Personalizing Professional Development: How Empowered Teachers Can Take Charge of Professional Learning and Growth

McREL’s CEO Bryan Goodwin has teamed up with ASCD authors Pete Hall and Alisa Simeral in this white paper to tackle a question of urgent interest to teachers at all career stages: Can professional learning be better? It can, they argue, if the profession recognizes that PD must begin with teachers’ problems of practice, develop an understanding of why certain techniques work, not just what they are, and continue with reflection.

Reflection holds the key to identifying and addressing problems of practice as teachers advance in their skills.

The authors suggest an inquiry-based approach in which teachers (and those who support them as instructional leaders and coaches) internalize the process of carefully identifying a problem of practice, consulting research, identifying or developing a solution, testing and refining it, and expanding their repertoire of strategies and expert mental models.

They suggest starting with teachers’ problems of practice, like these:

  • How do I connect with students?
  • How do I challenge students of different abilities?
  • How do I make learning interesting to students?
  • How do I help students to become more receptive to feedback?

Group these problems into pathways that show teachers how to build on foundational problems to solve ever more complex classroom challenges. For each problem of practice, offer a quick synopsis of research (to help teachers understand not only what to do but why to do it), practical tools (to help teachers quickly apply best practice in their classrooms), and reflection questions (to support thoughtful practice). Then support teachers as they engage in inquiry to discover what works and why it works, and facilitate networked learning where teachers share their findings with one another.

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