Connecting Personalized Professional Learning to a Bigger Purpose

I received this question and image from David Voves today regarding a passage from “The Innovator’s Mindset“:

“Reading today and with personalized pd, I always question what I have in orange. Wondering if you could give me insight?”

“Personalized Learning” for educators is something that is gaining more traction in education, and rightfully so.  If you want someone to be innovative in an area, they are more likely to bring and create powerful ideas in something they are passionate about as opposed to an area in which they don’t care.  When I think about how to effectively empower educators to create personalized professional learning for themselves, I often think of Google’s “20% time”, where employees had 20% of their own time to move forward Google as an organization.

“We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20 per cent of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google. This empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner.”

A couple of things about the above quote:

  1. It is personalized YET ties directly to moving the company forward (“will most benefit Google”).
  2. The quote is taken from this article which challenges the ideas that 20% time wasn’t 20% of 100%, but was more of an “overtime” initiative and more like “120% time”.

Why do these two points matter?  Let’s start with the second point first.

If you are passionate as an organization to provide opportunities for personalized professional learning in your organization, you have to create time where it can happen. Right now, we are more at an “overworked” crisis than ever and anything that you see as that will genuinely move your organization forward, you will create time for within the constraints of a regular workday.

I am not saying that educators shouldn’t learn on their own time at any point, as all professionals that excel in their job will find time to do so. What is important is that providing time for personalized professional learning mirrors something that not only will move your organization forward but also create better learning opportunities in classrooms for students to do the same since they will be taught by people who have not only heard about it but have lived and experienced the process. “Innovation” is a process and finding that time within the constraints of your work shows the willingness of administrators to “innovate inside the box” to improve the learning of both organizations and individuals.  I have seen districts create PD days that are focused 100% on giving educators their own time to work on initiatives that they are passionate about and it has had a tremendous impact on their learning. Even things like EdCamps within schools or districts provide an element of personalized professional learning, but what is important is that we not only provide time for conversations but also provide time for action based on those conversations.  It is a challenge, but it can be hugely beneficial.

To the first point, as a reminder:

  1. It is personalized YET ties directly to moving the company forward (“will most benefit Google”).

If we want personalized professional learning to effectively move organizations forward, it should be tied to the vision of the organization.  What is important is that there is flexibility in how it is linked to the vision.  For example, I worked in a district that had one vision that was co-created within the community that spread over 100 geographic miles.  Each community had it’s own unique needs and opportunities, and so the purpose of having “one vision” was not to have everyone doing the same but have everyone moving toward a shared vision in a way that made the most sense for their school community.

The easiest way to understand if a staff member’s learning is connected to a broader vision is to ask them. This goes beyond “accountability” since the conversation would be beneficial to all parties involved if they are willing to learn from one another.

Classrooms and individual educators should have some of that same opportunity. When I say “some,” I don’t necessarily believe there shouldn’t be anything that we all do together. But if we want to “empower” our students, we have to help our staff not only see themselves in the more significant purpose of the organization but create opportunities to empower them to bring that purpose to life in a way that brings out their passion and helps them to excel.

Having the autonomy to create a pathway for your learning that ties to a more significant purpose of the organization can be something that benefits at the individual and organizational level.  These conversations are crucial to helping move education forward.


Source: George Couros