Photo by Jamie Taylor on Unsplash

Why We Need Personalized Professional Development in Our Schools

By Amie Corso Reed

“Ms. Corso, you’re stalling. We’re taking forever to finish this book.” A student said this to me fourteen years ago, yet I still remember it vividly because it was true. It was my first year teaching, we were almost to Christmas break, I was teaching a novel I hadn’t finished reading, and I wasn’t completely sure what I was doing. I was trying to get us to break when I would have time to finish reading the novel and plan our ending assessments.

As a first-year teacher, it is all new―the books, the school, the kids. Every decision you’re making is one you’ve never made before. Although I had a mentor, we didn’t have a dedicated time to meet and supporting me was on top of her regular teaching responsibilities. I was struggling to plan engaging lessons at the same time as I was learning all the content I was supposed to teach. I had difficulties with student behavior and maintaining my classroom community. I felt alone. A first-year teacher’s needs are so vast. How do we meet all of them?

Now, in year fourteen, I have a strong handle on the books, the school, and the kids. However, I am still looking to learn and grow as a professional. My needs as a more experienced educator are different from that of the first-year teacher across the hall from me. Our learning cannot be the same.

Teachers and schools need personalized professional development, and instructional coaches are the best way to meet the diverse needs of our teachers and their students. An instructional coach (sometimes called a Teacher on Special Assignment or TOSA) is a teacher leader who is placed in one building or shared between buildings. Their job is to foster relationships with the teachers in their assigned schools to help everyone improve their practice. Instructional coaching can be done individually or with groups of teachers.

In an instructional coaching model, every teacher can get the support they need to meet the needs of their students. It allows for the differing priorities of specific educators, while also meeting the school or district goals for improvement. Schools have many priorities and all of them are important―improving skills across subjects, increasing engagement, making learning relevant, being trauma-responsive, integrating technology, developing non-academic success skills, are all among an ever-growing list.

Schools can provide ongoing support to educators across all these topics throughout the year with instructional coaches. TOSAs can be a difficult sell because of the cost. You are paying a master teacher to use their time differently than is traditionally expected. However, these positions allow for teacher leaders to impact the learning of every student in a building, not just those lucky enough to be placed in their classroom. The TOSA positions also allow for an advancement structure for teachers looking to stay in contact with students and work as an instructional leader without going into administration. These clear avenues are one way to retain and share the talents of teachers already in our schools.

I believe that instructional coaches are a necessary addition to our schools to personalize professional learning for teachers the way teachers are being asked to personalize learning for their students. In my first years as a teacher, my students could have benefited from the wisdom of an experienced coach guiding my instruction. It would have taken one thing off my overloaded plate, so I could have focused on what really matters―my students and their learning.

Amie Corso Reed is the 6th-8th grade intervention teacher at Fulton Junior High in O’Fallon District 90 and a 2018–19 Teach Plus Illinois Teaching Policy Fellow.