Differentiating Teacher PD

When planning curriculum and gathering instructional materials teachers are always looking for ways to differentiate for the diverse learners in their classrooms. As teachers we do this on a daily basis and we do it so often that most of the time we hardly realize we are doing it. It’s just a strategy we use in order to provide all our students the best opportunities for success. But what about when it’s the teachers who are the learners? Is the learning being differentiated for us? Teachers are just as diverse as our students when it comes to what we require as learners if the learning is to be beneficial and effective.

As I look most closely at ISTE Coaching Standard 4 (Professional Development and Program Evaluation), specifically Performance Indicator B (Design, develop, and implement technology rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment.) I wanted to look more closely at how our knowledge of adult learning might impact our planning on professional learning experiences.

5 Ways to Differentiate Professional Learning

for Teachers

Differentiation by grade level

What works in a 4th or 5th grade class isn’t going to necessarily apply to a Kindergarten class. I have been in some very successful professional learning sessions where information is presented whole group and then teachers are divided up by grade levels (or grade level bands…K/1, 2/3, 4/5). This type of differentiation is most applicable to elementary schools.

Differentiation by subject area

This type of differentiation would apply more to middle and high school teachers. The professional learning experience could either be something that applies to most all teachers, for example: a training on Google Classroom, and there is a whole group session at the beginning and then subject area teams split off to discuss further how this particular learning could best apply to their subject area. Another way this type of differentiation could work is just by having teachers of different subject areas be focusing on completely different types of learning experiences based on the needs of their department.

Differentiation by experience

Technology professional development is an example of an area where different learners have different experiences with the tools and programs and also have different comfort levels. Some many want help learning how to print or add bookmarks and others may be ready to create screencasts or help students create blogs.

Differentiation by interest

Teachers are unique individuals and each bring a a part of themselves into their classrooms.  Soe might have interest in incorporating yoga into their classrooms, some might add music to the curriculum, and others might enjoy cooking.  And many teachers get ideas for how to enrich their curriculum from other teachers sharing their strategies and providing training.

Plan for Differentiation Before, During, and After

I found a blog post by Jen Cirillo on the ASCD website about differentiating instruction in professional learning and she mentions some steps to take before, during, and after the learning experience. Here are some of her suggestions:

Before the Experience:

  • Know your audience
  • Plan with flexibility
  • Think about what they need to know as practitioners (Cirillo, 2015)

During the Experience:

  • Model different ways of teaching
  • Remember that how you learn best isn’t always the way everyone else learns
  • Transparent facilitation anc check-ins
  • Consider the whole learner
  • Formative assessments (Cirillo, 2015)

After the Experience:

  • Ongoing learning and differentiation through: coaching/mentoring in the classroom, online learning, access to resources, or reflection logs (Cirillo, 2015).


Cirillo, J. (2015). ASCD website. Retrieved 2019, April 1 from: http://inservice.ascd.org/differentiating-instruction-in-professional-learning/

ISTE.org. (2017) ISTE Standards for Coaches. (Retrieved on 2019, March 1) from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches

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