Just like the students they teach, each educator comes to the classroom with a different set of experiences and preconceived notions about what good teaching looks like. Because of this, every teacher and every classroom has their own style, methods, and classroom environment. With these differences in mind, it is hard to imagine how creating a standard professional development course, module, workshop, or presentation for a group of K-12 teachers would provide adequate training that can meet each individual teacher’s needs.
According to Knowles (as cited in Merriam & Bierema, 2013) one assumption that is made through the adult learning theory of andragogy, is that adult learners prefer to learn material that is problem centered as opposed to learning material that is not useful until a future date. According to Matherson and Windle (2017), “Teachers want professional development that they can use immediately to help them prepare and deliver what their students need the most, i.e., skills, techniques, and strategies that allow them to address individual needs and help them tailor differentiated learning for their students.”
To create problem centered learning that provides teachers with skills that can be implemented immediately in the classroom, professional learning has to be personalized to the needs of the teachers who are taking the online or blended learning course. One way to accomplish this is to move the professional development instructor’s mindset from that of the teacher to that of a coach or a facilitator. Creating lessons and activities that are focused on specific pedagogies, skills, or strategies while leaving the subject matter details up to the participants can help to make an online or blended professional development work for groups of teachers who may teach various subject areas or even grade levels.
For example, creating an online or blended learning K-12 teacher professional development course can focus on a broad topic like methods for creating data driven instruction. If the teachers taking the professional development course all teach different subjects and maybe even different grade levels, then creating a lesson that explains how spreadsheets can be used as data collection and analysis in a math class is not going to help the English, Art, or Physical Education teacher. Data looks different in every classroom and in every unit of instruction. To meet the needs of all the professional development participants, the instructor needs to first get teachers to identify the different types of data that they may encounter. Once they have identified the data types they deal with, they need to self-evaluate their ability to use that data, which they already have, to inform their instruction.
Once a self-evaluation, and maybe even a self-reflection has taken place, the participants can begin to work through resources that pertain to the type of data they have and provide information on strategies and models that they can use to help them meet their goal of using that data to inform their classroom instruction. These resources can be found through independent research, instructor curation, or a mixture of the two. Participants can take that information and evaluate how they could use it in their own practice and use instructor and peer feedback to help find and implement the best solutions. Because the participants are working on something similar, they are better able to collaborate and provide ideas and feedback.
Another way instructors of online or blended K-12 professional development courses can provide personalized instruction to their participants is by getting to know the participants themselves through learning inventories, interest surveys, and synchronous and asynchronous discussions about their experiences and current teaching situations. Personalizing learning allows the participant to focus on what interests him or her the most or is of most crucial need for his or her classroom. Getting to know student backgrounds, needs, and teaching environments allows the instructor to provide individualized resources and supports that students need to be able to get what they need out of the course.
For example, a teacher is enrolled in a professional learning course about using digital content and instructional methods in the classroom. This teacher is a high school math instructor that is currently struggling with finding a way to effectively collect and analyze data so he or she can differentiate his or her classroom instruction for his or her students. Because the instructor is aware of this, he or she can integrate data collection and disaggregation tools into the course. If adding it to the course material would not work, the instructor could provide it directly to the participant as a supplemental activity that would allow the participant to explore the use of such tools for use in his or her classroom.
Personalization is another way the instructor can offer support to his or her students, but it goes a step further because it requires the instructor to be flexible in his or her teaching and to be willing to spend additional time researching and providing resources to students who need additional materials that may or may not pertain directly to the course itself. By doing this, the instructor can create a course that is driven by students interests and needs.
Closing for this Series
Teachers enter their professional development courses both willingly and unwillingly. Most teachers are anxious to learn new pedagogies, tools, and skills that they can use to implement in their courses to create better learning environments for their students. Of course, because teachers are also compelled to participate in professional development for licensure renewal there are professional development courses that teachers will have to take that they may not be as anxious to take part in.
The difference between a motivated K-12 professional development participant and one who is only participating to complete a school, district, or state mandated requirement can be attributed to the organization of the course, the feedback received throughout the course, the support that is provided as the course progresses, and the personalization that the course offers. While there is no controlling the reason why a student has enrolled in a K-12 online or blended teacher professional development course the instructor of the course can implement motivational strategies to maintain or even create motivation for students to fully participate and grow from the learning experiences offered.
Parent, Educator, Technology Lover