Thoughts on education, technology, leadership, and innovation.

Personalizing PD #IMMOOC Week 4

I am in the midst of participating in a collaborative review of our current professional development model, and one of the themes bubbling up through conversations and data collection is the need to personalize our sessions for our faculty. Our current model involves our EdTech Specialists and Teaching & Learning Department developing 40 minute PD sessions tied to school-wide goals. The sessions are developed by the EdTech Specialists and often involve promoting a new desktop or mobile app, recommending a workflow to save time, or viewing our school-wide themes of applied learning, project-based learning, and design thinking through a tech lens. The sessions developed by our Teaching & Learning Department offer a more practical, pedagogical bent, focused on instruction and assessment.

We offer PD sessions four times per day, trying to hit the scheduling sweet-spot to maximize participation from our elementary, middle, and high school faculty. We have promoted sessions through a shared calendar and through ads placed throughout the school, and have seen a consistent participation rate amongst faculty since the program’s inception five years ago. Over the course of an average work week, we hit a total of 20 sessions and track participation using our staff ID cards. Participants are automatically sent a confirmation email and Google feedback form once we have logged their attendance. The model has been adapted slightly to reflect the contributions of new team members over the past two years. We have moved from each session being created collaboratively under the guidance of a session lead to the creation of individual sessions by topic experts. We have moved from offering a single weekly topic to offering a variety of topics over a set number of weeks with each session offered at least once per rotation. Other than the occasional mandatory session, at the beginning of the year for example, our model is based on an opt-in philosophy. 

The impetus for a review of a program that is currently working lies in a desire to quantify its effectiveness. The only data we collect is our attendance records, which don’t tell the whole story of what is being gained. Our department, while confident that we are helping meet a need, wants to begin to determine whether what we are doing is actually affecting teacher practice. Specifically, is what we are doing impacting teaching and learning on our campus?

The red herring here is the data we have. Attendance numbers can prove an interest in a particular session or in a particular presenter but nothing else. Relationships, availability, presenter style, and work-load indirectly contribute to faculty members opting into a session. These preferences and priorities impact our numbers and, in turn, affect our determination of whether our program has value.

When reflecting on what factors we should really consider when evaluating our program’s effectiveness, I have been pondering the importance of the individual. This week, I was struck by the section of George’s book titled: “Change Can Happen One Person at a Time.” The expected take away from this section, based solely on the title, is that individuals can spark change within an organization - that it all starts with the individual, that innovation can come from one person. My initial take away was something different - the value of being mindful of the individual while addressing the whole. This led to the powerful realization that we often gag the individual expertise in the room by not differentiating. Differentiation is a constant theme in our school for teachers dealing with students who display a variety of abilities, yet it is not reflected in any tangible way in the PD we are offering teachers.

I’ve often felt a deep need to be responsible with how I spend my time. I want my time at work to be productive. I am one of those people who take pride in doing a job and doing it well - regardless of what it is. At school, I want to leverage the resources at my disposal to improve things for the group rather than the individual. In doing this, I often miss the fact that there are many within the group who are similarly driven to be productive, and I need be cognizant of their individual needs. I need to look for ways to help the individuals I serve and, while establishing a set of whole-group core competencies, make it a priority to move things forward for each individual in our organization. This is where Personalized PD comes into play. I’m not sure what it will look like, how it will work, but it’s something I’m going to spend some time working on. Stay tuned.

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