Personalized PD, Formative Feedback, and Deliberate Practice


Tom Arnett, Research Fellow at the Christensen Institute speaks about the evolution of professional development.  He discusses how districts are beginning to personalize professional development, moving away from the “1.0 version of PD” that tries to be one-size-fits-all, lacking relevancy to all teachers. Good PD provides teachers with the chance to “take what they learned, apply it, get feedback, make adjustments, and improve.” 

Tom: When I look at professional development, I feel like there’s maybe like three different stages that I see professional development evolving in.  And granted these are broad brush strokes that don’t really capture everything, but I think they help give you a general sense for, I think some important trends in PD.

I think kind of the 1.0 version of PD is what a lot of teachers have been familiar with for a long time which is that districts say, “We need to do professional development”, so they hire someone to come in and do a one day workshop for teachers, and everyone is sitting in the same room and getting the same workshop, you know instruction, and you have teachers that are grading papers on the side because it is not always super relevant to their needs. And then going back to their classrooms and struggling to figure out, “Well how do I actually implement these great stories that this PD coach told” into “How do I actually affect and change my practice?”

So if that is old PD — what PD has been or used to be — I think a positive development is we see more and more PD becoming more personalized to teachers’ needs. Where teachers are executing more agency and having more choices — a lot of that is enabled by the internet and just access to a lot of different PD resources online. And I think that those are all really important developments, but I think they fall short if they are not connected with what I think is the third most important piece. And that is that PD, good PD, is really similar more to learning to play the piano or learning to play a sport than it is to sitting through a class. Teaching is a skill that really takes deliberate practice to really hone.

So if we frame PD as just access to videos or access to courses or access to lessons, I think we often miss that teachers need not just information, but opportunities to take what they learned, apply it, get feedback, make adjustments, and improve.  And so I think that is kind of the third piece — that we need the personalization of PD to go hand in hand with PD that’s really focused on giving teachers opportunities for deliberate practice, for formative feedback, in order to really move the needle on their practices and ultimately on student outcomes.

Listen to the full interview here.

Tom Arnett is a Research Fellow at the Christensen Institute.  Tom’s research focuses on the changing roles of teachers in blended learning environments and other innovative educational models. Tom previously worked as an Education Pioneers Fellow with the Achievement First Public Charter Schools, where he designed and piloted a blended-learning summer school program. He also taught middle school math and experimented with blended-learning models as a Teach For America corps member in the Kansas City Missouri School District. Thomas received a bachelors of science in Economics from Brigham Young University, and then went on to earn an MBA from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, where he was a William G. McGowan Fellow.

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