Personalised learning is currently a buzzword in the education sector. It is a learning approach that is often associated with students and implies the understanding that every learner comes with their baggage of biological and socio-cultural influences, and hence has individual needs, learning style and pace. The emphasis, therefore, is on teaching-learning practices tailored to suit the diverse needs of students. However, what is often ignored is the need for a personalised professional development for teachers, the vehicles responsible—to a great extent—in driving individualised student learning.
Personalising teachers’ professional development
Professional Development (PD) programmes—workshops and conferences— are aimed at equipping and enhancing teachers’ skills so that they are in a better position to deliver their responsibilities. However, most of these programmes have pre-defined goals and areas on which the teachers are ‘up-skilled.’ They turn a blind eye to the personal needs and interests of teachers.
However, just like the students they mentor, teachers also have their specific needs; the grades and content areas, skill set, background and choice of pedagogy. Furthermore, every year they are required to teach a different set of students, who again have their own specific needs. All this adds up to the extreme need for a kind of professional development for teachers which is less generic in nature and directed more towards meeting the needs of each individual teacher.
Hence, to fulfil the lack of conventional PD programmes, the pace, approach and content of instructor–led sessions as well as the course materials should be adjusted to make space for specific needs and interests of the participants.
Bringing in the element of choice
True personalisation can be achieved only when the learner is given a certain degree of autonomy and is brought inside the curriculum-building process. This holds good for teachers as well as students. Teachers need to understand how their students are faring including what they are doing and what is needed to accentuate the progress or eliminate the obstacles. With the idea that teachers are learners and effective learning can happen in a personalised environment, the Phi Delta Kappa Center for Evaluation, Development and Research laid down guidelines for learner-centred professional development. One of the guidelines emphasises the need to involve teachers in the identification of what they need to learn and, when possible, in the development of learning opportunities or processes.
A PD programme in Albemarle which blends technology with human capital presents itself as a good learning example. It has coaches which helps educators to develop thoughtful—even unconventional—professional goals while allowing them to take ownership of their development by encouraging them to seek out a coach specific to their needs, rather than a coach being assigned to them by the principal.
‘[C]ollaboration around ‘common areas’ can facilitate personalised learning,’ says Joseph Perkins in his article ‘Personalising teacher professional development: strategies enabling effective learning for educators of 21st century students.’ Peer and instructional coaching as well as personal learning networks (PLNs) can be effective collaborative practices to help teachers make the most of PDs.
- Peer coaching– Peer coaching generally focusses on peer partnership which fosters reciprocal learning in a safe and non-judgemental environment. Such models are made for a pre–conference, in–context classroom observation and a post-conference.
- Instructional coaching– In Instructional coaching, an Instructional coach works collaboratively with teachers, particularly in groups or across a school, to offer ‘expert’ knowledge. A typical model may involve an in-context modelling of a particular practice, followed by team-teaching with the classroom teacher, followed by observations of the classroom teacher with post-conference feedback. (Perkins, 17).
- Personal Learning Networks (PLNs)– In PLNs, teachers take charge of their own development by using digital technology. Based on their needs and interests they can create their own professional networks, where each member can help the other learn, but in a manner which is not limited by pre-set goals.
Success in today’s highly competitive global environment necessitates the continuous remodelling of learning. By helping the teachers acquire the necessary knowledge and skills, we stand them in good stead to facilitate the growth of their students. Personalising their professional development, therefore, is a crucial step which needs to be taken towards achieving the vision of a higher standard of education.