If you're wondering, how do I support my teachers during the time of COVID when professional development needs are all over the place, this is the episode for you tune into this solo show with just myself, walking you through the ideas of how we're going to personalize PD for our teachers, just like we would personalize the learning for our students.
Today, I want to talk to you about personalized PD. Professional development for teachers is often taking the form or used to take the form when we were in person as whole staff meetings, training that was the same for all staff members in attendance. And often this was the entire staff today. I want to talk a little bit more about how we personalize PD, not just in the era of COVID. I think it is incredibly relevant for the era of COVID given that we are all in different physical locations, many of us, and we need different things. We have different areas for growth at this time, as we all learn and adapt and are able to be flexible with our students and our students' families’ needs at this time. So when I think big about what my dream is for professional development for teachers and for leaders, it is personalized.
Personalized Professional Development For Teachers
It is a world in which educators at all levels in all positions can choose what exactly they need topic-wise, as well as which format of professional development they would like to engage with. So it truly is learner choice just as we would do with our students. So why personalized PD? That choice, that ability to say, this is what I need at this moment. And this is how I want to receive this professional development. This is the format I want my PD journey to take. This is what I have time and energy. This is what I learned best. That's really similar to what we do when we differentiate for students. And so we want teachers to have that same level of support and differentiation that we encourage teachers to give our students that choice is also incredibly motivating. And so when we talk about student choice and student voice in the classroom, we're also wanting to extend that to teachers, to be able to choose the content.
So the topic they're actually learning about the process, just like we would differentiate for students, right? Having maybe a video, self-paced interactive documents, a text-based activity, a collaborative endeavor. We want that process to be differentiated as well, and finally the product. So how are teachers and educators able to demonstrate what they learned to share their successes and teach others? What might that look like? Can we give flexibility for teachers to be able to demonstrate that in unique ways? And again, I think another, why is now more than ever, this has become truly relevant. Things are already in flux. They are changing rapidly. This year is unprecedented. And this is a great opportunity to model flexibility, what we want teachers to do with our students, with our learners. So as school leaders, as principals, as instructional coaches, this is the type of thing we want to offer for our teachers.
We want teachers to see the flexibility modeled, and we also want to be flexible with their needs. And so in a world that's already changing. We can change with it. We can model, and we can also flex and adapt to the needs of our teachers. As those needs really expand exponentially outward. That range of teacher needs feels much larger this year than in previous years.
Needs Of Tech Tools In Development For Teachers
So, some teachers, when we moved to a distance learning setting are really going to want support in the form of tech tutorials. The tech itself feels like such a large barrier. They may need a walkthrough of literally which button to press, which tech tools to use, which tech tools are out there. And then once they decide on a tech tool, you know, how do I actually set this up for my students? How do I teach my students to engage with this particular tech tool?
These different pieces of tech logistics are a huge need and often feel like a huge barrier for some teachers, for other teachers, they are ready to rock and roll with the tech. They feel really good on the logistical end. And they're actually really ready to start talking about the instructional design of how to use the tools, how to set up these different tasks for students, how to differentiate in the hybrid, or the pure distance learning space so that learning can truly be amplified. So as we think about why it's truly a time for a change, where modeling for teachers, what we want them to do with students and we're differentiating and motivating through choice now, how do we actually make this happen? What are the brave action steps that we need to take to be able to create an environment of personalized PD for our teachers?
Formats of PD
Well, first, what I would do is consider the topics as well as the formats of PD. So if you're looking at kind of a tic tac toe type of choice board, you may have topics on kind of column one here on the vertical axis and the horizontal access. You may have kind of the formats of what that PD might take. So it might be one on one coaching. It might be, you know, a self-paced course. It might be your traditional staff meeting, where everyone comes together in a synchronous PD session, where there is a PowerPoint and all of those things so that teachers can choose which format works for them. Ideally, we want to enable choice in both. So teachers can choose the specific topic that they want to engage with, and they can also choose the format with which they want to learn.
Voice And Choice
When we borrow from the aspects of student’s voice, right, we want to give all learners, development for teachers included in that learner bunch and leaders as well, right? We're all learning on this journey and we're all constantly growing as professionals. We want to give learners of all ages and positions, a voice in the choice. I specifically talk about voice and choice in how one learns, what one learns the content, where one learns the physical or maybe virtual location. And also when they learn, is it self paced? Can I determine when I want to engage with professional learning, does it have to happen during a specified time? If so, if there's a designated professional development time during the school day, do I have an opportunity to pace out what I would like to do for each day? So for example, one day I might be really feeling like a synchronous staff meeting will meet my needs.
I want to be collaborative. I want to engage with other teachers who are learning the same thing. And another day I might want to really dive deep into a topic of my choosing through a self-paced course that I developed myself. Right? I might want that balance. And so when can encompass literally when you're doing the PD, but it can also encompass what kind of PD you're doing on which days, if you do have a designated timeframe now for topics, what I would do is I would work backward from prioritized school initiatives, those school-wide things that we’re really focused on this particular year. I'm sure most leaders have established certain priorities as we work through the time of COVID as we adapt and flex with the change that is needed this year. So work backward from those, think about which topics support those school initiatives that are a focus for the school this year.
Work Backward From A Quality Instructional Rubric
Another option is to work backward from a quality instructional rubric. If you don't have one already, you can make one, a lot of teachers and teacher leaders use Danielson's framework and Danielson's rubric for evaluations of teachers. You can work back from that. There is an earlier episode, the first episode of the Time for Teachership podcast, with Romain Bertrand, who talks about how you can actually establish look for in your school system. And I would work backward from something like that. So if you want to go back and watch that episode, and then think about how do you take that look for lists, the things that you want to see in those classes that are co-created with teachers based on what they want to improve in their particular practice. And then think about how do I support them to get to that place that they really want to be.
So again, you can work backward from that instructional rubric or from your school's specific prioritized initiatives for the year. I will link in the show notes for today, an example of Dallas ISD, rubric for instruction. They have a ton of really great resources in the link that I will provide. So if you're stuck on thinking about what does a personalized rubric that amplifies, personalized learning for students and development for teachers actually look like, and you want a model to kind of check out and adapt from, I will link one from them. So when we're thinking about formats, I listed a couple earlier, but we're thinking about a range of ways that teachers can engage in professional learning. So one typical format that is most common for schools is that synchronous staff PD. Now, if the school is happening at a distance or in a hybrid model that maybe, you know, that some staff is actually in a room together, but the synchronous piece doesn't necessarily need to mean in person, right?
We're just talking about at the same time. So teachers may actually jump onto a zoom meeting at that time and engage in a staff-wide PD where all the staff is together, synchronously, but they're not in the same physical location. So when I talk about synchronous staff PD, I'm talking about all of those pieces, another option is asynchronous PD. So this is something that could be designed by you as the school leader. It could be an existing self-paced online course that someone else created and you're thinking, "Hey, would be really great for my staff." And so you might purchase an online course or select a bunch of online courses for teachers to engage with, or perhaps teachers find their own online courses and come to you for either the ability to purchase them with a PD budget or to just, you know, get approval to say, "Yes, this looks like one that you could go ahead with."
Alignment With Instructional Priorities
Again, we want the alignment to those instructional priorities that you've set as a school for the year, but also we want that personalization. So the teacher is able to find something that truly aligns with their goal for improvement for the year. Another option is the teacher actually designs a self-paced course themselves. So this might look like pulling together a series of resources, but educational blogs, articles, podcasts, all that good stuff, and kind of actually designing a unit for themselves, just like they would design a unit for students to engage in really putting on that teacher or instructional hat and saying, I want to design something for myself. And I will engage as a learner in whatever, you know, unit, or professional development plan that I have designed. There might be an opportunity for collaboration here where you as the school leader or instructional coach, actually co-create in the sense of suggesting some different articles or podcasts or other resources that you pull that you know, are related to a particular teacher's desire for growth in this year.
And so you actually help kind of curate a bunch of resources that may be relevant. And this option, if teachers choose the asynchronous option does not preclude them from attending occasional synchronous staff meetings. So if occasional synchronous staff meetings are actually perfectly aligned with what they want to do in terms of their personal growth plan for the year, absolutely attend one of those as part of your specialized outline for personal development. So kind of a hodgepodge of all these different things.
Development For Teacher Through Coaching
Now, another option for formats of PD could be coaching. This could be one on one coaching where a teacher is working individually with an administrator. This could be an instructional coach. It could be an assistant principal. It could be the principal themselves, whoever it is, it could be that one on one with an admin. It could also be one-on-one with an outside contractor or agency.
There are a lot of different organizations that do instructional coaching externally and come into a school and work one on one with teachers. So that's another option as well. It could also be coaching from a colleague. So you may have a mentor teacher or, New York City had a program called the Master Teacher Project. And so you may have identified leaders, instructional leaders in your community that are full-time teachers that are not in an administrative role, but they have agreed to offer support to other teachers who may be new, but they also may be veteran teachers in which they are offering support in whatever that teacher who's receiving, the coaching would like. And so there's truly an opportunity for teachers to visit other teachers' classes, the mentor teacher's classes, but also the mentor teacher can come into the other teacher's class and really support and talk through the kind of what they observed when they were there and work in partnership in that way. Or it could simply be one on one meetings where you are planning for an upcoming lesson. And the mentor teacher is offering some advice or some practical questions that enable the coachee to really think through their instructional decisions and prepare for a lesson, and then debrief afterward, even without an observation, because observation becomes harder when you're working teacher to teacher because they obviously have full-time classes themselves to teach. And so scheduling flexibility is a bit more limited.
Exploring what is possible
The final option—and I talked about this a little bit in the last one—might be seeing the possible, so exploring what is out there, what is possible, and this could be done a variety of ways from a synchronous perspective. It could be that you pop into a peer's class, some other teacher in your school, you kind of check it out, see what's going on. This might be in the physical space, or it might be in the zoom space, depending on if your school is in a hybrid model or what's going on at the time. It could also be an asynchronous opportunity to check out classes in other schools, again, either via virtual visit, or in person, depending on one, what the school itself is doing, but also to, it might be actually easier to pop in virtually then to, you know, actually physically go to the school and it might take up less time.
You're able to pop in and watch a class, even from, you know, a laptop at the back of the room that's on versus to take a whole day off, to go see another school in action. Another opportunity would be to do an asynchronous exploration of teacher materials or asynchronous tasks that a particular teacher has designed for their class. And so if a teacher is teaching in a hybrid model at the moment, you can go in and just explore their learning management system. For example, see how they've organized all of their resources, see what tasks are being asked of students, see what kind of interactivity and peer to peer engagement students are able to engage with. And so doing a synchronous observation of the class is going to look a little bit different than an asynchronous kind of perusal of resources online. But both I think are valuable, particularly given that many of us are in hybrid settings at the moment.
And so seeing how other teachers are doing their asynchronous portions of the class can be really powerful and effective in helping us see what is possible for our own classes. So this is definitely a format that you could work with for personalized PD. Another piece of this could be beyond the teachers in your class or other school connections that you have, and really just exploring teacher blogs or social media posts from teachers that are actually in schools that you've never heard of, right. Or strangers online when you join Twitter chats or Facebook groups that are dedicated to teacher leadership or instructional design, thinking about how other folks who teach the same kind of content areas or grades specifically that you do can really open up your eyes to the possibility of what your class might look like in the future with a little bit of work in this personalized PD path.
My personal experience
For me personally, as a teacher, this was a huge win for me to try to figure out, you know, what was possible in my class. When I felt like I hit a roadblock. If I was able to go and visit another teacher's class, either in my school or another school, this was an amazing kind of inspiration for me to take an idea that I saw elsewhere and apply it to my class. It really helped me feel alive again when I was teaching and I really experienced a resurgence of energy and kind of, this is why I became a teacher. So those are just some options for some formats, for personalized PD, if you would like to add more, absolutely go for it. This is not a limited option that you have to choose from, but just some things that came to mind and that I've personally experienced or witnessed other school leaders offered to their teachers. And so obviously feel free to add to that list now, in terms of really living this out, putting this into action.
Still Wondering Your Next Step?
If you're asking yourself right now, what is my one next step? Where do I go from here after I have these ideas kind of percolating in my head, what's going to happen next? What can I do? What I would suggest is to ask teachers to collectively brainstorm PD options. So what topics are they interested in learning more about, if you don't already have that information, go ahead and collect that this could be in the form of one-on-one kind of almost coaching conversations or visioning conversations that will really help frame your either one-on-one coaching and support of those teachers in that year, or kind of helping you to kind of micro group teachers who are interested in similar topics of learning for the year as you move forward and create development for teachers plans for them, or invite them to create their own PD plans that you will support later.
Do What Is Suitable For You
I would also ask the question in addition to what topics they want, what formats really fit best for them. Now I would ask this question when I give multiple options. And so I wouldn't just say, what formats are you interested in kind of an open-ended question. You could totally do that at first, but then I would definitely follow up with a series of options that they might be able to choose from. And I say this because I think a lot of teachers might not be aware. I certainly was not aware as a teacher in my early years of teaching the variety of types of formats, of personalized PD that could exist. And so I think if you ask it open-ended without providing a range of options, you may get a more limited response. And that may result in you coming to the conclusion that teachers only want, you know, whole staff PD because maybe that's the only type of PD they've experienced.
Maybe not, maybe that is their actual preference, and that is totally fine, but you want to make sure that you're truly getting to the heart of what teachers want. As you provide them with all the options to choose from, they may just have a limited sense of what's possible. And you want to make sure that possible becomes clear to them. As we wrap up today's episode, I want to remind you that I will link to the Dallas ISD, personalized instruction rubric so that you can work backward from that to kind of create your own PD choice board. But I also want to share with you this week's freebie is actually a personalized PD board that I created for you in Google Docs. So you can actually go to file and then make a copy and create your own personalized PD board for your teachers in your school.
The setup is pretty straightforward at the top. We have a kind of a teacher's personal goal. And so they initially have to reflect, especially if they haven't reflected with you already in a one on one conversation or submitted any kind of documentation at the start of the year to identify what goal they're interested in, but you have them at first really set up. Here's what I want to achieve this year. Here's my goal for personalized PD. And then you have a mini choice board. So again, on that first column vertically on that access, we have different topics. So some examples that I chose for this one are designing instruction, culturally responsive teaching and distance learning. These can be absolutely more than three and they don't have to be those three. These are just options that I've been thinking a lot about and hearing teachers this year saying they're really interested in focusing on those on the horizontal axis and the top row.
You have options!
I have a variety of options for formats. So again, you can add to this, I just chose the three that were most comfortable for me, synchronous staff PD, being one as a self-paced course, being the second, and coaching and or peer visits. That's the third. And so then I just filled in the choice board with what that might look like in terms of things that I have offered or things that you would add-in on your own step. Number three of this one-page worksheet is really for, to fill out their plan. What are the dates of the details of the PD they would like to take on what is the total number of PD hours that they're going to complete for a particular goal around their personalized learning and what form of accountability or kind of product do they want to commit to?
So maybe that's journaling each week, maybe that's that an instructional coach or a peer colleague or a principal comes in and does observations surrounding that focus area. And so they get concrete feedback based on that instructional rubric. We're working back from where that look for the list we're working backward from and give them feedback on those. Or maybe they present at a staff success share at the end of the year. So again, you can check this out. You can make a copy for yourself and adjust it to your schools and your teacher's personal needs, but I will link to that in the show notes. That is the freebie for this week.
All right, everyone, thank you so much for engaging in this solo show where I just kind of walk you through some options of personalized PD. I am so excited that you are absolutely crushing it this year. I know this is an unprecedented year for teacher kind of stress and needs of students. We're working incredibly hard to adapt and be flexible in this time of much-needed adaptability and flexibility, and you are absolutely rocking it.
Thanks for listening, amazing educators. If you loved this episode, you can share it on social media and tag me @lindsaybethlyons or leave a review of the show. So leaders like you will be more likely to find it. To continue the conversation, you can head over to our Time for Teachership Facebook group and join our community of educational visionaries until next time leaders continue to think big, act brave, and be your best self.
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Lindsay Lyons (she/her) is an educational justice coach who works with teachers and school leaders to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice, design curricula grounded in student voice, and build capacity for shared leadership. Lindsay taught in NYC public schools, holds a PhD in Leadership and Change, and is the founder of the educational blog and podcast, Time for Teachership.