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Personalized Professional Development: At the Center of Your Own Learning

by Jennifer Williams
 | Jun 01, 2016

shutterstock_35709505_x300With an energized focus on empowering the voices of educators through connection and sharing, the participatory learning movement has brought personalization to the forefront of professional development in education. Today, educators with a desire to develop their practice are taking charge of their own professional growth by designing customized anytime, anywhere experiences. Focused on optimizing learning and growing as professionals, teachers and literacy leaders are finding great value in peer-to-peer sharing as part of professional learning networks, or PLNs. Together with emphasis on both voice and choice, these inspired groups are reinventing traditional models of professional development, allowing teachers to explore, collaborate, and continuously reflect in meaningful and transformational ways.

Exploration of practice

In the spirit of anytime, anywhere learning, educators have found communities of connected educators through participation in social media networks, including Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Instagram. Through a process of following and connecting with like-minded educators, teachers can personalize their online PLNs and take ownership of their own professional growth. One of the most popular ways educators use social media for peer-to-peer sharing is by participating in weekly educational chats. For Twitter chats, teachers come together at a predetermined time to thoughtfully and purposefully explore topics that are significant in their classrooms. In connected conversations of tweets, educators meet via hashtags to share experiences and examine concepts with educators of the world. Popular chats for literacy include #ILAchat, #Read4Fun, #engchat, #edchat, and #edtechchat. Days, times, and weekly chat topics can be found at Education Chats Listing and Participate Learning.

As partners in the process of professional development, teachers are seeking out peer-to-peer learning opportunities that allow for exploration of thought and practice. Edcamps, open to all educators, have quickly become the “PD of choice” for many educators that are seeking relevant and actionable conversations to improve practice. In these free, daylong “un-conference” events, teachers come together to share and learn through a collaborative exchange of ideas about topics that matter most in their lives and in their schools. Learning at an Edcamp is completely customized and sharing is always participant driven. Sessions are viewed as facilitated discussions as opposed to formal presentations, and topics are meant to encourage inquiry, offer direction, and shape practice.

Collaboration to grow and refine

Both within the school communities and in online networks, educators are creating opportunities for sharing and professional growth through collaboration. Each day, learning teams within schools are powerfully leveraging technology and digital spaces for cooperative sharing and discussion. Teachers who love using Pinterest as a visual bookmarking tool have started recognizing the value in social spaces that allow for open sharing of resources and shared thought. Padlet is one such tool that allows for planning and sharing by providing a corkboard-wall for teams to pin ideas and information, including website links, PDFs, photos, and images. Learning teams can also collaborate and share ideas for professional growth and discovery with online communication tools like Slack. Slack allows teams to seamlessly work together online in real time with use of “channels” for sharing and indexing of information and files. With tools such as Padlet and Slack, workflow and organization of thought can be streamlined and extended for collaborative professional growth and connection.

In addition to integrated communication solutions, teachers are finding ways to create and share databases of resources and collections with learning teams. With the online platform Participate Learning, educators can share and curate high-quality resources in “Collections.” The site also allows teachers to browse collections by grade level, content area category, and Common Core standards. Working with peers in collaborative platforms like Participate Learning, professional learning and growth can become personal, customized, and in the hands of the educator.

Reflection leads to transformation

Opportunities for exploration and collaboration are great entry points for educators seeking ways to customize their own professional growth; however, as with any new learning, time for reflection is extremely valuable when aiming to put ideas into practice. Charged with making a difference in the lives of their students, educators are finding ways to carve out time to reflect and examine practice with colleagues in thoughtful ways. As a communication tool for groups, Voxer, a walkie-talkie–style app, is a simple way for teams to share throughout the day on common topics. Through reflective discussion, educators can deepen conversations to allow for impactful change and growth for practice and outcomes. Blogging and podcasts further allow educators to synthesize and reflect on ideas and professional practice. These forms of sharing allows for ideas to extend to a global audience, therefore flattening school walls to create a world of opportunity and connections.

As the movement to personalize professional development through participatory peer-to-peer sharing spreads through educational communities and schools, educators are continuing to find new and innovative ways to design their own learning and professional growth. With anytime, anywhere opportunities available for all, teachers can continue to engage in connected communities to bring together content, resources, and experience to shift practice—placing teachers at the center of their own professional learning and growth.

Jennifer Williams is a literacy specialist and recently elected member of the Board of Directors for International Literacy Association. She is the cofounder of Edcamp Tampa Bay and serves on the coordinating teams for Edcamp Literacy and Edcamp Global. She believes in the power of shared stories, and she champions teachers to direct their own professional growth through participatory learning opportunities. Connect with Jennifer on Twitter.

In addition to Friday’s sold-out EdCamp, Williams will present “Connected Educators: Designing Your Professional Learning Network” Saturday, July 9, 11:00 AM–12:00 PM at the ILA 2016 Conference & Exhibits in Boston. Visit for more information or to register.

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