Personalised PD - a note from the US

Wednesday 6 September 2017

Workshops maybe a thing of the past as professional development becomes more personalized.

This blog is an appendix to Making PD Days Work. In the previous blog (14 August 2017) I looked at how we can make the most of professional development days at the beginning of a school year. But we all know that whilst such in-service days at the beginning of a school year are good for re-establishing our mission (who we are) and vision (where we are going) some of the most impactful professional development takes place in the classroom, when colleagues work together on developing their learning about teaching and learning.

WHAT'S good practice?

In the US the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) takes full effect in the 2017-2018 school year. ESSA redefines the standards for high-quality professional development for teachers and K-12 leaders. One of the most significant changes is the way it moves schools away from the one-day workshop model that has been common in many schools for years toward a more personalised and effective approach. ESSA states: “The term ‘professional development’ means activities that … are sustained (not stand-alone, 1-day, or short-term workshops), intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom focused.” (S. 1177, Section 8002, page 295, paragraph 42). It recognises that professional development is about ongoing continuous improvement and not one-off events such as workshops.

  • sustained - professional learning is not a one-off from a workshop but is woven throughout the year.
  • intensive - it's about mastering skills and teaching techniques - this requires clear focus and practice.
  • collaborative - allowing educators to cooperate on joint professional inquiries (PLCs).
  • job-embedded - it takes place at your place of work and is woven into your daily work.
  • data-driven - professional learning arises out of identified student need and is assessed on the impact it has on student' on-going learning.
  • classroom-focused - classroom, hands-on, experiential learning.

Two other terms show up repeatedly within ESSA to describe the kinds of professional development activities the law should fund: “personalized” and “evidence-based.”

In the classroom teachers have been differentiating their work to provide opportunities for personalized learning for students, so that their learning is based on their individual needs. ESSA makes a clear case that teachers and school leaders should be treated no differently. It argues that the most effective professional development is personalised to meet the actual needs of teachers and school leaders. ESSA directs funding to professional development activities that are grounded in research and targeted to educators’ specific needs.

The implication is clear: whilst the traditional workshop mode of delivering professional development will remain it should not be seen as the main method of developing professional learning. A Gates Foundation survey found that 80% of teachers say they participate in workshops, the most common form of professional development—and they spend an average of 20 hours per year in these workshops. ESSA intends to change that.


What follows is not intended to be comprehensive. However, here are some ways in which schools are meeting the professional learning needs of staff. What is clear is that you have to make a deliberate effort to create time for collaboration - it doesn't happen accidentally.

  • Create time for staff to plan and work together: some schools increase class sizes slightly so extra time is created for planning. Other schools use non-teaching staff (school leaders, guidance counselors, coaches) to take classes releasing up teachers to collaborate together.
  • Coaching and mentoring: teachers learning from each other is a powerful form of professional learning, whether it be in a clearly defined induction programme or ongoing coaching and mentoring programme.The key here is to make it integral to the culture of the school. And by culture I mean 'it's the way we do things around here - we learn from each other, we continually seek advice from each other'. It's all about teachers spending more time reflecting on their practice and working with each other to improve. Such coaching and mentoring programmes need to an integral part of the structure of the school and not add-ons.
  • School visits: you can learn so much by visiting another school. Once a year I used to dedicate one professional development day for school visits where all staff - teaching and administrative staff - visited other schools. They came back brimming with good ideas and tips they have picked up. But as importantly they have formed new professional connections and collaborative networks.
  • Use micro-credentials which allow teachers to focus in on discrete skills they wish / need to practice in order to improve their practice. They are tailored to individual teacher need. In using micro-credentials teachers need to demonstrate mastery of the competence or skill being learnt by collecting evidence from their work with their class - e.g. classroom videos or student work - in this way they demonstrate ability in the skill. These microcredentials are competency-based and about gaining mastery in a specific skill. Micro-credentials: Empowering Lifelong Learners is a helpful blog by Edutopia explaining the concept. Click here to access a short paper that describes lessons learned from integrating micro-credentials into professional learning. Unanswered questions remain over consistency in quality and rigour of the micro-credentials. There could be a danger of teachers collecting these micro-credentials as 'badges'.

Provide your ideas

Please share - use the comment box below to give your ideas about how you personalize professional development in your school.


Summary of ESSA:

  • ASCD has provided a summary of key implications of ESSA for professional development. It contains technical information which is only relevant for colleagues working in US schools. Click here.
  • ASCD have provided a comparison between the No Child left behind Act and Every Student Succeeds Act. Click here to access it.


PS: IB Professional Development

The IB require teachers and school leaders to attend official IB Workshops in order to gain authorization and success in the on-going five year evaluation. These workshops are not intended to be the sum total of professional development for IB educators. Indeed, there is an IB expectation that Ib teachers and leaders will make links with schools in their town and region and collaborate in on-going professional learning.


Tags: professional development, ESSA


To post comments you need to log in. If it is your first time you will need to subscribe.