Tailored Professional Development Through Technology


This post is part of TeachBoost's series called "From Vision to Reality: Pulling the Right Levers for Transformational Instructional Leadership." Check out all the posts in our series, then subscribe to our blog to have posts delivered to your inbox as we publish new pieces.

Technology continues to be the focus of Chapter 3. Previously, we talked about using data to improve teacher performance, but what if we used data to personalize professional development?

"Moving old-school, one-size-fits-all PD online makes it easier to fast forward through, but it doesn’t make it any more useful to teachers. Technology may be part of the solution, but no magic is added to a lecture by virtue of being online. It’s the content and quality of the PD that matters.”

The use of technology itself is no quick fix in your instructional leadership program. However, with time and patience, it can enable you to dive from your high-level aggregate reports straight into the details/findings that move the needle on teacher practice. Personalizing feedback, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, will show your staff that their own growth truly matters—as well as their students. Dr. Kristin Schulze, from Greenville School District in South Carolina, agrees:

In order to really make lasting changes that positively impact teaching practices, move beyond these “why am I here thoughts?” and build teacher capacity which will ultimately increase student learning and achievement, we must grow beyond the “sit and get, one size fits all” model of PD and move towards a personalized model of professional development."

So how can individualized feedback best be achieved? Technology provides the data on teacher performance and—equally important—a framework, which will enable your admins to ask the right questions of the data. However, a balance between data-intense feedback and the quality of teacher-admin interactions will truly determine the success of your program.

Building Relationships

The recommendations we get from educators we work with over and again is to concentrate on relationships first and foremost. Whether your program is evaluative, coaching-based, or a blended approach, ensuring that your teachers and admins build relationships based on trust and meaningful discussion is vital.

At the Achievement School District, the first two weeks of the school year are devoted to observation, with no feedback. Here, multiple touch points are identified before the first time the teacher and coach sit down. Nataki Gregory expresses:

“It is then that teachers hear their strengths and areas for growth, they can trust that assessment, and are then given freedom to choose within that set of parameters, ‘which of these 4 things do you want to work on first?’. This gives teachers a clear roadmap.”

Concentrating on the positive and supportive data right at the start of the year shows teachers how far along the path they have already come in their practicenot just how far there is yet to go. Eric Sandberg, in his blog post on successful instructional coaching, concurs with this strategy, asserting that the key to effective personalized PD happens when:

"Two (or more) people, in a positive, collaborative relationship … learn and grow as professional educators.”

Strategic Professional Development

The interactive reporting in software or web platforms will drive your ability to provide personalized feedback to all levels of your district. Linda Rosenbury utilizes the Teacher Competency Matrix/Heatmap in TeachBoost, sharing it with her Board of Directors; this gives a sense of the range of performance across their school and helps the admin team norm feedback. In this way, Rosenbury can recognize the high-level trends for each competency and uses this to plan individualized PD for school, department and grade-levelsultimately facilitating across-the-board development.

When scaling personalized feedback to individual staff members, a meaningful discussion about goals and growth should be the basis of the conversation. Sabrina La Londe advises:

“A number doesn’t mean anything – the feedback the teachers are getting is what’s going to improve them. Trying to scare them with a number doesn’t do anything. The number should not drive the feedback”.

Final Note

Teachers are lifelong learnerspersonalizing your feedback and advice gives your teachers the ability to explore their strengths, face new challenges and address areas for growth, specific to their own skills and interests. Essentially, professional development feedback should allow teachers the time and space to work on expanding their subject knowledge and honing their pedagogical skill set. Since personalized PD for teachers is acknowledged to have a demonstrable effect on student outcomes, the benefits to both this and your teacher practice are worth the time and patience invested in this process

Follow-up Activity!

The next time you deliver feedback to a teacher or admin, test out creating a collaborative coaching plan, considering the suggestions in Eric Sandberg’s Guest Blog Post:

  • Personalized Mode: Will you focus on conversation, classroom modeling, co-teaching, or feedback?
  • Personalized Goals: Will you focus on a particular instructional strategy, student skill, or content knowledge?
  • Personalized Delivery: Will you collaborate using face to face meeting, using a journal (paper or cloud), or online platform?
  • Personalized Calendar: Will you work together on a regular schedule or as needed?
  • Personalized Pacing: How will you know if you are working too fast, not too slow, or just right?

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