The Dream of Differentiated PD

The problem with traditional PD--why we need differentiated PD

From Jen Henga via Flicker

I think the thing that stuck with me the most when I went to CGC was the idea that everyone learns. And everyone means everyone–students, teachers, administrators–we’re all learners. To me, the CGC principle that learning is scaleable is the most important one for me this year in my new role as Instructional Coach as well as Learning Specialist. I think that trying to develop differentiated PD for the faculty is one of the most important things I can do this year to ensure that everyone learns, both because I’m modeling what I want teachers to do and because I want teachers to get what they need from PD and find it useful. So I sent this out into the Twitterverse:


I can’t believe that no one is trying this. It could be I didn’t use the right hashtags. It could be that I tweeted at the wrong time of day. Maybe I need to follow some of Matt Renwick’s tips here. But I came up with nothing. So I’ve been muddling through on my own, and there are a couple places where I’m still stuck.

Readiness: How Do I Know What They Don’t Know?

I work with people who come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. They’ve been teaching anywhere from a couple of years to a couple of decades. They have various comfort levels with differentiation and various opinions on whether or not it even has a place in our school. I’ve used a variety of different tools to try to get at this, but I’m always left with the following questions:

  • How easy is it for teachers to be vulnerable with their colleagues and admit they don’t know?
  • If part of the purpose of preassessment is to preview and maybe show learners that they have something to learn about the topic, how do you make sure that people who may see themselves as knowledgable (but may not be) feel neither talked down to or threatened?

When I tried to create a preassessment questionnaire for my last PD session, one colleague gave me the feedback that it was “too intense and detailed” and might “scare people off” or make the “feel threatened”, another colleague gave me the advice that it didn’t cover enough and really wouldn’t give an adequate preview of what people would learn. I ended up not handing it out, leaving me feeling unprepared and like I wasn’t modeling what I wanted the staff to do.

I think today this might be more successful. I used exit tickets from our last session to group people by interest. We’ll see how it goes.

Interest: How Do I Keep Things Relevant?

I’m pretty good at helping teachers develop differentiated units and projects, but there are definitely areas that are outside my comfort zone and knowledge, most specifically subjects outside of the MESH (Math, English, Science & Humanities) or core subject domains. I’m not sure what to do that will be relevant to disciplines like PE, Art, and Music,, and sometimes Modern Languages, but I do want to make sure these teachers feel included and like a part of our professional learning community.

Things I’m trying this year:

  • Flexible groupings: grade levels, subject areas, general interests.
  • Using teacher-leaders from those disciplines to act as leaders or experts in small groups.
  • Talking to these teachers: what do you want? What can I do to make this relevant?

The thing is though, I’m still up against years of these teachers feeling not included or marginalized, and that’s the added piece here that I’m really not sure how to deal with.

Taking Risks

So trying all of this means I’m taking some risks with how I’m structuring PD. Some of them may fail, and I’ll reflect from them and learn from them. However, I’m worried that by taking those risks and failing to get it right I might make people feel like their time is being wasted. And we all know how happy teachers are when their time is being wasted (we’ve all been there and been really angry about it). So how do I find the balance between taking risks with how I’m delivering PD and playing it safe with my use of my colleagues’ time? I wonder if this is why so many schools and districts stick with the “sit and get” model of PD. People may not always enjoy it, but they’re not complaining too much.

Any thoughts? If you lead PD at your school, how do you approach these situations?

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