Those in the profession of education are all too familiar with buzzwords, those bits of jargon that often come and go as topics of conversation and professional development. While these words can often feel a bit exhausting, one that has seemed to stick, and for good reason, is “differentiation”. Since I started studying the pedagogy of teaching, differentiation has been at the core of most of my learning . Educators are tasked with understanding how to modify the content, process, and product of instruction to meet the needs of individual learners (Carlson). If we understand that this is a fundamental component of effective teaching, it is safe to say that instruction should be differentiated for all learners, regardless of age level, experience, or background. Therefore, effective professional development for teachers must be differentiated so that it is valuable, effective, and efficient for everyone.
This is no easy task. In a classroom, a teacher may have around 25-30 students that they see every day as they teach them one, or a few, subjects. In this scenario, differentiating instruction is often an ongoing challenge. Contrarily, opportunities for professional development are much less frequent and, depending on the school, there could be 50-100 (or more!) educators who all teach different subject areas and grade levels. How can professional development be molded to meet the diverse needs of educators?
What’s Wrong With Professional Development As It Is?
Finding a comprehensive list of tips on differentiating professional development was a bit of a struggle, but it was easy to find a ton of commentary on what currently isn’t working in professional development opportunities. One of the best resources, the Center for Public Education’s “Teaching the Teacher’s: Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability” findings report, offered a clear idea of why most professional development is ineffective. They looked at the types of professional development offered to teachers over the course of a year. They found the following:
This information is concerning because, “most development happens in a workshop-style model which research shows has little to no impact on student learning or teacher practice” (Darling-Hammond et al., 2009). Workshops, the report suggests, are ineffective because, in contrast, professional development programs that impacted student achievement were lengthy and intensive, but workshops are often only over the course of a day or two. Workshops are not ongoing and there is rarely any follow-up. Additionally, workshops assume that the issue teachers face is a knowledge gap and once they learn a few tips they will be much improved. In reality, the struggle is in implementing instruction. So, while a workshop may help educators gather resources, they must then have the opportunity to observe and practice good teaching in action (Gulamhussein, 2013). This report goes on to offer some excellent tips for creating effective professional development. While I highly suggest anyone in the education profession to check out this report, its focus is not directly on differentiation. In what follows, I use this reports tips for effective professional development, along with a few other resources, to provide an idea of how to differentiate professional development.
Tips for Differentiating Professional Development
- I found this topic really interesting, but as it’s one I’ve only just begun exploring, my resources were mostly introductory. I would like to find more resources that get a bit deeper into differentiating professional development.
- Most of the information I found suggests that professional development be differentiated in the same ways we differentiate learning for K-12 students. This makes sense, but are there other resources to consider when teachers are the learners?
Professional Development and Project Evaluation Mind Map
I created the following Coggle Mind Map based on my reading of Chapter 2: Evaluating and Assessing Professional Development from Sally Zepeda’s book Professional Development: What Works. I will be using this learning throughout the quarter as I continue to look at what makes professional development valuable, effective, and efficient.
Carlson, A. M. (n.d.). What is Differentiated Instruction? Retrieved January 12, 2017, from http://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-differentiated-instruction-examples-definition-activities.html
Gulamhussein, A. (n.d.). Teaching the Teachers. Retrieved January 12, 2017, from http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Staffingstudents/Teaching-the-Teachers-Effective-Professional-Development-in-an-Era-of-High-Stakes-Accountability/Teaching-the-Teachers-Full-Report.pdf
Guskey, T., & Suk Yoon, K. (2009, March). What Works in Professional Development? Retrieved January 12, 2017, from http://www.k12.wa.us/Compensation/pubdocs/Guskey2009whatworks.pdf
Project Evaluation Report. (n.d.). Transforming Professional Learning in Washington State, 1-87. Retrieved January 11, 2017, from http://www.k12.wa.us/CurriculumInstruct/WA-TPL/pubdocs/2016-WA-TPL-Evaluation-Report.pdf
Zepeda, S. J. (2012). Professional Development: What Works. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.
Zdonek, P. (2016, January 15). Why Don’t We Differentiate Professional Development? Retrieved January 12, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/why-dont-we-differentiate-pd-pauline-zdonek