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Member Voices: Personalize professional learning gives teachers choice, empowerment

By Desiree Alexander
March 28, 2020
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All educators have been there.

You walk into a meeting and see a stranger at the front of the room. Someone else says, “Welcome to mandatory training.” You look at the agenda and see the topic is something you already know, don’t have any interest in or just don’t need right now.

You ask the principal if you’ll ever get training on that one thing you really need to know. She tells you she doesn’t know, but not to forget the most important thing about this training – to sign in because, again, it’s mandatory.

I must admit, I used to be that stranger at the front of the room and I always felt bad because I knew you were in my audience. I tried my best to differentiate so your time wasn’t wasted, but even as I taught, I knew there was a better way. Personalizing pro­fessional learning is one way to ensure this scenario never happens again.

Development or learning

Many of us still use the term professional development (PD) because we’re familiar with it, but the term professional learning (PL) is gaining steam because it more accu­rately reflects an approach that goes beyond developing as an individual.

And adding “personalized” to the term professional learning is another way to evolve what has commonly become known as sit-and-get learning. The end goal of a person­alized PL experience is for the teacher to be able to use what’s learned to positively affect student achievement. Ideally, it involves teacher choice and empowerment.

Educators should learn in the same way we want them to teach. One of the worst things is when someone tells you to be engaging and not teach all students the same way, while they’re teaching educators the same way! Personalized PL expects trainers to demonstrate or model how to teach.

One of my favorite quotes is from Cameron Mattis, head of sales at Teachable.He says, “One moment of aha is worth hours of blah blah.” When teachers learn exactly what they need or want to know, they’re empowered and willing to use what they’ve learned in the classroom.

Here are three ways to make that happen:

1. Find out what teachers want.

Personalized PL allows teachers to choose what content to learn, at the level they need, in the format they want. And the best way to do this is by asking them. You can easily create an online survey using Google Forms, Survey Monkey or another free tool. Need help getting started? Here’s one I created.

2. Offer choices.

Once you’ve evaluated the survey results, make a list of the top three or four top­ics that teachers are interested in. Rather than presenting one topic on one day to many teachers, offering choices ensures that teachers are more likely to come away from a session with training that they were looking for. You can also offer sessions at different levels, such as beginner and advanced classes on the same content.

Consider offering asynchronous sessions too, so teachers can learn at their own pace. Self-paced learning can take the form of videos, online classes, webinars, written tutorials, etc.

3. Enlist teachers to deliver sessions.

Chances are, you probably know a lot of teachers who specialize in particular topics. Ask some of them to present to their peers and make sure you offer compensation in the form of comp time, gifts or even just recognition. Tapping teachers not only ex­pands your PL resources, it gives educators opportunities to develop and grow leader­ship skills.

Ain’t nobody got time for that! I know some of you reading this are feeling that there’s just not time to person-alize professional learning. I admit it can seem overwhelming at first, but there are some easy steps to help you get started.

If you’re a teacher, take control of your own learning. You don’t have to wait for permission to learn. Watch a YouTube video, reach out to another educator, attend a lunch-and-learn webinar or go to a week­end workshop. If you’re responsible for providing PL, speak up for personalized PL. It’s not that people want to provide ineffective, unengag­ing PD, but most don’t know another way. Start by promoting the personalized model and show how it can make a difference.

Whatever your role, you can play a part in making personalized PL work for you!

Desiree Alexander, Ed.S., is the regional director of North Louisiana for the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana and the CEO of Educator Alexander Consulting, LLC. An award-winning educator for 18 years, she’s also a member of ISTE's Digital Equity Network.