Individualizing Teacher PD

In my current role as principal, I am tasked with designing and carrying out the professional development for the school. One of the hardest parts of designing high quality professional development has been making it individualized. Professional development that is individualized tends to have a greater impact than whole group presentations (Garet, et. al., 2001). Similar to the needs of our students, we should give our teachers time to work with new ideas in a way that will benefit them. Some teachers will have more or less experience with a topic or learn with different modalities. The difficult aspect of individualizing professional development is similar to designing a high quality 21st century learning environment. We have not seen these strategies in practice, so it is difficult to design trainings.

Action Research and Teacher PD

I have decided to use action research as my main method for individualizing the professional development that I lead. Action research is a reflective process that is rooted in creating actions to improve practice. Often research is seen as being completed by the elites or those that are not doing the work. The action or day-to-day work is left to the practitioner, who is often seen as unworthy of doing research or they feel inadequate to do research. Action research attempts to break this dichotomy by having the practitioner create the living theories that explain the work they are doing (McNiff & Whitehead, 2011).

Action research has been used in school settings often and can empower teachers to improve their instructional practices in a systematic way. All good teachers reflect on their instruction and try to make improvements, but action research provides a structure for the teachers to work through their growth. Giving the teachers the opportunity to speak confidently about the work they do and why they do it can help to improve their instructional practices.

Individual Teacher PD Using Atlas

In our school, we have used the Rubicon Atlas curriculum maps to design templates to go through the action research process, but to also limit the amount of time and energy that is put into the research. My first experience with action research was with my exit requirement for my Masters degree. The study ended up being a 75-page document. Our teachers do not have the time to devote to writing a full study, but they have the time to engage in deep reflection to improve their practice. In our templates (see below), we used short open text boxes with prompts to guide the reflection. The benefit of using Atlas is that it allows for the reflection, but keeps the writing to a minimum.

View the template below (click to download)

For more ways to personalize teacher professional development, read how a school created a signature professional development program by modeling classroom best practices.

Elijah Bonde is currently the principal at Nativity Prep Academy (NPA) in San Diego. He has been the instructional leader of the school for the past three years and a teacher at the school for the nine years prior. He earned his MA in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego (USD) in 2015, his single subject teaching credential in English and Science from USD in 2007, and his BA in Philosophy in 2005.

Elijah’s work at NPA has focused on transitioning the school toward 21st century learning with an emphasis on student-centered lessons, incorporating technology, and increasing rigor. He has also focused on developing a professional learning community that is rooted in collaboration and addressing the individual needs of each teacher.

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