We say we believe in differentiated instruction. We say that we want to meet the needs of all students. However, too often in professional development, schools require teachers to learn the exact same information. It might be quality training, too. However, for a teacher who has already mastered the concepts, this type of training feels irrelevant.
Oftentimes schools take this reality and shift toward differentiated instruction. It sounds like a great idea. The staff might have five or six options for a weekly professional development. They become mini-classes that allow teachers to delve deeper into a particular concept. However, this model tends to fail for the following reasons:
- It doesn't relate to what each teacher needs
- The focus is on teacher interest rather than student needs
- There are too few options
- The PD planners are trying to guess what teachers need rather than allow them to make their own decisions
A better solution would be for teachers to create their own professional development based upon an identified need in their own classrooms. For example, a teacher might struggle with classroom management. This teacher could attend a differentiated professional development class. However, he or she might also choose to embrace a coaching model (if another teacher could model it in the classroom), peer observation, a book study, a video and a Twitter chat on the subject.
Instead of offering a menu of options, administrators could create a format where teachers could develop their own professional growth plan. This could then set up new structures for book studies, small group classes and peer modeling (give up a few preps and then get your preps back during formal PD times).
The idea here is to keep it student-centered and empower teachers to take ownership of their own learning.
John T. Spencer is a teacher in Phoenix, AZ who blogs at Education Rethink. He recently finished Pencil Me In, an allegory for educational technology and he's working onSustainable Start, a book for new teachers. You can connect with him on Twitter @johntspencer