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Personalized Professional Development: Bridging the Gap Between Teacher Learning and Student Success

At the same time we're trying to fix existing inconsistencies and inequity in grading and assessment practices across teachers' classrooms (which is great!), we're also trying to improve teacher professional development practices with research showing how personalized professional development is an effective approach to improving teaching practices. 

Yet, for some reason, conversations promoting the benefits of personalization of learning for teachers rarely translate to the benefits of personalization of learning for students. Effective approaches to increase the effectiveness of teachers' grading and assessment practices are often personalized to the community of individual teachers at a school site and relevant to their existing learning community's particular obstacles and challenges (Zuo et al., 2023). Those same approaches to personalizing strategies for teachers are doing so with practices that promote "effective" use of standardized curricula that often involve whole-class instruction and minimal small-group attention that is often standardized with differentiated strategies addressing a relatively average range of common learning obstacles and challenges. 

Rarely have professional development opportunities focused on developing in students the metacognitive awareness, knowledge, and management skills specific to meeting their individual learning needs. Instead, individualized professional development for teachers focuses primarily on managing student behaviors and whole-class instructional strategies (Kraft, 2017). The longer we focus on improving teaching practices and not on learning strategies, the more generations of students will pass through our schools without developing the necessary skills to reach the personal and professional potential that they wish to reach - and not out of an inability but out of a lack of awareness and underdeveloped capacity.

Finally, I would like to remind us all that, as the field of education continues along in an ever-lasting state of change, we as educators “must keep abreast of this emerging knowledge base and be prepared to use it to continually refine [our] skills” (Guskey, 2000, p. 16). Although teachers often cite time as the most precious resource in their daily practice, it is with this rare resource that we must dedicate the time required "to evaluate participant feedback, assess and identify needed supports and changes related to the new learning, evaluate how the new learning is being used, and monitor student learning outcomes (Guskey, 2001). At the end of the day, all we have is the evidence we collect and if I have learned anything from reading Thomas Guskey, it is that "existing professional learning models rooted in diverse contexts that support a positive correlation between improvement in teaching practices and student learning is limited (Guskey, 2014).

I implore the professionals in my network who are interested in promoting student-centered practices for instruction as well as management of their classrooms to explore research related to heutagogy, self-directed learning, and transformational learning and, in particular, pay close attention to theorists who inaccurately claim that such practices are reserved for only adult learners and, even then, reserved further to those at higher cognitive and affective developmental stages. Metacognition is not an inherently developed skill - it is learned and can be (and must be) taught effectively using the very metacognitive processes being taught. To learn metacognitively is to exercise metacognition. This is the key to improving professional development to effectively improve student learning outcomes.

For those who'd like to learn how to address any expected resistance and readiness to such an approach (i.e. metacognitive constructivism) reach out anytime. 

And for those wondering if SEL is somehow interrelated with this idea of metacognition, read more here.

Greg Mullen

April 30, 2024


Guskey, T. R. (2000). Evaluating professional development. Corwin Press. 

Guskey, T. R. (2001). The backward approach. Journal of Staff Development, 22(3), 60. 

Guskey, T. R. (2014). Planning professional learning. Educational leadership, 71(8), 10. 

Kraft, M. A., & Blazar, D. L. (2017). Individualized coaching to improve teacher practice across grades and subjects: New experimental evidence. Educational Policy, 31(7), 1033-1068.

Zuo, G., Doan, S. & Kaufman, J.H. (2023). How do teachers spend professional learning time, and does it connect to classroom practice? Findings from the 2022 American Instructional Resources Survey. RAND Corporation.

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