by Dr. Sarah Bowie

Six pairs of eyes focus on the Smart Board screen at the front of the room and on me as I click to the final slide of the presentation on goal setting with reading strategies. “Well, that’s all for today’s session. Thank you for your engagement. We’ll continue next week,” I close with a smile. I hear mumbled “thank-yous” as the first grade teachers gather their books, bags, and water bottles. They file out of the professional development room, discussing whether they have time for a bathroom break before picking up their students or if they should stop by the faculty room to check their mailboxes.

As I reset my presentation to slide one for the next group of teachers who will fill the chairs in five minutes, questions bounce around in my head. Did I give them what they needed? Did they get anything out of that session that was helpful to them? How will I know if what I just did was a good use of their time? I realize I don’t know the answers to these questions and sigh, take a deep breath, and smile at the second grade teachers as they enter the room and take their seats.

In most of my 21 years as an educator in South Carolina, I have served as an instructional coach and professional development facilitator. Whether I facilitated professional development sessions with a small group of teachers, an entire school’s faculty, or all the teachers in a district, these three questions always felt unanswered. Even with a survey administered after the professional development was concluded, the data from surveys never fully addressed what I really wanted to know.

Something was missing. In my current role as a personalized learning coach for the SC Department of Education, I felt a disconnection. We ask teachers to personalize learning for their students. But are we personalizing learning for teachers?

We ask teachers to personalize learning for their students. But are we personalizing learning for teachers?

When I was asked to develop micro-credentials for CarolinaCrED, I did not think the experience would revolutionize the way I develop and facilitate professional learning for educators. But that is exactly what happened. The development of micro-credentials helped me see that I can break down skills that educators need or want, provide them specific success criteria for a skill, and build learning experiences to help them meet the success criteria. It’s a win-win for both the facilitator of professional development and the participants. I have a better idea of the impact of my professional development facilitation, and participants have a clearer understanding of how to show what they know from these sessions.

Recently, I was discussing the idea of utilizing micro-credentials to personalize professional development in schools with a group of teachers. One teacher stated, “Professional development as it is right now doesn’t feel relevant to me or what I need. What I have to attend for school PD always feels like something extra that I have no voice in.”

Schools and districts often require professional development when a new curriculum or initiative is introduced. Including micro-credentials in this process can provide a way to personalize professional development. Leaders can give teachers a voice in which path they would like to follow and provide choice within the structure of school- or district-led vision and goals.

Leaders can give teachers a voice in which path they would like to follow and provide choice within the structure of school- or district-led vision and goals.

For example, a school with which I currently work is focused on an element of the SC Teaching Standards 4.0 Rubric: “Students generate higher order questions that lead to further inquiry and self-directed learning.” This is a schoolwide goal. Within that goal lie multiple paths teachers can take to improve their planning for questions to promote thinking and problem-solving. The use of micro-credentials can meet teachers’ individual needs within this larger goal and provide specific outcomes expected within each micro-credential. The school goal is addressed, teacher needs within that goal are met, and micro-credentials are awarded, leading to the earning of renewal credits.

With teacher retention as one of the issues at the forefront of education in South Carolina, meeting teachers’ professional needs in a way that provides them ownership over their professional learning is one way to address this problem. When we have ownership and our needs are met, we are more engaged and satisfied in our work.

Gone are the days of sitting in a professional development room and waiting for another group of teachers to file in, sit through a session, and leave without knowing if I met their professional learning needs or not. School and district leaders, instructional coaches, and facilitators of professional development can leverage micro-credentials to personalize the adult learning experience, meet a wide range of professional needs, and model personalized learning for all learners, not just K-12 students.

Dr. Sarah Bowie is a personalized learning coach with the SCDE Office of Personalized Learning. Sarah earned her PhD in Language and Literacy and her master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from the University of South Carolina. She also earned a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Presbyterian College.

With 21 years of experience in public education, Sarah has extensive experience with personalized learning, literacy intervention, and curriculum and standards alignment. Her belief that the current educational system was designed in a different era and structured for a different society drives her support for a new system that serves the individual needs of all learners.

This story is published as part of a recent storytelling retreat hosted by CarolinaCrED, housed in the University of South Carolina’s College of Education. Mira Education, a CarolinaCrED partner, facilitated the retreat and provided editorial and publication support. Learn more about this work and read additional stories by following @CarolinaCrED and @miraeducation.