Too many educators attend professional development (PD) sessions each year and are overwhelmed at the information presented, not given time to adapt it to their grade level or content area. They’re given so many things to “try out” that they go back into their classrooms and nothing sticks because they weren’t focused on one thing at a time. These changes aren’t necessarily technology based either; curriculum implementations, behavioral management strategies, even updated IEPs necessitate a constant process of implementation – try something, evaluate, adjust, and try again.
In his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor talks about the importance of starting change with one small concept at a time. If we try to change too many things, we spread our energy over a larger area and can’t go deep enough to instill real change – instead we end up frustrated and resort back to old habits.
“By tackling one small challenge at a time – a narrow circle that slowly expands outward – we can relearn that our actions do have a direct effect on our outcomes, that we are largely the masters of our own fates. With an increasingly internal locus of control and a greater confidence in our abilities, we can then expand our efforts outward” (Achor, 2010, p.137).
What if PD allowed you to go deeper into one concept/strategy and then you had the chance to go back and try it out and adapt it for your unique scenario prior to learning more and more? Doesn’t that sound like a more efficient model of professional learning? Now imagine meeting with your grade level or department colleagues on something that you’re trying, pointing them toward the same resource where they can choose to learn at their own pace and adopt it/adapt it or not. This shifting model of PD creates an “on demand” situation where educators can either meet their needs or binge until they’re full.
This shift in how professional learning is administered can take multiple forms, depending on your needs. That’s what makes it so impactful – you can adapt it for your staff and needs.
The first way to shift your PD is by utilizing or building online resources or open educational resources (OERs) that address concepts/topics that your staff is interested in learning more about. By having these resources online, you’re allowing your staff to access them (within a given timeframe) when it’s most convenient. You can then reconvene at a department/grade-level meeting or a staff meeting to discuss the topics/ideas covered. Then, leave the meeting with action items and identify how each person will then TRY something new in their classroom. The next time your group meets, talk about how it went: what worked and what didn’t work? Adapt and try again until you’ve implemented some small change or improvement. Remember to start small!
Another way to incorporate online learning into your own professional learning is by utilizing an online platform or learning management system (i.e. Google Classroom, Canvas, etc.). This allows you to take the first strategy and make it more malleable for time commitments (i.e. blended learning). Now, instead of being contingent on meeting face to face, you can have online discussions about what is working and what isn’t, points of frustrations, and how other colleagues are doing with their implementations. This process takes professional learning a step further by allowing educators to document and share, in the online space, physical examples of how things are going.
The last way to adapt professional personalized learning is by opening up Pandora’s box to any topic or idea. This doesn’t mean allowing teachers to play whatever music station they want in their classroom. Rather, it’s opening the proverbial box to any idea a teacher is interested in learning more about. They could research, try, document, and report out on anything that interests them and fits their needs! Utilizing staff meetings, or possibly a designated online space, educators can report out about WHAT they are learning about and WHAT they are trying in their classrooms. This gives every educator control over their own professional learning while reinforcing the educational climate and culture of lifelong learning by requiring them to report out how it’s going for them. Maybe capacity is an issue and staff meeting time is held at a premium – utilize an online space for educators to share their stories!
Regardless of which method you choose, or maybe you create a hybrid to meet YOUR needs, shift your mindset of what professional learning looks like for you and your colleagues. Does it fit into one box? Is it the same thing you’ve been doing because “that’s the way we’ve always done it?” Or does your PD need to shift to a more “on demand” model where it can be adapted and personalized? Create your own PD model and watch how more and more staff want to binge their own professional learning.
Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York: Broadway Books.
Jacob Gentry (@jacobgentry1026): Jake is an Instructional Content Designer for EduPaths.