Personalizing Professional Development For Educators

I was recently on the train going from Albany to Buffalo when it struck me—what’s wrong with our professional development model for teachers today is the same thing that has kept the train market from taking hold—it takes too long, it isn’t glamorous, the schedule doesn’t work with my travel plans and sometimes it just doesn’t stop where I need it too!

The modality for professional development remains, for the most part: sit in a workshop, hope you understand what is being presented, take it back to your school or classroom and MAKE IT HAPPEN.

We know the research around learning tells us that “one shot professional development” does not change instructional practices. However, the economies of scale tell us that if we pay someone once and have them present the solution to many, the possibility that it might stick with a few of the attendees is at least possible. The problem with that is the few who do take it back and try to utilize it often have to do more research on the strategy, find their own support for the work and then implement trial and error in order to get it to work.

The premise of andragogy (adult learning theory) tells us that adults want to have professional development opportunities that work for their individual learning styles, delivered in a timely fashion, fully supported in the implementation of the learning and not in a “one shot” approach. But the professional learning system of schools just can’t seem to figure out what to do differently.

I often believe that is because our system of professional development in education is driven by compliance learning, not meeting the professional learning needs of educators. Of course there is a place for those mandatory compliance-related workshops. Yet, that shouldn’t be our model of practice if we are really committed to changing instructional practices in schools.

Enter the world of personalized learning for educators. What if you were able to fill out a planning tool and identify your needs, based perhaps off of your evaluation, but also driven by your interests and needs in the classrooms?

What if you could define your own professional learning plan for the next 24 months, participate in work that makes sense to you along the way, and have full support in your learning by coaches/mentors and a strong professional learning community of like-minded educators?

In the end, you will have had the chance to implement learning in a gradual fashion, and move through the hierarchy of learning while implementing your plan. Isn’t this what we all know really works? So, why can’t we make it happen?

We can make it happen. We just have to start saying NO to bringing in a speaker on the topic of the year who will tell us all about what they know, and then we never see or hear from them again. We need to engage with professional learning providers (including our own staff, who also have skills and expertise to share) and make a plan that allows for the personalization of learning for educators. Here are some suggestions of what to include in this plan based on my experience:

  1. Time commitments (we all deal with contract language)
  2. Caps on costs per teacher
  3. Mechanism for reporting what was learned and how it will change or enhance pedagogical practices in the classroom
  4. Certificates of completion from the providers
  5. Review of the plans at the end of each year and setting of new plans for the following year

In addition, here are a few personalized learning PD resources and articles to support plan development:

It is so hard to change a paradigm, but if we never start, we won’t ever make it happen. What if the train left when I needed it to, stopped at the actual place I wanted it to and ran on time? Oh wait, that would be driving my own car—never mind. But you get the idea!

For more, see:

Dr. Margy Jones-Carey is an Assistant Professor and Program Director for the Educational Leadership Program at St. Bonaventure University. Follow her on Twitter: @DrMargy

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Dr. Margy Jones-Carey

Dr. Margy Jones-Carey is an Assistant Professor and Program Director for the Educational Leadership Program at St. Bonaventure University.

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Jill Robinson

Too often teachers are 'forced' by districts to attend training that they don't want/need. I've seen teachers have to take technology trainings--sometimes multiple days--and never use it. The costs of the 'wasted' funds spent on undesired workshops and professional development that led to no change would be staggering if accumulated. We should be utilizing our teachers' ability to reflect on their practice to chose professional training that best suits their needs. It's to be understood that there are such things as district initiatives, but for the most part professional learning should be geared towards the needs of the individual teacher.


Sometimes after attending PD my head is swimming. We learn how to do one thing and then on top of everything going on we are to implement the new idea in the classroom. Sometimes I do feel like we jump through hoops to say we did it or completed it and it does become compliance driven. If it is meaningful to me and what is taking place in my classroom I learn so much more and am able to implement with success and continue to use the new Professional Development ideas or plans. I like the premise of andragogy (adult learning theory),

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