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Personalizing Professional Development: On the Path to a Collaborative Culture

January 11, 2022

By Lauren Agnew

Personalizing professional development has been an important focus of the work for schools and districts in the North Dakota Personalized, Competency-Based Learning (NDPCBL) initiative. Much like the idea that students should have agency for their learning, this concept translates to the adults, as well: Educators should have agency over their own learning and should be able to identify their own areas for growth. Personalized professional development fosters a system-wide culture of collaboration in service of learners and the district’s shared vision.

WestEd, an external evaluator of the NDPCBL initiative, conducted a baseline survey of over 7,000 educators, leaders, staff and learners in the fall of 2020 to understand the extent to which the 12 conditions, including professional development and learning, were in practice within the four participating districts. Approximately 70% of educators reported that they get to choose their own professional development engagements within their schools. Fewer educators have a say in the menu from which they choose, with about 53% of educators reporting they have input in their school’s professional development opportunities.

Explore the 12 conditions necessary for systemic change and strategies for scaling personalized, competency-based learning.
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In addition to the survey, WestEd gathered data from interviews and focus groups indicating that each district participated in professional learning opportunities across a variety of topics, schedules and formats.

One commonality was the participation of multi-stakeholder, district design teams in the initiative’s quarterly convenings facilitated by KnowledgeWorks. These convenings support districts in systems transformation through collaboration within and across districts, as well as through engagement with national experts. In the fall 2020 survey, 63% of educators felt that they get the support they need to implement their district’s work in personalized, competency-based learning.

Professional Development Supports

I have a say in our school’s professional development opportunities.

I get to choose my own professional development engagements.

I get the support I need to implement our district’s learning initiative.

In spring of 2021, with the goal of increasing availability and personalization of learning, KnowledgeWorks offered learning pathways to increase the level of support necessary to scale such work. Learning pathways focused on three different areas of personalized, competency-based learning to build understanding and capacity across the four districts: basic principles, instruction and assessments.

KnowledgeWorks has created three options for the availability of learning pathways for the 2021-22 school year:

  • School-based – A school can register, request content, upload content on any platform they choose and decide they will facilitate or request a facilitator.
  • District-based – Mixed groups within a district can register, request content, upload content on any platform they choose and decide they will facilitate or request a facilitator.
  • Cohort-based – Leaders and educators can register to learn and reflect with others across the cohort, engaging all participating districts.

Furthermore, professional development opportunities will be revised by a committee made up of coaches and educators from the participating districts who will work to realign the pathways as needed, decide on the cycles for each, tease apart the content into smaller learning opportunities and develop self-assessments for each cycle.

Scaling personalized, competency-based learning is a journey that involves ongoing learning. And these North Dakota districts are working together to create a collaborative, accountable learning community in service of their learners.

Lauren Agnew is a research associate with WestEd’s Research-Practice Partnerships division. She conducts research and evaluation projects in collaboration with local, state, and federal education agencies on a variety of K-12 education policy and practice areas.

Personalizing learning begins with supporting educators. Here’s how they’re doing it in North Dakota.

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