Too often, we – teachers, counselors, support staff, administrators alike – look to those higher up the food chain to supply us with what will be the most suitable sustenance for our craft. This generally provides us with nothing more than maintenance in our day to day practice, limiting our personal growth. Professional Development should stretch far beyond a fixed set of programming “done” to you by your educational organization. Rather, it should incorporate proactive, personalized plans to build capacity within your own practice. It’s time we throw the Stitch Fix approach to professional development aside and personalize our PD based on what perfectly suits our own pedagogical pursuits.
Stitch Fix is an online subscription shopping service that uses actuarial formulas to select and send fashionable apparel to the doorsteps of many Americans. You, your spouse, or significant other believe you need to spice up the wardrobe, either because you don’t have the eye to select your own threads, or, the time to shop on your own holds you back. You allow “experts” to decide what articles and accessories fit your style based on a variety of factors that you may or may not value. At the end of the day, the “expert” creates the look that they deem is perfectly tailored for you – well, at least what’s good for the masses, according to statistical measures. Your package comes to your doorstep with a little of this and a little of that, leaving you with one or two things that you might like, or, at the very least, you can live with. Whether it’s the in vogue cardigan, or the retro fitted shirt being resuscitated from the 80’s, or perhaps a knick-knack accessory or two that you might use that ONE time – Stitch Fix is unlikely to revolutionize your wardrobe.
As educational professionals, our PD experience is too often similar to that of the Stitch Fix consumer. We become content with the mass produced, one-size fits all version of PD, and forego the personalized learning that we need and our students deserve. Many school districts allow for “choice” during professional development days; however, these choices, no matter how rooted in best practices they are, typically are based on very provincial parameters. The choice is nice, but it still may rest outside of what will push you furthest as such choices are generally only within the confines of the district’s initiatives. Much like Stitch Fix, you are commonly left with a hodgepodge of results – some pieces you will never apply, some you might loosely apply, and others you will unequivocally reject within your day-to-day practice.
This is not a shot at uniform PD, in fact, such opportunities are important for organizations to train educational professionals on key procedures and initiatives. Everyone rowing in the same direction is essential for any entity. However, there is very little personalization in this model and it ofttimes leads to maintenance rather than maturation. If we want to grow as learners, build our own capacity as practitioners, and apply more than is simply spoon-fed to us, then we must seek and find our own PPD – Personalized Professional Development.
Frequently, we deem ourselves to be in one of two general predicaments – we don’t know where to start in developing our own progressive pursuits, or, we don’t know how to find the time to pursue such endeavors. For starters, you must ask yourself:
- “In which areas can I grow and develop to best assist students/staff?” (Identify the areas of growth)
- “How can I seek and find resources that will address these areas of growth?” (Identify solutions)
- “What can I let go of to create the time needed to personalize my growth?” (Make it happen)“
- How can I embed and apply my learning to best meet the needs of the students/staff that I serve? (Implement)
As a teacher, you might identify a need to add more data-informing formative assessment to your repertoire, or ways to customize activities and assessments for students to personalize their learning, or perhaps you feel compelled to “flip” your classroom to increase the collaboration among students during class. As an administrator you might see the flaws in the universal model for supervision and evaluation and have a desire to make meaning out of walkthroughs, or maybe you struggle to identify opportunities to build capacity within your instructional leaders. In either scenario, you must take that reflection to the next level by seeking out resources that attack your issue head on. Whether you reach out to other educational and instructional leaders, peruse web-based resources such as blogs or twitter, or read a handful of texts that challenge your existing paradigms, it takes intentional steps to change your daily habits. Either way, sitting on your hands and hoping for change to happen without taking personal, proactive measures will only result in what you have always done. To that end, if yesterday you were average, tomorrow you will still be average; if yesterday you were good, tomorrow you will be good at best; and if yesterday you were great, then, well, tomorrow you will most certainly not become exceptional.
Educators innately believe that lifelong learning is the dynamic interplay between learning, implementing, and reflecting. It is more important than ever to go beyond the content provided for you, to go past the four walls of your classroom, to go outside of the eight periods per day for 180 days a year, and seek out that which will open your eyes, shift your mindset, and redefine the paradigms that you have grown accustomed. You can either choose to develop personally and professionally, or you can simply have professional development done to you; the choice is yours. The time is now to spruce up your educational wardrobe. Reflect. Stretch. Grow!
Stefan Muller is currently an assistant principal at North Penn High School located in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, and formerly taught history and mathematics while coaching baseball and wrestling. He is entering my fourth year as an administrator, but he will forever be a teacher, coach, and mentor. Servant leadership and forging positive relationships are the backbone of not just education, but life. The most important actions we can take every day as professionals is REFLECT on what we do, STRETCH our learning, and GROW. Follow him on Twitter @smuller_1.