In professional development for online teachers, highlighting failure led the way to success (

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The Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township, on the west side of Indianapolis, has gotten a fair amount of attention for personalizing the professional development it gives to teachers in its virtual high school and blended learning programs. The fact that voluntary professional development can attract 90 percent of teachers is seen as a wild success. It’s that success the district, and by extension, Michele Eaton, its director of virtual and blended learning, has been known for. Until now.

Two years ago, when teacher participation in professional development was just 35 percent, Eaton tried to create individualized learning plans for all 60 teachers in the district’s virtual and blended programs. There was a lot of talk about the value of doing this for students, and Eaton thought it could work with the adults in the district as well. She asked teachers what types of professional development they were interested in, gave them a range of choices (including webinars, discussion activities and online courses) and expected the teachers to clamor for the opportunities. They didn’t. At the end of the year, attendance was still just about 35 percent.

Instead of giving up or trying to fix it on her own, Eaton gathered all 60 teachers together, owned up to her failure and asked them what needed to change. They ended up redesigning the program together.

“That was the lightbulb moment,” Eaton said. “This whole time I had been doing professional development to teachers, not with them. Especially with personalized learning, where it’s all about voice and choice – I had figured out the choice part, but I had lost the voice.”

To read more of  Tara Garcia Mathewson's article, please click here.


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