Walking the Walk: Professional Development Personalized

As the leader of various instructional and non-instructional teams for the past eight years, I thought I had things figured out when it came to onboarding PD. People generally had a good time getting to know one another, my PD laid the foundation for healthy, high-functioning teams, and we saw strong results at the end of each year. I was also conscious to ensure that my PD modeled strong instructional practices, doing my best to complete the traditional lesson cycle for each topic and modeling what I expected from teachers.

Ednovate PD mastery tracker

Ednovate PD mastery tracker

Ednovate teachers and staff participating in self-paced, personalized learning

Ednovate teachers and staff participating in self-paced, personalized learning

As we continued to build off of last year’s success at USC Hybrid High and expand our model to more Ednovate schools, there was something bugging me when I walked around our personalized learning classrooms. I became a novice instructional leader again. I used to visit traditional classrooms and feel like an educational expert, able to pinpoint the hundreds of subtle, meaningful instructional moves teachers made, but last year, they weren’t so clear to me. I am now back to being a novice, trying to understand the nuanced moves successful personalized learning teachers make (hint: now they’re more in the background).

So this year I challenged myself to walk the walk and rebuild my annual onboarding. Boy, was it challenging. It was back to losing myself in the design phase and not eating or sleeping for nights on end. At Ednovate, our teachers have a lot of freedom to curate and create a personalized experience using Illuminate, Canvas, Clever, Chromebooks, Google Apps, and a budget to purchase what they need to meet our learning targets. My team and I (thanks, Jess and Reid) took those same tools and set forth in building 4 modules consisting of 31 lessons and 4 final exams that led to our team members earning badges in teamwork, culture, handbooks and our common language over two days. Ednovate staff members were able to learn at their own pace and in their own environment, answering multiple choice and open-ended questions and creating videos and virtual role plays that we all got to view.

Reflecting on the last couple of days, here are our top three lessons from walking the walk in personalized PD:

1. Reversal of personal connection- My time in front of my team over two days reduced by 67%; however, I am surprised by how much more I learned about my team members this year than in years past. From an output standpoint, most staff members completed their modules by Friday night (they have until Monday morning to complete them all). Because our staff members created and input so much information, I have a clearer insight into our team, what makes them tick, and what they understand and can apply; however, they know a lot less about me. I don’t sense a strong personal connection with all of them as I usually do after being in front for most of the PD, but overall, this is the right switch. My teachers know what I value and how I think through these modules.  That’s more important. Also, teachers should know more about their students than the other way around. An added benefit of this approach was that many instructors commented on developing empathy for our students as they experienced the same learning experience for 72 hours.  

2. The most important instructional moves come in the design- After creating our courses, I realized great personalized instructors make their most important moves in the content curation and creation phase. Not only do strong instructors in our space curate and create well, but they also make sure the learning process is smooth. This includes low-level checks like making sure hyperlinks work, as well as high-level design moves to ensure students fail fast and learn in a way that challenges, excites, and motivates them. I redrafted our PD four different times ensuring that there were the appropriate nudges, badges, and motivators. There is still a lot of room for improvement, but at least now I know a little bit better what to look for when observing personalized learning instructors.

3. Discussions are necessary for applications, synthesis and most importantly human connection- To take a page from Brené Brown, we all need some kind of human connection. Even though our modules and lessons had people create and work in teams, there was still a power in bringing everyone together a few times to talk about our collective goals and impact. Additionally, we really pushed our five “Great Discussions” to be truly discussions and not more lectures. I don’t think we have it all right, but the ratio of independent time to whole-group time felt right. Our teams spent about 70% of our time learning on their own and the rest in discussions. This could mean that in our schools, discussions could happen whole class (whatever that may mean) about every 3-4 days.

These are our initial thoughts. I left feeling more invigorated by the promise of personalized learning, and I believe we have the right team at Ednovate and USC Hybrid High to continue to design and iterate on our model.

We will blog from all angles this year (instruction, tech tools, growth, and finance), and we hope that our lessons learned help others as we move forward on this path toward a better learning experience for our students.