite things is that we can come together across schools and across grade levels to discuss things that impact all of us and our students.”  

“The sessions that I attended energized me as a professional. They were outside of my specific teaching discipline, so they allowed me to gain a different perspective and nurture other interests.”


A Hamilton flash mob, during the convocation.  To quote an audience member, who starts PD days like this??  We do! 

I have no doubt that this collaborative, teacher-driven model of professional learning is one of the most high-leverage models districts can engage in.  In addition, as coordinator of professional learning, I get to take the feedback from the day and start to think about how to continue the conversation through other avenues of professional development.  Can we turn a 75-minute session into a 1-credit course?  Can a #lexlearns16 discussion spin off into a book group? or a PLC?  Let’s try it!  I’m completely energized and excited to craft the professional learning opportunities that will enhance and deepen the learning initiated on this one day.  Personalized professional learning is absolutely the PD of the future, but we can’t think that means educators should learn and apply on their own, in a bubble.  Collaboration is key–we know this for our students, so it should be no surprise that we need it as adults, too!


About Teacher Cait

Massachusetts educator, learner, committed to finding joy every day. @CaitAhern
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