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CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.

Effective Personalized Learning for Students Requires Personalized Professional Development for Teachers

We in the education field have been throwing around the terms 21st Century Learning and College and Career Readiness for some time now. Since the advent of computer technology in the late 20th century, there has been an uncomfortable awareness that “business-as-usual” in our typical public school would no longer be enough to graduate students who can contribute to an ever-changing world in a meaningful way. Indeed, I think it’s fair to say that we have shifted our belief that students need all kinds of content knowledge to be successful to the belief that students need to be able to apply their learning in new contexts, communicate effectively, and collaborate with others to be successful. The belief has changed; however, our practice has not.

Take a look at any college teacher education program—things have not changed in the past few decades. Students are required to take many of the same classes that I was required to take nearly twenty years ago. Moreover, professional development opportunities for teachers continue to model the same old “sit-and-get” package, an approach to learning that we claim to want to avoid for our young students. Doing things the way we’ve always done them is a dangerous pattern. If we want to promote real change, we need to rethink how we educate not only our students but our teachers as well. CCE’s Massachusetts Personalized Learning Network (MA PLN) is committed to modeling best practices when it comes to our work with adult learners, offering engaging, authentic learning experiences. To this end, we have created a blended professional development model for planning schools in MA PLN, known as the Design Institute, to support them in their design of a plan for their personalized learning school.

We begin each MA PLN cohort with a face-to-face, school-based Orientation Meeting for each school’s designated Design Team. During this meeting, we introduce the school Design Team to their school-based coach and provide them with an overview of Agilix Buzz, our online learning platform. The next step is for Design Team members to begin their online learning sessions, which address each of MA PLN’s Six Principles of Personalized Learning. Their coach serves as the “teacher”, providing feedback to Design Team members as they progress through Buzz. Soon after the launch of Buzz, Design Teams from the entire cohort convene for an in-person session—allowing them to collaborate with professionals outside of their schools, discuss problems of practice, and apply their learning from the Buzz online learning platform to their specific school design plan. In addition to the online learning and professional development sessions, cohort members participate in visits to local schools that exemplify features of personalized learning, and consider those elements that may be transferable or adaptable for their school environments.

The MA PLN professional development experience is intentionally designed to model best practices in personalized learning—offering an engaging blended learning experience that demonstrates a flipped model of learning. We build our in-person sessions around learning done outside of the “classroom,” allowing Design Team members to work at their own pace with opportunities to exercise voice and choice.

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Ultimately, we believe that big change is possible, likely even, under the right conditions. We have strayed from the business-as-usual model of delivering professional development, in an attempt to provide our MA PLN Design Team members with a new way of thinking about teaching and learning. We believe that this model will allow educators to question their own assumptions and see opportunities, rather than obstacles, when shaping their own students’ learning experiences.