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How State and Regional Agencies Can Grow Your Teacher Force through Personalized Professional Learning 

  • 9 Min Read

Recommended practices for supporting authentic professional learning, including through hybrid and blended approaches.


Top on the ‘what keeps you up at night’ list for state and regional education leaders is ensuring an available and prepared K-12 educator workforce. Burnout is pushing many teachers out of school, while a dynamic economy is making teaching relatively less attractive for many. Agencies are supporting districts with innovative grow-your-own and alternative pathways programs.  

Yet, its increasingly clear that success in employee attraction and retention requires state and regional service agencies to also provide leadership for the personalization of teacher professional learning.  

Let’s take a deeper look at the opportunity, examples and recommended practices?  

Profound Opportunity to Shift PD to Meet the Needs of Today’s Teacher 

In a D2L-commissioned survey of ~1,000 U.S. K-12 educators, 91% of respondents expressed interest in professional learning targeted to a teacher’s unique needs and interests. However, only 20% reported increased access to such personalized professional development, and another 25% reported no or decreased access. Being able to access personalized PD was also highly correlated to teacher satisfaction. For those not satisfied with their PD, only 9% indicated increased access while 46% indicated no or decreased access.  

It’s then not surprising that superintendents and administrators identify personalized PD among the practices most helpful for reducing teacher burnout and improving retention

How the Ohio Department of Education Created a Hybrid Model for Scaling Flexible, Customizable Professional Learning
When the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) rolled out a state- mandated course, they needed to design it with the flexibility for teachers to work through the course according to their personal needs and school schedules. The solution was an adaptable, hybrid model. School districts can schedule state-certified course facilitators to lead their staff’s training on site. Often, the facilitators ask that teachers complete pre-work in the LMS while blending LMS-hosted digital resources into their onsite discussions. This hybrid format allows each educator to also have access to the content for ongoing review and to complete the requirements at their pace. Many districts have scheduled times for building-level teams to work through the course together in PLCs to also support local feedback and reflection.

“Valuing and protecting teachers’ time must be an important part of both the planning and executing of professional learning,” said Allie Sberna, pHCLE, professional development eLearning coordinator at the ODE. “This hybrid model provides the flexibility needed for teachers to collectively and individually access learning when and as needed, both in-person and online.”

States like Ohio and service agencies like PNW BOCES (NY) are shifting to a more flexible, hybrid models to meet the individualized needs of their teachers. Agencies can also learn from and partner with nonprofits and colleges, among others, who are in a similar role of supporting teacher growth across districts.  

Increasing personalization is about making teacher learning more timely, relevant and flexible. 

Teachers face a great diversity in their knowledge and skills, schedules and learning preferences. Providing agency over what, when and how their learning takes place is critical to their engagement and success. Not doing so makes professional development a burden, a contributor to burnout and a lost opportunity for growth. We recognize this for students, but too often revert to one-time, one-size workshops for teachers. 

8 Practices to Make Teacher PD more Timely, Relevant and Flexible 

D2L recently convened a working group of leading teacher educators to identify practices that will help reimagine teacher professional learning. We curated a guide of more than 60 practices across 8 domains [see below] that harness research-based best practices to: 

  • grow learner voice and agency,  
  • improve curriculum relevance, timeliness and application, and  
  • integrate ongoing learner feedback and mastery-based pacing.  

States and educational service agencies (ESAs) have a critical role to play in leading and enabling many of these practices.  

Summary of Recommended District Practices
1.Value Professional Learning: Create a school culture that values teachers as professionals and professional learners
2.Incentives and Measures: Incentivize, measure and reward teachers for their personalized learning time and progress
3.Actionable Communications: Provide clear, relevant and actionable communications to teachers about professional learning expectations and resources
4.Modern Infrastructure: Provide a modernized, teacher-centered professional learning infrastructure
5.Resource Catalog: Curate a robust catalog of professional learning resources and formats to address the scope of teacher needs
6.Authentic Learning: Design authentic professional learning that incorporates practice, reflection and feedback
7.Personalized Pathways: Build flexible content pathways, including through competency- based progressions and modular approaches
8.Hybrid Methods: Employ multiple formats, methods and modalities for effective instructional design and learning personalization

States and ESAs can not only update the formats and delivery of their courses to be more flexible and impactful, but also further nurture a statewide professional learning community across districts needed to meet the scale and scope of teacher needs.  

Following are just a few examples where agency leadership is important to enhance personalization:  

  • Help create the economies of scale needed to personalized teacher learning by collating existing resources across districts and partners, developing courses that address common needs and gaps, and enabling consortium partnerships of school districts, teachers colleges and non-profits.
  • Create and communicate a shared understanding that each teacher’s unique learning interests and needs are valued and primary to success, including policies and resources that empower teachers to further identify and direct their professional development goals and pathways.
  • Drive all communications and resources back to a single source such as a portal or LMS, so that teachers know where to find information and resources if they miss/misplace announcements and can easily find other most relevant opportunities.
  • Where re-licensure or advancement requirements are based on seat time or traditional course models, create frameworks with flexibility and accountability that also support asynchronous, self-paced and stackable models.
  • Modernize the design and delivery of programs/courses to be more flexible, engaging and authentic through the use of technology and online learning.

This last point is especially critical. The personalization of professional learning at scale requires the thoughtful use of technology to meet the diversity of teacher educational goals and needs, and their locations and schedules. Reliance alone on summer conferences, in-person workshops and compliance training does not meet teacher need for timely, ongoing, and teacher-based learning, nor the extent of district and state need to recruit, upskill and retain a teacher workforce strong in size and impact. 

How PNW BOCES Flipped Professional Learning to Respect Educators’ Time and Needs
When the pandemic hit, Putnam Northern Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services (PNW BOCES) quickly realized that it needed to accelerate its rollout of remote professional learning to ensure access and meet the dynamic, individualized needs of teachers and administrators across the county.

PNW BOCES reoriented its professional learning from an in-person model to a flipped classroom model that combines synchronous and asynchronous learning. The model enables ongoing access to teachers across the region and the state, not only eliminating the barriers of distance and travel but also enabling a more learner- centered model that allows time for teacher application and improvement.

PNW BOCES’ use of the D2L Brightspace LMS also provides a streamlined user experience that helps educators use their learning time productively, and for administrators to manage professional learning for hundreds or thousands of teachers across dozens of cohorts. A single hub brings everything together for the teacher, from instructional videos to course content to links to live virtual sessions. The system also automates welcome emails, personalized reminders to learners, and unlocking of course content and assignments at each learner’s pace to scale personalization.

The following are among the additional practices that states and ESAs can implement in leveraging technology to build more personalization into their professional development programs, courses and resources: 

  • Add a flipped classroom model that combines on-demand content consumption with ongoing synchronous and asynchronous opportunities for practice-based feedback and discussion;

This [flipped classroom] model enables flexible scaling of personalized professional learning that may not be otherwise possible for many districts if they had to develop and deliver their own courses. This out-sourcing and collaboration is so important to providing all teachers with ongoing, job-embedded and relevant professional learning that supports their growth.

Liz Miller Lee, director of online learning at ISTE
  • Enhance learner agency and choice through mastery-based and self-paced progressions that both sequence stackable modules mapped to outcomes and provide learner choice for content and multiple means to demonstrate progress; 
  • Support hybrid professional learning communities (PLCs) that deepen learning through both online connections with peers and experts needed to scale across topics/needs and local communities for application to local curriculum and practices; and 
  • Apply technology to create engaging and inclusive learning experiences and communities, including through universal design principles, video, social media, closed captioning and interactives.
How the ISTE Partnered on a Modular, Flipped Classroom Approach to Scale Personalized Professional Learning
In 2018, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) launched ISTE U with a series of instructor-led courses built around the ISTE Standards and eligible for graduate-level credits. The courses were all 15 hours and were cohort-based, being launched at three pre-scheduled times each year and assuming a similar pacing for all learners (though not synchronous). These extended, fixed- schedule courses met many needs, but ISTE recognized that many teachers sought additional flexibility.

Based on teacher feedback and changed needs at the start of the pandemic, ISTE accelerated its prior plans to also deliver many two- and five-hour courses in a more modular approach. These shorter courses are available on demand and are self-paced. Intelligent agents automate task releases and reminders within the LMS powering ISTE U. The courses can also be bundled to address multiple pillars within a larger topic.

“We have found a lot of interest in self-paced courses because they are short and specific, which means they have the potential to be more relevant and certainly more flexible,” said Joseph South, chief learning officer at ISTE.

Many school districts leverage ISTE U self-paced courses in a flipped classroom model. Teachers access the most relevant content at their own pace and then join a local PLC where cohorts can apply that shared, foundational knowledge to their own context and environment. This format provides alignment to district curriculum and priorities, and a 360-degree learning experience inclusive of practice and reflection.

Innovating Teacher PD is Critical to Satisfaction, Retention and Impact 

State and regional education agencies have opportunity to help reimagine traditional teacher professional learning models to increase teacher impact and satisfaction. Central is shifting teacher professional development from one-size, mandated learning to a more personalized and rewarding pathway to growth.  

As noted above, when school system leaders were recently asked  about their practices to reduce teacher fatigue and increase satisfaction, retention and recruitment, the top responses were practices that:  

  • build teacher collaboration; and 
  • provide personalized, relevant and flexible professional learning. 

Giving teachers agency around the topic, time, place and pace of their learning is necessary to enhance teacher satisfaction in their professional learning and therefore their overall satisfaction. States and service agencies can take intentional steps toward personalization that both help increase the value and growth that teachers receive from their professional learning and, in the process, help create a more available, prepared and successful teacher workforce.  

Written by:

Mark Schneiderman
Mark Schneiderman

Mark Schneiderman is Senior Director for the Future of Teaching and Learning at D2L. Mark curates research and strategic partnerships to support the K-12 education sector in identifying and implementing best practices. He previously held senior roles in the technology and nonprofit sectors where he built public-private partnerships to help imagine and advocate for public and school policies that enhance student success through the use of technology and digital learning.

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Table of Contents
  1. Profound Opportunity to Shift PD to Meet the Needs of Today’s Teacher 
  2. 8 Practices to Make Teacher PD more Timely, Relevant and Flexible 
  3. Innovating Teacher PD is Critical to Satisfaction, Retention and Impact 

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