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Professional Development: Individualized and Collaborative

  • August 01, 2016|
  • 2 years ago

by Sam Morris

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Global Education Solutions Architect

Summertime is a prime time to think about professional development (PD). PD is changing from the traditional face-to-face model, offering opportunities for districts and instructors in new ways through online learning. In an era where the need for PD is increasing, these new options can bring value—during the summer and throughout the year. Here’s a look at the trends and benefits.

PD and Technology

It’s always been important for teachers to remain up to date on teaching principles and their own areas of focus. That need has been dramatically increased in recent years, as technology has created massive shifts and changes across all industries—including education. The introduction of new technology tools to classrooms has been challenging not only for long-term teachers who often don’t have a high comfort level with technology, but also for “digital natives” who find it tough to keep up with the many new tools, apps and teaching approaches that proliferate today. At the same time, in order for technology deployments to be successful, teachers need to engage in ongoing, relevant professional development.

Teachers are continuing to move beyond the “sage on the stage” approach to educating students. Similarly, those responsible for educating teachers are being exhorted to move beyond the “sit and get” approach to PD, where they gather together to listen to lectures about the next great thing in educational delivery.

What Teachers Want

Sylvia Duckworth, a French teacher, has created a very popular meme on social media conveying “10 Things Teachers Want for Professional Development,” with one being more personalized PD where teachers can choose session topics that are relevant for their students. Just as student education has made a shift to include online content and courses, PD can become more effective in a blended format. By making PD courses available online, teachers can pursue areas of immediate need making the process more individualized.

It’s clear that today’s PD is not a “one and done” event—it’s an ongoing process that must take into account the rapidly shifting nature of the work that teachers do and the demands they face. There are a variety of new options to meet their needs.

Opening New Doors

Online options mean that teachers can refresh their knowledge from anywhere anytime. Technology also enables collaboration among teachers within a school district or system and around the world. This ability to share experiences and best practice insights can drive innovation among them.

Educators often get PD via social media as part of this effort. Twitter, for instance, has become a channel used by instructors to share knowledge and information and boost collaboration. The curated lists of social media tags that educators can follow include 19 Education Twitter Chats from ISTE; 13 Great Twitter Chats Every Educator Should Check Out from THE Journal; The Best Twitter Chats for Teachers from teachthought; and many more.

Chats organized through hashtags like #MTedchat (Montana Educators), #wyoedchat (Wyoming Educators) and #BPOPchat (the official chat for BrainPOP animated games and educational media), allow teachers platforms to collaborate and share digital resources with one another.

Benefits of Online PD

The benefits of these new options for teachers include flexibility, expediency and the ability to personalize PD options to meet their needs. These benefits may also in turn boost the effectiveness of PD.

For districts, the benefits of exploring new options for PD delivery include increased teacher satisfaction with PD and costs savings. A 2015 report from TNTP indicates that districts spend an average of $18,000 per teacher per year on PD, yet only 30 percent of teachers improved substantially because of district-led PD.

Still, it’s not enough to allow teachers to explore online PD options on their own or experiment with new options as a district. While exploration is fine, it’s results that matter.

Best Practices

In order to see how effective online PD options are, it is necessary to focus on demonstrable outcomes. Brockton, the largest public high school in Massachusetts, for one has made the largest improvements in the state by focusing its PD on fundamental priorities.

Also, a blog post from Jessica Piper offers “5 Don’ts” for teacher PD: don’t tease teachers with tools they can’t use; don’t choose irrelevant PD topics; don’t focus only on another school’s success; don’t underestimate teachers; and don’t choose non-practicing presenters.

Consider two more important “do’s”. First, do let teachers have the time and support to explore PD on their own, in their own way and based on their own interests. This offers opportunity for collaboration and sharing within your school system—and beyond.

Second, do ensure that you’re monitoring, measuring and evaluating the actual effectiveness of the PD options you implement in your school system, so that you make sure you know what’s actually driving success. It is important to allow areas for teachers to provide feedback on the effectiveness of the PD options available to them and relevance to the school’s vision.

Takeaway: While many new methods in use and under consideration for PD may hold promise, educators point out that rather than simply latching on to the “next great thing,” it’s important to remain focused on empirical evidence of effectiveness. Our piece on “Professional Development and the Data-Driven Classroom” provides some additional perspectives on PD, including a look at an approach featured in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Making Data Work for Teachers and Students” called Assess, Analyze and Pivot.


1. “Personalized Professional Development: Moving from “Sit and Get” to “Stand and Deliver” ASCD Inservice. October 28, 2015.
2. “10 Things Teachers Want for Professional Development” Flickr. May 31, 2015.
3. “Online Professional Development: Beyond PLCs and PLNs” Edutopia. October 1, 2015.
4. “Teachers Come Together on Twitter for Professional Development and Inspiration” Huffpost Education. April 28, 2016.
5. “New Report Reveals That Teacher Professional Development is Costly and Ineffective” The Hechinger Report. August 4, 2015.
6. “It’s Time to Restructure Teacher Professional Development” Education Week. October 20, 2015.
7. “Five Don’ts for Teacher Professional Development” TeachHUB. N.d.
8. “Study Casts Doubt on Impact of Teacher Professional Development” Education Week. August 18, 2015.