Saturday, March 3, 2012

Personalized Professional Development

My teaching partner and I launched the 2010-2011 school year by showing our students the movie Blindsight. The film documents the efforts of six blind Tibetan teenagers who set out to climb the 23,000 foot Lhakpa Ri on the north side of Mount Everest. The journey was different for each child as they each faced different challenges but their determination, courage and the help and support of their Sherpas and guides resulted in a successful journey for each of them.
The movie inspired us to begin our own learning journeys together. The school year was the mountain we had to climb. Each of us would face different challenges but by helping and supporting each other we would be successful. We wanted to make the journey as personal as possible for each student so for one hour each week we set aside time for students to explore their own learning paths. The aim was to empower our students to formulate and answer their own questions, to pursue their passions, to take more ownership of their learning. When experts were needed to help them on their journeys we looked first within our own classroom for student Sherpas, then within the school, then the wider community and, with the use of technology, the global community. As the students became more and more comfortable with autonomy they started to develop more sense of when, where and how to dip into the collective wisdom to consume, connect and create. No two sessions looked the same as students worked individually, in pairs, in groups or with adult experts they had invited into the classroom. The one common element was that learning was taking place. Learning about poetry, film making, lego, art, algebra, chemistry, history, biology, bullying, community service… whatever floated each kid’s boat.

Sadly, the schedule for this school year was different and we were unable to offer these types of sessions in the same way as we did last year.  I‘d almost forgotten about them until this weekend when my district administration sent out a survey about professional development and what we would like it to look like. My dream version of P.D. would be just like the sessions we offered our students. There would creativity and innovation in its design and teachers, as learners, would be empowered to follow their passions and natural curiosity. There would be flexibility about how and when they learn, and as autonomy grows so would the teacher’s ability to determine when and how to use collective wisdom. There would be less focus on P.D. delivering something, and more focus on P.D being used to help teachers develop into expert practitioners.

I feel fortunate to work in a district that has invited teachers to take part in a discussion about Professional Development. Is the type of personalized professional development I described even possible? I’m not sure, but then again I never thought it was possible for six blind teenagers to climb Mount Everest!


  1. The ability to promote creativity and a more wholistic approach to teaching and learning is what education is all about, whether for pre-schoolers or adults. Academic Labs allows autonomy within meaningful structure, which is central to differentiation. When our students are engaged and motivated, and have the opportunity to learn as well as teach, their time is well spent.

  2. I loved our Academic Lab time, I'm jealous of how our kids get to learn :)