14 September 2008

Differentiation Isn't Just for the Classroom

I have been chewing the proverbial fat on two ideas as of late. I'm going to share one today and spit out the other tomorrow. (Sound appetizing so far?) Both deal with different aspects of professional development for teachers. While I'll be approaching these posts from the staff developer lens, I am hoping you teachers out there will chime in with your two cents---because really, these ideas are about you.

Every August, I read post after post about cringe-worthy staff development days as teachers go back to school. I defy you to find me any veteran of the classroom who doesn't have at least one example of excruciating staff development that they endured (myself included). But over the last five years, I've had a chance to also be on the other end of PowerPoint and design staff development. I do a pretty darned good job with it, too, based on the feedback I get from teachers---who are usually harsh, but fair, critics.

I base my design on a few key things. First of all, the needs of adults as learners are different from those of school-age students. I think this is where a lot of professional development (PD) people fall down. They don't respect the needs of their audience. In the quest to model certain strategies or techniques, they choose to treat teachers as if they were children. I'm sorry, but that dog don't hunt. While I encourage and engage in modeling good instruction, I don't need to talk down to teachers to do it. Secondly, the elements of high quality lesson design for the classroom can (and should) be applied for staff development. Again, this does not mean you have to view adults as kiddies, but it does mean that there should be a Big Idea driving the instruction and that there should be multiple "input" methods (not just sit-and-get with PowerPoint). In short, differentiation is key in giving people various ways to connect with the material. If the material is important enough to take up teacher time, then they deserve to have a rich learning experience. Do your homework, staff developers.

If we step out even further and consider a district as a single unit, shouldn't the overarching plan for staff development be differentiated? I got to thinking about this again after reading Mrs. Sommerville's comment on my recent PLCs: Jumping the Shark post. Her district has School Board mandated Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). And while I'm sure that they haven't directed exactly what each group will focus on during these times, I'm a little nervous about any district that has a "one size fits all" policy where teachers are concerned. PLCs can be fabulous things...but they won't be productive for every single teacher. How can we use one breath to express the need for teachers to do whatever it takes to reach every child in the classroom and in the next assume that teachers are all cookie-cutters? If the most influential factor in student achievement is the classroom teacher, shouldn't districts be doing what they can to reach every adult who works there?

I am chafing against this a bit in my new role...working with some people who, I believe, don't get "it." The "it" being effective professional development that is respective of adult learners and differentiated according to need. I think as leaders that we should expect more of ourselves than creating a basic presentation plan simply because that's the easiest thing to do. Hey, we might as well just push play on a pre-recorded PowerPoint and read the newspaper while attendees scribble down notes. That's a great example of learning for them to take back to schools, dontcha know? How do I shake them out of that mode of thinking? What do I do to get them to wake up?

So far, I've just mentioned planning and delivery here---in my next post, I want to talk about the missing aspect of most PD: output. For now, though, weigh in and let me know what you wish staff developers considered when preparing to spend time with you. What things have I forgotten or should change on my list?


organized chaos said...

Amen! That is one of the ways my principal is so fantastic- she fights for us to only go to PD that is beneficial, minimizes what can be done in a meeting via email, and leaves a lot up to choice, trusting us to decide what we need to attend and what we don't. And with that freedom we show up where we need to be, get out of it more than if we were forced to go to every PD out there, and come back energized and inspired instead of frustrated.

The Science Goddess said...

Excellent! I would say that your admin is (sadly) in the minority.

While I would support a building focus, I think that the PD for that could take any number of forms. Give teachers a freakin' choice (as your principal does). Ditto for the people designing the inservice.

Lightly Seasoned said...

Unless it is some new methodology that they want me to use in my classroom, I don't really want to see anything modeled -- and then only when it is only to show me how it works. I work with children all day; the last thing I want is to be treated by one when during PD. Please treat me like an adult professional with multiple college degrees. A "respectful task" looks far different for me than it does a 15-year-old.

I've occasionally been subjected to outside consultants, and when I filled in my feedback form for the district, I let them know exactly what rubbish I thought the experience was (as did many of my colleagues). We don't do outside consultants very often anymore, and when we do, it is now through ASCD with a specific goal. I know central office struggles with PD issues, but I'm willing to let them flop now and then (just as I do in the classroom)when I know they're listening to feedback.

Our next PD day is break-out technology sessions. None of them look like a good use of my time (I know the material), so I'm putting in a specific request to meet with my building DI/RT team (there's five of us) during that afternoon with every expectation that it will be honored.

Michaele Sommerville said...

Bravo! I'm in complete agreement- professional development and professional learning communities have to be careful not to fall into yet another scripted program- those scripts tend to become too predictable and too limiting!

Our upcoming PD has five "choices" from which teachers can choose to attend...SIX sessions.

Figure that one out!



loonyhiker said...

I have developed my own PLC from joining Plurk and Twitter. It is amazing how much we can learn from each other if we take the time and make the effort to do so. I have found links and connections that meet the needs I have at the time. That is what we need to do for all teachers.