My journey with personalized learning for teachers began when I was an instructional coach at a very large middle school. Being responsible for planning and delivering quality professional development to over 100 staff members required a different way of thinking.
At the time, learning experiences for teachers were vastly “one size fits all” and that’s exactly what I had experienced as a teacher myself. I just couldn’t bear the thought of wasting the time of teachers when there was a perfect opportunity to inspire.
I spent my time building relationships with teachers, observing in classrooms, modeling lessons, and team teaching. I realized that each person brought something so unique and important to the classroom. I was able to see teacher passions come alive as they practiced their craft in a non-threatening, low risk environment.
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While one teacher’s gift was interacting positively with the difficult child, another teacher was able to ask questions that promoted deep thinking. Some teachers were able to provide students with the emotional support they needed in order to even be present at school, while another was able to tell stories that captivated their students.
I had an epiphany … I needed to capture the teacher’s passions to drive not only their professional learning, but that of their colleagues. Therefore, I started having “what if” and “why not” conversations with my teachers to begin shifting how teachers learn and share their gifts with others. I created a website called the Professional Learning Pathways to give teachers a platform to plan what they needed and what they could offer to others.
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Teachers felt as if they were treated as professionals, they were inspired, growing, and making connections with colleagues outside of their teams … this was powerful. It became apparent, however, that in order for this to have the most impact, the principal needs plays a large role in the instructional leadership of their building. I hit a wall with how far I could take professional development as an instructional coach, so I worked to become a principal.
Leading as a Principal
As a principal, I am able to take this professional development model to a new level. I have infused teacher passion projects into goal setting, system impact projects, vertical teaming, embedded staff development, and professional learning communities. Now teachers are able to connect in a way that brings change not only to their classrooms, but to the entire system.
Teacher leadership becomes much more than the two or three teachers who are always in leadership roles, but each teacher can be valued for the gifts they bring to the field of education. Not every classroom should look the same because not every child needs the same thing.