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January 5, 2021

3 Ways Educators Can Personalize PD for Their Own Growth

Dennis Dotterer and his team at the South Carolina Department of Education have been working on providing effective, personalized professional development to thousands of teachers for over a decade. What’s the secret of South Carolina’s success? Dotterer says that most recently, it’s using video to create a productive feedback loop with teachers.

The best practices he has discovered not only support personalized PD and save time, but even reduce costs. Here, Dotterer, the Teacher Incentive Fund Transformational Director for South Carolina, shares three of the most valuable best practices he’s discovered on his journey to create effective and sustainable PD programs.

  1. Build leadership through personalized PD.

When Dotterer talks about the importance and benefits of personalizing PD, Hampton District One immediately comes to mind. Aiming to increase the number of instructional leaders in the district, Hampton One created a five-week program designed to support teacher growth. The teachers in the program are highly respected mentors, but they’re classroom teachers, not dedicated instructional coaches.

Through the program, each teacher is connected with a grade-level peer, a school instructional coach, a member of the school administration and someone from district administration. Using the EMPOWER Platform from Teaching Channel, teachers record and then share videos of their instruction with a different person each week and receive a growing dialogue of feedback. Teachers then review the feedback data they received and identify an individualized path forward as well as best practices they share with their peers.

  1. Plan for sustainability.

Over the last year, Dotterer and his team have removed a performance pay aspect and focused instead on “increasing teacher efficacy through PLC support and coaching.” Part of that increased support came from using video observation and evaluation.

So far, the video-based PD system is being used in 50 schools from five districts throughout the state. Schools use the videos as part of their observation/evaluation system, capturing teacher performance and scoring it with the state rubric. But more importantly, says Dotterer, it’s helping coaches and administrators provide teachers with the essential feedback they want and need to improve practice. And that has made for a successful adoption. 

“Teachers see that this actually makes their lives easier. Rather than thinking ‘great, it’s one more thing,’ they understand how this will support what they want to do as teachers and what we want to do as schools.”

The system is also saving districts money. As Dotterer explains, “They don’t need as many full-time coaches because using a video-based feedback system, an individual doesn’t have to be in your classroom at the time you’re teaching to be able to coach you.” For schools with two master teachers or instructional coaches, Dotterer says, that’s a savings of almost $200,000.

  1. Use video to save time and concentrate efforts.

As Dotterer puts it, “Obviously at the middle school level, district leaders couldn’t get in to see 72 teachers. However, they could have 72 teachers video the first five minutes of their lessons and share them through the online platform.” 

Instructional leaders can then divide those videos among the leadership team for review and bring a summary of what they are seeing within the school to the next leadership team meeting. Those findings can then direct what development will be delivered during PLCs or full-faculty PD efforts in the near future.

In addition to guiding PLCs or school-based PD, Dotterer says instructional leaders can identify whether best practices are being implemented effectively or what modifications could be made to best meet the teaching style of a particular individual.

With these best practices in place, Dotterer and his team are now looking for future ways to improve professional development. Over the next year he hopes to roll out a new iOS app that lets teachers record and share videos directly from their phones with only a few clicks, making it even easier for them to get feedback and improve their practice.

This post is based on an article that was published in EdWeek. 


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