Giving Adult Learners Choice

For this weeks Module we discussed Knowles’ six principles of Adult Learning. When looking deeper into these characteristics I found that “Readiness to Learn” for an adult is tided to personal/professional interests. This made me wonder how can professional development be set to all for teacher choice/interest? Could we shift the way to deliver PD to allow for teachers to pick topics that pertain to what they find most useful?

Making Professional Development about Choice

It’s no secret that teachers receive professional development each year set by the district to help teachers improve their learning and skills. In my own experience, not all of the PD offered seems to apply to what I teach in my Kindergarten classroom. I have found that my colleague and I are often disengaged in the topic unless we deem it important for our classrooms. I know that I cannot be the only educator who feels this way in the countless meetings we have during PD service days. Allowing teachers to have a choice in their professional development increases their level of engagement and can be offered in a variety of formats including through district-developed webinars, lunch and learn sessions, or Edcamps that allow teachers to explore a variety of topics based on interests and needs.

In an article on Education Dive by Amelia Harper titled “Teachers thrive when given choice in Professional Development,” Harper stated “Professional development is intended to develop educators professionally and that can only be done by building on the knowledge they already have and developing them in areas that need improvement. This can only be accomplished by giving teachers a larger voice in matters related to their subject area or grade level. Teachers also can be a source for professional development as well, a factor which allows them to shine as professionals and takes some of the burden off administrators.”

Benefits of Personalized Learning

There are many benefits to personalized learning for teachers because most know exactly what they need. They may realize that they need to learn new classroom management techniques or new ways to integrate technology in the classroom. They may yearn for more collaboration with their peers to bat around new ideas and coordinate educational activities. If professional development allows teachers to meet their needs, they see it as a value. If it does not, they see it as a waste of time. Personalized professional development is the best path to making professional development relevant to each and every teacher. With the help of a few resources, administrators can make that happen. At the same time, administrators still have to make sure that the professional learning that teachers are pursuing is still in line with overall school and district goals.

Strategies for Providing Choice

When looking at schools who model choice when it comes to professional development I came across Bellaire High School. Administration set out to complete multiple instructional walks throughout their campus, when they discovered that they needed to shift their focus of PD from providing one-size fits all to something much more personal. They wanted to create something that modeled choice, creativity, and exploration. So they crafted a model of PD similar to a conference. They provided their staff with a Tic Tac Toe board like the one shown below.

The school also offered these other unique options:

  • Chit Chats: 25-30 minute gatherings around a published topic. Six of these Chit Chats were scheduled over the two weeks. With Chit Chats, there is no formal presentation, and each person attends only if they choose.
  • Make & Take: Sessions focused on a single strategy, skill, or tool. These 45 minute sessions provide a forum for teachers to learn something specific that can immediately be incorporated into a specific lesson (or simply into the classroom). We offered ten of these sessions during the two weeks of PD.
  • Learning Lunch: A teacher-led meal, accompanied by a larger question. Both Wednesdays of our PD weeks included this session, with an understanding that everyone brings their own food and thoughts as we sit in a giant circle. Each session opens with a reminder of the general question, and an affirmation that participation is voluntary. It’s not uncommon for us administrators to stay silent the whole time as the teachers drive the discussion, and thus their learning.


This endeavor toward self-directed learning requires a teacher to take on responsibility as they continue to improve their craft. In the end, teachers identify the steps, resources and experiences that are best for them, and the resulting experience that students have at school will change. Committing to both personalize and model learning is what will transform the student experience in classrooms. Most importantly, most of the sessions aren’t formally led by anyone from our leadership team. The sessions allow for teachers to lead, share their expertise, ask questions and guide their own learning.

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