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Differentiated Professional Development

Besides telling me, “That was practical,” attendees at my daylong workshops also comment, “You kept us awake all day. What did you do?” Well, I differentiated.

I do my best to model what I hope teachers will do for students: “teach around” the learning styles so that the day’s activities are varied and everyone’s needs are met at least some of the time. You can learn more about how these styles apply to students in my Educational Leadership article, “Let Me Learn My Own Way”, but the styles also apply to teachers. Try planning your next professional development session with something for each style.

  • “Let me master it!” Teachers with this learning style often appreciate receiving detailed instructions for new strategies or lessons. Provide time for reading those instructions and asking detailed questions. Give a demonstration or show a film clip of a teacher using the new strategy.
  • “Let me do something!” These teachers do not want to sit still all day! Design a purposeful learning activity that is hands-on or involves movement––even card sorts or writing important conclusions their small group reached on strips of paper to be organized on the wall into a thinking map can meet the needs of this group.
  • “Let me think!” In truth, this group would rather read books or articles on their own, draw some conclusions, and then collaborate with others to determine what the new learning means for their classrooms. This is how I learn best! Incorporate time for reflection, ensure that they know where to find more information on the theories you are using, and suggest further reading.
  • “Let me brainstorm!” This group needs to talk, move, and collaborate, and often gravitates toward a leadership role. They actually form their best ideas while speaking with others. Create a collaborative activity which, while it may have a specific goal, can be carried out in many ways.

If one of the above suggested activities sounds horrible to you, it just may be the opposite of your preferred learning style. And it may just appeal most to that teacher who doesn’t seem to engage no matter what you do during professional development. Try differentiating professional development––it’s a great way to model what we hope teachers are doing for their students.

Jane Kise

Jane Kise is a consultant and executive coach. The founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates and author of over 20 books, she works with schools and businesses worldwide to help create environments where everyone can flourish.

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