Saturday, August 13, 2011

Differentiating Learning for Teachers

A few weeks ago I "attended" Principal Lyn Hilt's session: "Differentiating Learning: It's Not Just for Students!" at the Reform Symposium Worldwide E-Conference. (By the way, all session recordings from RSCON3 are here. If you need help figuring out how to navigate this, let me know and I'd be glad to help.)

A common comment/complaint I've heard from other administrators is that their teachers have become complacent, lost their spark or are stuck in their old (teaching) habits. After attending Lyn's session, I started to wonder: Why have they become complacent? Why are they not continuing their own professional learning? Have we given teachers an environment in which they have had an opportunity to continue to grow as professionals? Have we given them the autonomy to expand their knowledge/skills and take risk in the classroom?

We are all too familiar with professional development being something that is done to you. It may have been an outside speaker that came in for what I call a "drive by" in-service or top-down professional development that teachers had no input on. Maybe you attended a conference and then didn't take the time to reflect and implement what you learned.

What I am learning about professional development is:
1. It must include differentiation for staff
2. It must include deep reflection

When an educator is learning something new this is the concrete experience part of the experiential cycle. This could be while reading about a new strategy, observing another classroom, or learning at a conference. Next they need to try to implement this in their classroom with students. Then, the teacher needs to have an opportunity for reflection. I'm sure we've all been in a conference/training in which we were asked to jot down a thought on an exit slip or a post-it note at the end as a method of reflection (I've asked my teachers to do this). While this is better than nothing, it is not enough. Reflection needs to be deep and involve analysis. You need to dig deep: this could be blogging, discussing with others. Reflection needs to be systemic and is an expected part of the process in order to be powerful. Then you will be ready to make conclusions and generate conclusions on the effectiveness of your strategy and its impact on student learning.

Just this past week my teachers (and teachers from 5 area districts) had the opportunity to attend the Regional Summer Teacher Academy and choose different sessions that they were interested in. This was a first ever opportunity for our teachers that I organized with another principal, Aaron Olson. This took many, many hours for us to plan and pull off, but it was worth it for our teachers. You can find out more about it here.

While our time is limited, I hope to continue providing teachers with more choice in their professional learning this year. I am going to start Tech Tuesdays so that once a month teachers can share (if they want to) any resources/tools/tricks &tips that they have with others. Our monthly staff meetings will be professional development meetings (I sure hope they will all pay attention to my emails that contain the "nuts and bolts" news, because I don't want to waste time on that in the meetings). As we implement Daily 5/Cafe school-wide I realize that teachers are all in different phases of implementation. Some of them have taught with Daily 5/Cafe for a year or more and some will just be getting started. I want to organize our time so that they will all benefit and continue to learn from each other.

In addition, I want to try to model learning and professional growth for my teachers by being transparent about my learning. I have previously kept this blog, my personal/professional blog, a secret and maintained a separate blog for my staff that just contained my weekly memos. This year I plan to share this blog with them and cross-post some of my reflections with them. In addition, I am going to ask for teachers that will allow me to join them in the classroom and co-teach with them so I can continue to practice the best strategies that I want my teachers to use. Finally, as we add an instructional coach to our staff this year, I want to find ways that we can model for the staff how to give feedback and learn from each other (I don't know how this will look yet).

photo credit to:


  1. Great post! Here are a few thoughts I have about professional development:

    --One of the most important things you can do with your teachers is to empower them to develop personal learning networks. If differentiation is one of the keys to successful PD, then PLNs are one of the best ways to achieve that goal. Hands down, Twitter has been the richest, most rewarding way for me to deepen my understanding of my craft.

    --You are 100% right about reflection; unfortunately, very little time is set aside for this essential skill AND I find many teachers lack an understanding of reflection. Good for you for building this into the schedule.

    --Take a look at the resources in one of my recent blog posts, particularly the second and third to last; they offer some really good food for thought.

    Your staff is fortunate!

  2. Great post. I have often thought that teachers should be responsible for their own professional development plan, and to let administration know what it is. I am also convinced that small amounts of learning on a daily or weekly basis are much more effective than all day or multi day efforts that are usually one-size-fits-all. This vision resulted in my blog where educators can do a little learning every day via my book summaries and Net Nuggets that I harvest from my Twitter feed. Keep up the good work.

  3. Great post, Jessica! I agree that professional development also needs to be differentiated for the staff. We all have different goals, needs, and wonderings. Their thoughts and their own learning needs to be honoured and they should be given time to explore these new learnings/goals.

    Good for you for making your staff meetings professional development-based. That will be wonderful. I hope your staff reads your memos.

    You are very courageous for sharing your blog with your staff. I think that this is a great move because it shows who you are as a learner, and not just a leader. If we want teachers to be life-long leaders, I believe it is imperative that we model this!

    Thanks for sharing, Jessica! :)


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