Professional Learning

Getting to the Core of Personalized Professional Learning

It’s not a new concept that educators need differentiated professional learning opportunities. It is an emerging trend that seeks to support educator‐centered, 21st century learning. As a principal, I encouraged every educator to take ownership of their learning, much as we do with students, and modeled this approach by openly sharing my own professional growth goals. I believe that as the “lead learner,” my growth should be based on individual needs and aligned with the improvement of the school. To be most effective, my professional learning had to be personalized. This model can provide educators like myself with the initiative to help support their own growth and seek out numerous professional learning options within the learning community. In this growth-focused environment, educators can follow a unique learning path dictated by their individualized improvement plan, as opposed to the “one size fits all” approach that may meet the needs of some but not all. In the most effective form, a personalized professional learning model puts the needs of educators first and provides them with choices and flexibility in how, what, when, and where the learning takes place. For educators that want to improve in meaningful ways, their learning is personal.

Performance Matters has been listening to K-12 professional learning leaders for many years, resulting in the development of a platform that optimally supports professional learning by meeting each educator where he or she is. For personalized growth to take place, professional development must be learner‐centered and promote individualized improvement. Performance Matters works with state and local educational agencies from across the United States that have implemented personalized learning environments and put in place systems of professional development for those environments.

Recently, Stephanie Jackman of Boulder Valley School District in Colorado shared some of her districts’ experiences with personalized professional learning and the Performance Matters platform. Boulder Valley has implemented a teacher evaluation tool called MyPassport which directly links evaluation outcomes with “specific professional learning opportunities across the sprawling 500-square-mile district.” The district has moved beyond professional development as strictly a compliance effort and has moved into answering the essential questions of what PD opportunities would benefit both the teacher and the student the most. Effective PD is no longer a guessing game in Boulder Valley; MyPassport allows teachers to see available opportunities that will directly help them.

Long Beach Unified School District in California, a Performance Matters district since 2013, is now taking personalized learning to the next level. For 4 years, they’ve used myPD to link evaluation results with personalized learning opportunities and they’ve recently begun adding another dimension to their platform. They know teachers are using the professional development opportunities available to them – they had 48,600 logins in 2016 alone – but they want to make sure that the learning is actually helping teacher improve their practice. Using surveys and follow-up questionnaires, program administrators elicit feedback “to see how [teachers are] using their new knowledge and skills, and, ultimately, determine how the professional learning impacted students.” Those survey results are considered as the district plans and implements professional learning opportunities within the district.

Performance Matters has proudly supported districts and state education departments across the country achieve their professional development goals. Our ability to support the job-specific competencies of educators has resulted in core beliefs that guide not only our development of a best-in-class professional learning management system but also reveals our commitment to successful partnerships.

  • As best practice for personalized professional growth, four factors should be essential in the development of professional learning opportunities:
    • The learning climate and culture
    • The structure and content of the professional learning
    • The timing, duration, and frequency of professional learning
    • The use of feedback and data
  • Professional development in personalized learning environments should be collaborative and take place in a learning community. Leaders and teachers should work together to develop effective approaches, strategies, and across disciplines.
  • Professional development should focus on both the content that educators should learn as well as how and where they learn it. Content provided for educator learning should not be limited by development or delivery methodology.
  • Schools and school districts should provide time and resources for differentiated professional development. Personalized learning requires different planning and teaching strategies than traditional, lecture‐based instruction. It should be ongoing and learner-focused.
  • Professional development programs should use data, feedback, and analysis to make targeted adjustments for leading and teaching effectiveness. There should also be access to relevant student data that determine the professional learning needed for systemic improvements.

Educators have been asking for the autonomy to personalize their professional growth goals, and use real actionable data that support their choices and needs. The learning content needs a delivery model that provides flexibility and promotes accountability. And by facilitating educator growth by aligning it to student data, schools and districts can better identify the return on professional learning. Educators asked, and Performance Matters listened.  We will continue to encourage authentic learning, both collectively and individually, and strengthen educators’ ability to improve the leading and teaching experience. For us it’s not just business, it’s personal too.