The Power of Choice in Professional Development

How often do we advise our teachers to give students more “voice and choice”?  I think it’s about time that we take our own advice!  As you start to plan for professional development that teachers will need, let’s talk about a model that I implemented last school year and I have noticed that it is starting to be employed in schools and districts around the country.

This model answers the question: What might it look like to let teachers choose their own PD?

The Logic

We all know how much impact choice can have on engagement. We are far more motivated to learn and to push past challenges when we have opted-in to the activity.  There are a few models you can consider.

  1. Teachers choose options centered around a content theme. 
  2. You deliver whole group PD in meetings as you normally would and you allow choices for supplemental learning.
  3. Teachers choose a learning format and stick with it throughout the year.

Model 1: Teachers choose options centered around a content theme.

Step 1: Decide Your PD Learning Goals

This part of the model is the same as planning for a typical year of PD. You first need to decide what the teachers need to know and be able to do by the end of the school year. I set benchmarks based on data I collected from the baseline observations and any walk-throughs I have done. I also look at the schoolwide initiatives and goals to make sure the PD is centered in helping teachers to gain the tool needed to hit those goals.

Step 2: Gather Resources

Let’s say that one of your themes or the school initiative is Project-Based Learning. You would start by finding a variety of different resources to help teachers learn about this. Your list might include:

  • Sample PBL units online
  • A book about PBL
  • A podcast series about PBL
  • A collection of articles about PBL online
  • An upcoming conference or webinar
  • Examples of teachers in your school already doing PBL
  • Templates for planning projects
  • Lists of local museums or businesses that would be willing to participate
  • A few PD sessions you have already given on the topic

Step 3: Allow teachers to choose with a Choice Board

  • Center choice boards around one learning expectation.
  • Require one choice per column.
  • Make sure the activities in a given column require a similar amount of work but show variety so teachers feel they are actually getting to choose.

Here is the beginning of choice board for our PBL. You might include these like they are or link them to specific articles, questions, videos and/or podcasts. Last year I changed them out monthly and use the Monthly BINGO Boards. This year I have went with monthly engagement themes and will use the Engagement BINGO Boards each month but my content themes will focus on content/subject tasks.

Get the basicsDo a deeper diveSupplement your learningMake it Real and get inspired!Do it yourself
Read the PBL book and create a video or journal summarizing your main take-aways from each chapter.Attend the upcoming PBL workshop.Listen to a podcast about PBL.Visit the classrooms of 3 other teachers to observe PBL.  Summarize what you learned from them.Use the templates provided to outline a PBL unit that you will try by the end of the year.
Read the PBL book and participate in a biweekly book group with other teachers.Attend my series of three PBL workshops here at school.Read a few articles about PBL.Review several example projects online. Summarize what you learned from them.
Listen to at least six episodes of the PBL podcast and create a video or journal summarizing your main take-aways from each episode.Do the 5-hour online PBL course.Watch a few videos about PBL.
Listen to at least six episodes of the PBL podcast and participate in the biweekly PBL podcast group.Participate in a PBL Twitter chat.

Notice the progression of learning from the first column to the last, where they are actually implementing everything they learned themselves. This column has only one choice since ultimately you want all the teachers to create a Project-Based Learning unit.

Model 2: Regular PD with choice for supplemental learning

In this model, you’ll plan PD as you normally would but also ask teachers to take ownership of some additional learning. One way to do this is by making a bingo board and giving little treats and rewards to teachers who get bingo. You could include all kinds of fun ways to learn:

  • Podcasts
  • Books
  • Twitter chats
  • Observing a peer
  • Participating in a coaching cycle
  • Volunteering to be observed
  • Mentoring another teacher
  • Participating in a reading group or critical friends group
  • Co-teaching a lesson

The list goes on! Here’s an example board. 

Model 3: Teachers choose a learning format and stick to it

I read about this model that Big Spring High School in Newville, PA, is using. Teachers choose one option from a Best Practice Group Choice Board.  Each option requires a twice a month time commitment. The offerings are diverse and suit the preferences of all types of teachers. You can encourage a newer teacher to participate in 1-1 coaching and more experienced teachers to give talks on areas of their own expertise. This is a perfect way to meet the needs of teachers with out stressing yourself out to get teachers to participate.

Get Inspired

The thought of letting teachers have more choice in their professional learning is inspiring to me. I hope it has inspired you too. Even if your district won’t let you implement one of these models as your primary PD, maybe you can be creative and find ways to incorporate more teacher voice in this year’s professional learning plan.

Resources this post references

(Just click on the picture)


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