teacher coaching

To Differentiate Professional Development? Or Not?

We expect our teachers to personalize the learning in their classrooms, to differentiate to meet the needs and learning styles of all students.  This is considered best practice.  After all, each student comes to us from a unique background, has different experiences, and learns in a certain way.  For example, student A comes from poverty, has limited experience in literacy, and helps to take care of his younger brother each night while his single parent works two jobs to keep the family afloat.  Student B has a different story: she has two parents at home who work during the day, has soccer practice three days per week, is read to each night, and travels with her family each summer on vacation.  Most teachers wouldn’t dream of treating these two students identically.  So they don’t.

Administrators are in a similar situation.  Instead of students, they have teachers to consider.  Each teacher comes to us from a variety of backgrounds, has different experiences, and learns in a certain way.  Sounds familiar?  It’s just like the students in the teacher’s class.

In a classroom, oftentimes the teacher’s intention is for students to transfer their learning.  The teacher has a vision of a specific outcome, performance assessment, problem the students must solve, project to complete, etc.  Throughout the learning, the teacher reinforces what each student is doing well and scaffolds when needed.  It is only through this backwards planning, starting with the end in mind, can the teacher personalize the learning for each student.

Shouldn’t administrators adopt this same mentality when it comes to professional development for our teachers?  Isn’t what is best practice for our students also going to be best practice for our teachers?  Not so fast.

Administrators need to consider the idea of fragmentation.  Fragmentation occurs when there is little direction and focus for where the staff is going.  Professional development can become fragmented if there is no clear target, goal, or direction.  Simply differentiating professional develop for the sake of calling it differentiated will lead to confusion, lack of clarity, and few meaningful outcomes.  Teachers will become upset and wait for this learning to pass.  Without a clear direction or end goal, the learning will not stick.

However, if the administrator has a clear vision of the end, much like the teacher has a clear and authentic assessment, differentiated professional development can, and most likely will, align everyone’s efforts.  The key is the administrator having a clear direction and defined outcomes.  The administrator then provides scaffolding and reinforcement specific to each teacher throughout the learning.  The goal is for the administrator to know where the teachers are going and guide them to their destination.

What are your experiences with differentiating professional Development?  Have you run into fragmentation?

Eric Bransteter

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