If we can customize pizza, shouldn’t we be able to personalize professional learning? In this first of a series of four posts authored by KU doctoral students, Jeff Manning explores systems-level concerns and proposes solutions around time, professional autonomy, and accountability to advocate for more personalized professional learning for all teachers.
Everyone loves pizza, including my wife and me. Last night, we decided to try a new place named MOD pizza. The owners of MOD utilize the “fast-casual” concept that has become popular in recent restaurant models. The concept is simple: the customer orders a basic food item, then moves through a cafeteria style line filled with many meal “customizations.” Customers can choose additional ingredients, cooking methods, toppings, and more. The line moves quickly, and at the end of the process you have a meal that is tailor made just for you.
As I shuffled through the line, astounded by all the possible toppings and combinations that were available, (nearly 50!), it struck me that this would be an ideal way to approach professional learning. The questions began to swirl:
What if all teachers were allowed to customize and individualize their learning?
What if all teachers could identify their needs or wants, and access professional learning that matched those desires?
What if all the “ingredients” that teachers were able to use to customize their learning were made available by other teachers?
During my 13 years of teaching, my professional learning has been dictated by administrators. Yet, I have always craved personalized learning based on my goals and growth areas. I am not alone.
School District Concerns to Teacher Choice
Despite the research and push from the field for the customization of professional learning, school district leaders still have concerns about implementing this concept. Creative and flexible responses must be developed to refute these concerns in the hopes that we can collectively advocate for moving toward a more personalized professional learning system:
Concern: There isn’t enough time or resources for school districts to create customized learning opportunities for all teachers given the range of experience, roles and needs in the field.
Response: School districts don’t need to provide all the “toppings” for customized professional learning! Online resources and virtual learning communities could be utilized extensively. According to Teachers Know Best: Teacher’s Views on Professional Development, “A set of innovative products is emerging that have the potential to personalize learning for teachers and streamline their workflow. These include online platforms that address teachers’ need for content sharing, video, and self-reflection.”
Concern: Teachers will be unable to locate, access and engage deeply in high quality learning experiences on their own. If the system relinquishes control, can teachers be trusted to make impactful use of professional learning time?
Response: Just as we see with student-centered and inquiry driven instruction, increased choice and autonomy will fuel educators’ passion and investment in their learning. Teachers will still be encouraged to share their learning with colleagues and transfer learning into their instructional practice. Professional learning communities or digital communication platforms can be leveraged to ensure collaboration. Over time, teachers will curate a collection of vetted high quality resources.
Concern: Most states require teachers to meet a minimum amount of professional learning hours or credits each year. To comply with these mandates, school districts often require teachers to engage in the same learning at the same time. If school districts are no longer the primary source for professional development, how do administrators verify that teachers are participating?
Response: One solution is micro-credentialing. By using micro-credentialing, teachers can identify the skills or knowledge they want to improve and find related resources. Once a teacher has accomplished their goals, they submit evidence of their learning through an online platform. The teachers earn digital badges that administrators can access to verify professional growth. This system also allows school districts to make data-driven decisions to help support their teachers.
It is time to allow teachers to make their own professional learning choices. More choice and flexibility will allow teachers to learn anytime, anywhere, about anything. Teachers will be excited, passionate, and ready to share their expertise with others. Using systems like micro-credentialing will allow for individualized accountability that move way beyond compliance, a net positive for teachers and administrators alike.
Just like when we order up a pizza that includes all of our favorite ingredients, educators want (and deserve) professional learning experiences created for us and by us.
Jeff Manning currently serves as a high school marketing and business education teacher for Excelsior Springs School District, located twenty miles outside of Kansas City, Missouri. A current doctoral student at the University of Kansas, Jeff is passionate about his students, his own professional development, and seeking innovative ways to improve digital learning for all.