The Shift Toward Personalized PD

I go to a lot of conferences, I show up at a lot of twitter chats, and I talk to a lot of people. I have to tell you that people everywhere are talking about how to make professional development more meaningful, more useful, and more personalized.

We can all tell stories about how it hasn’t been that way. What’s the worst professional development you’ve been a part of (or more accurately: “apart” of)? All of our PD horror stories probably include things we didn’t need for our students, topics we didn’t care about, or pedagogical pursuits we were already engaged in. Maybe a one-time event provided by somebody we didn’t know on a topic that we didn’t relate to. We feel like our time was wasted, and we feel like our time could have been better-spent doing something to help our students (or more likely, we actually did something that was more productive while the PD was happening).

Whether, like me, you’ve stumbled upon it and had that energizing epiphany that this is the way I want to learn, or you’re well on your way, or maybe you’ve just started on the path, we can all work together to help each other get and give more personalized PD.

I remember an award-winning news journalist explaining to the full district staff that he was not an accomplished speaker, and then proving his point over the next hour and a half. Another guy played the banjo and sang songs about death. Still another extolled the virtues of writing across the curriculum, but gave no practical advice on how to do it in the classroom even when directly questioned about it. And one gave several presentations months apart. Each time she claimed to be “under the weather” which was presumably to explain away the fact that her presentations were neither engaging or useful. We could all tell stories.

It’s not that their ideas were inherently bad ideas. It’s that they didn’t provide each teacher, or even groups of teachers with what they needed. They treated everyone the same, and gave nobody a useful path forward for themselves or their students. They were presenter-centric as opposed to audience-centric. Maybe there shouldn’t be an audience at all. Maybe everyone should be actively involved in their own individualized process instead of watching from the safety of the comfy chairs. The way we’ve done it is not the best that we can do.

We have found a better way.

CHOICE PDWhether, like me, you’ve stumbled upon it and had that energizing epiphany that this is the way I want to learn, or you’re well on your way, or maybe you’ve just started on the path, we can all work together to help each other get and give more personalized PD.

If we blend, flip, and create #personalizedPD opportunities, educators at all levels can take full advantage of the extensive learning opportunities available to them. There are at least six unifying factors to consider and keep in mind when planning for useful, engaging, robust professional development. The acronym I share in our book Personalized PD: Flipping Your Professional Development is CHOICE.

Constant Progress (C)
Wherever individuals start, forward movement is key. We aren’t talking about where teachers should be. We are talking about where they are, and then helping them move forward. While everybody starts at a different point, we want each to make progress. By applying Daniel Pink’s research and giving teachers the autonomy, opportunities for mastery, and the creation of their own purpose for doing the learning, we will see an inspired movement toward individualized goals. And then they will set new goals.

Honoring Professionals (H)
These people know what they are doing. It’s why they were hired, and why they are still here. They probably know what they need next. Let’s start the thought-process of PD with those three sentences in our minds. Then what if we went a step further and envisioned educators in our district as movie stars or famous musicians? How would we provide professional learning opportunities for them? We’d treat them like celebrities and ask them to share what they know.

Ongoing (O)
There are times when a brain-dump professional development session or conference can be useful. But we usually need more. What if we tried to follow the IFF process? Introduce. Facilitate. Follow-up. (I) Here’s what you said you need. (F) Let me help you implement it. (F) How’s it going? Is it working? What’s next?

Individualized (I)
Wherever teachers start, the process should honor it. The process of personalized PD seeks to find out where teachers are instead of disregarding it. It asks where you want to go instead of telling you where you should be.

Collaborative (C)
What is the best use of face-to-face time? What can only be done in the shared space? If we can put the introductory or perfunctory information in the individual space, and use the time together to share ideas, concerns, and solutions, we are taking another step in a positive direction.

Energizing (E)
After the best PD, educators feel uplifted, energized, and ready to tackle every challenge that presents itself in their professional lives. They want to apply what they’ve learned, and go create an amazing lesson. They want to innovate and make something better than it was. We want them to feel energized, motivated, and inspired. And in CHOICE, the “E” is not silent. We want every educator to tell others about it!

Call to Action
Educators are amazing people with amazing talents, and a profound ability and desire to learn. We should celebrate those traits (or work to rekindle them if they have been lost). Educators want to do their best for their students every day. And we should help them do it. We should give them CHOICE. So I ask, how can you implement elements of CHOICE for yourself and others in the next 5 days? The next 5 weeks? The next 5 months? Let us know how we can help so we can all start telling more stories about the best PD we’ve ever experienced.