By John Egan
Sure, students around the country are engaged in personalized learning (PL). But what about the teachers? Are they able to take advantage of personalized learning as part of their own professional development?
In short, the answer is yes.
“A new era of personalized professional development is sweeping into schools,” according to the EdSurge Fifty States Project backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
A prime example of PL in professional development is at MOSAIC Elementary School, which opened in August in suburban St. Louis’ Mehlville School District. Mehlville Superintendent Chris Gaines, president-elect of AASA, says about a dozen MOSAIC teachers were chosen 16 months before the school opened and underwent ongoing professional development surrounding PL. “They had the opportunity to try things in their classrooms last year as they were learning in preparation for this year,” Gaines says.
Pat Phillips, systemic innovator at Bismarck Public Schools in North Dakota, recently recounted PL-based professional development that 86 teachers in the district experienced.
“Designing personalized learning experiences for ourselves not only kept us in touch with the needs of our students, but also allowed us the rare opportunity to put ourselves in their shoes as we tested our potential innovations on ourselves,” Phillips wrote on the EdSurge website. “We held ourselves accountable by sharing our individual goals and action steps in their formative stages through engaging in multiple peer feedback protocols and revision loops.”
Innovations that Bismarck teachers developed and carried out include collaborative self-correcting assignments, self-paced online learning modules with automated feedback, and forms that facilitate student reflection and action on that feedback, according to Phillips.
EdSurge notes that one path toward PL in professional development might, for instance, involve in-person coaching, online courses and video feedback tools.
“It wasn’t always easy to wrap our heads around all the new ideas,” Phillips wrote, “but reflecting on what types of skills and supports we needed as teachers in doing this work taught us a lot about personalizing learning for students.”
In the end, PL for teachers is really about PL for students.
“As educators, we see every day that all students don’t learn the same way and at the same pace. We have known this for a long time, yet the system has stayed almost the same,” Gaines says. “The technology is now available to let students move at their own pace, as well as leveraging student passion to deliver the curriculum. When the content is relevant to students, it is more likely to be learned rather than memorized.”
Gaines knows he and his fellow superintendents must be part of the equation for PL. “We all need to allow a little experimentation and risk-taking in the classrooms without the accountability hammer looming over teachers’ heads,” Gaines says. “Let teachers go and see what others are doing in classrooms so they can see for themselves what personalized learning can look like.”
As it stands now, PL is happening in “small pockets” across the country and looks a little different in each setting, Gaines remarks. He goes on to say that “conversations and work around personalized learning are expanding opportunities for our students. We will see continued growth in personalized learning as educators talk to one another about what is happening in their classrooms, schools and districts.”
Such conversations around the most exciting innovations in PL and professional development will converge at the AASA National Conference on Education, held Feb. 15 to 17, 2018, in Nashville. Superintendents and educators from across the country will gather to share their own experiences and to hear the latest in thought leadership on PL.
For more information and to register for the conference, visit http://nce.aasa.org/.