The goal of our Innovative Professional Development (iPD) Challenge is to help districts shift from outdated, one-size-fits-all models of professional development to more effective forms of learning for teachers that are individualized, multimodal and delivered in real time.
We’re finding, however, that districts are approaching this challenge from two different starting points. Picture the Carmax commercial that tells a bewildered car buyer to “start here.” Some districts are stepping over that line toward what I call the “individualized learning path,” in which districts already have a set of resources available—such as videos—and are relying on teachers to engage with this technology and are then linking the tools to their evaluation systems.
These districts are banking on the fact that if you give teachers more data about their performance (through evaluation) and access to different options for professional growth, teachers will take advantage of these choices or guided pathways on their own time or as part of a district requirement.
Other districts, however, are starting with a “collective development” approach. These are focused less on individual teachers’ learning and more on involving groups of educators within a school or across the district in efforts to improve their practice. What differs is the emphasis on finding the time it takes for teachers to engage in real and relevant conversations about their practice and monitoring how that time is used to support increased student and teacher success.
Our challenge is to better understand how these two pathways come together and to encourage iPD sites to take a more coherent view. By focusing on their individual progress with the benefits of technology, teachers can use data to improve and seek out professional development options based on their needs and interests. But to address common problems across a school or district—such as low math or reading scores—collective efforts are needed to help shift experiences for all students. A collective approach also recognizes that there will always be teachers who are at different points along that path. Some are early adopters, some are innovators and others have the experience needed to mentor and support others. The cross-fertilization and conversation that comes when we share what we are learning with others is what drives us toward solutions.
It’s not either individualized learning or collective development. It’s both a community of practice and helping teachers find what works best for each of them.