What is Personalized Professional Learning?
Give Teachers Agency in Their Professional Growth
By Kristi Meeuwse and Diane Mason
Traditionally, teacher professional development (PD) has been designed to build capacity, focus on ways to improve curriculum expertise, and help teachers keep abreast of new instructional strategies, technology tools, and instructional resources. However, each attending participant focused on improving teacher self-knowledge through the same approach or “one size fits all,” requiring individual teachers to modify information gained to meet the needs of their own content area, grade level, or specific group of students. Instead, personalized professional learning (PPL), encourages teachers and school-based staff to engage in the planning and implementation of professional learning to meet individual teacher needs.
The PPL design enables teachers to directly explore, discover, and adapt strategies needed to meet individual teacher knowledge gaps. It also permits teachers to practice new instructional strategies, and apply new knowledge immediately in a classroom-based, or embedded learning environment, to address student learning needs.
Adult learners need motivation to learn as much as PK-12 students. To help motivate teachers to actively engage in ongoing professional learning opportunities, the model should incorporate andragogical principles, which means the activities and interactions apply learning strategies best suited for adult learners. Essentially, PPL developers must work closely with teachers to take into consideration the life experiences and needs of individual adult learners.
Research shows that teachers are more likely to connect, engage, and apply new ideas to change practice when they are a part of planning for their own professional learning. This collaborative planning process forms the basic foundation of an andragogical approach, which relies on the adult learner reflecting upon their own experiences, including successes and mistakes, to apply a problem-centered instead of content-based approach to professional learning.
Role of Self-Efficacy
Personalizing professional learning for educators incorporates previous experiences, knowledge and interests, and creates a direct, contextual link between professional learning and student learning. It acknowledges everyone’s needs and strengths and in doing so, teachers feel valued and motivated. Motivating teachers and building upon previous learning not only encourages ongoing professional learning, it builds self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is an individual’s confidence in his or her ability to perform tasks or exercise influence over events that affect their lives. Individuals with high self-efficacy approach difficult tasks as a challenge and not as a threat.
When individuals operate more from the locus of choice, motivation and performance is optimized and their need for autonomy is satisfied. In contrast, when pedagogical change and new initiatives emanate from outside sources without the consideration of teachers’ needs and previous knowledge, it fosters an externally perceived locus of causality and diminishes teacher motivation. Often, practices in teacher professional learning tend to be seen as controlling and outside of the locus of teacher autonomy. This reduces motivation and does not foster self-efficacy or teacher agency. Educators with high self-efficacy tend to persist when faced with a challenge.
However, perceived barriers by teachers, such as lack of knowledge, low self-efficacy, low motivation, or little time to plan for the implementation of technology, served as a restraining force in creating positive change. As school organizations consider professional learning opportunities for teachers, it is necessary to consider andragogical principles as well as the role of self-efficacy in creating lasting changes in instructional practices.
Although traditional teacher PD is generally designed to support teachers, improve practice, and introduce new approaches, using technologies and new teaching strategies require a change in overall methodologies. Many teachers perceive changing methodologies as a risky endeavor filled with uncertainty about the effectiveness and worth of making substantial change to pedagogical practice. These feelings are real, serve as barriers to change, and require concerted efforts by administrators to support teachers in making needed pedagogical changes. Although it is difficult, the teaching profession must be changed and re-created to meet the needs of today’s students.
To achieve this vision, teachers must rethink and modify methodological practice through working collaboratively to apply new strategies within personal teaching contexts and operate in a paradigm shift that thrives on technology integration within daily instruction. If successful, the resulting change in teacher perceptions, beliefs, and overall self-efficacy regarding technology integration occur through reflection and critical self-evaluation of their own practice through PPL experiences.
Teacher agency is the action of teachers directing their own professional growth. Giving teachers agency in their professional growth provides them opportunities to make conscious choices, builds capacity, and most importantly, instills a feeling of ownership in the process. As educators have choice in professional learning opportunities, they bring prior learning and experiences and connect them to new learning.
Further, it connects new learning to their teaching contexts and provides intrinsic motivation. When educators are not part of the decision-making process in professional learning activities, there is a disconnect from their daily work. Further, agency is fostered when teachers actively participate in professional learning communities.
Components of Effective PPL
Teacher agency is the action of teachers directing their own professional growth. Giving teachers agency in their professional growth provides them opportunities to make conscious choices, builds capacity, and most importantly, instills a feeling of ownership in the process. As educators have choice in professional learning opportunities, they bring prior learning and experiences and connect them to new learning. Further, it connects new learning to their teaching contexts and provides intrinsic motivation. When educators are not part of the decision-making process in professional learning activities, there is a disconnect from their daily work. Further, agency is fostered when teachers actively participate in professional learning communities.
Professional Learning Communities
Professional learning experiences should create and build strong working relationships in a supportive and collaborative manner rather than expecting individuals to work in isolation. One way is to engage teachers in dialogue through Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) focused on improvement toward school and system goals. Highly effective PLCs promote collective responsibility and help build individual capacity in a supportive environment to better meet school, district, and professional goals.
Coaching and reflective practice
Educators have a mandate to make learning meaningful, coherent, and relevant. Yet, many teachers are lacking the tools or knowledge to support the concepts today’s learners need in a global society. Unfortunately, most teachers work in isolation with little meaningful interaction with other educators and best practices. The use of instructional coaches provides a deeper connection for teachers as they seek to improve instructional practices. Instructional coaches work with individual and small groups of educators using research and data informed practices to increase teacher capacity as well as student engagement and achievement.