Differentiated Instruction for Teachers

As teachers, we are expected to differentiate learning for our students. We collect data and make instructional decisions based on the needs of our students, academically, socially, emotionally, behaviorally… we strive to meet them where they are and support the individual learning as much as possible. Personalizing our instruction fosters engagement and therefore, increased success among our students. Why should professional development be any different?

When I am planning PD for my staff I think very deeply about how to make the best use of the time and the question I ask often is simply, what would I want? What wouldn’t I want?

One of my greatest gripes about professional development… we all have them… is when content is delivered in one session, a morning staff meeting perhaps, and the material is never revisited again–a one-and-done. I know that many teachers can relate to this experience happening at least once, or sometimes several times, in their careers. It doesn’t work! It wouldn’t work for our students, so why should it have any success with teachers? Even when the PD content is meaningful, it becomes completely irrelevant if the learning stops when the first bell rings. The information is lost as we continue about our day and our minds are split in various directions. I think about what I would want, or what students would want in order to continue their learning, to make PD more sustainable. One possible solution to this issue is personalization. Engagement in learning needs to have an element of personalization. In other words: differentiated instruction for teachers.

Pat Phillips, a systemic innovator for Bismarck Public Schools explored personalized learning for teachers in an effort to personalize learning for students. According to Phillips’s findings, personalizing professional development requires involving learners early and often to discuss topics such as:

Improving feedback practices – Consider what teachers already do to provide effective feedback and how peer-to-peer feedback improves student achievement. Allow teachers to share their ideas in group settings, and encourage them to work together as much as possible. The plight of risk takers is often feeling isolated or alone. Ensure that they don’t by showing them that they aren’t (Guymon, 2014).

 Using self-assessment – Metacognitive strategies, or thinking about our thinking, is a great way to engage learners and foster a sense of ownership.  

Incorporating technology – This is an opportunity to explore ways in which technology can enhance learning during PD sessions as well as after. As teachers carry out their own implementation using technology, facilitators must support early adopters and risk takers. This positive energy is the driving force behind any successful technology integration (Guymon, 2014).

Setting attainable goals for application and extension – Vygotzky’s zone of proximal development is relevant and crucial for learners of all ages. It is the distinction between what a learner can do with or without help.

Taking the time to explore effective professional development also allows us as teachers to rethink how we are designing our own lessons and how effective our teaching is. While this process may sound cumbersome and time-consuming we have to keep the sole purpose of PD at the forefront. If the goal of PD is to improve student learning, then of course we should be modeling effective instructional practices in our staff development.

Teachers, like our students, are lifelong learners. We, too, have varying needs and abilities. Personalized PD is the key.

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Guymon, D. (2014, April 04). 10 Principles of Sustainable EdTech Implementation – Getting Smart by Dave Guymon – edleadership, EdTech. Retrieved from http://www.gettingsmart.com/2014/04/10-principles-sustainable-edtech-implementation/
Phillips, P. (2017). ​Personalizing Professional Development For Teachers, By Teachers (EdSurge News). Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2017-01-04-personalizing-professional-development-for-teachers-by-teachers

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