We often talk about the need to differentiate instruction to meet the diverse needs of students. Rarely, do we speak of differentiating teacher professional development to meet the diverse needs of teachers. Teachers, like their students, are in different places in their careers. They have different skills sets as well as different areas of strength and opportunity. Schools located within the same district might have different needs or are at different stages of development. However, schools and district continue to require teachers to attend one-size-fits-all professional development. This is counter-intuitive to the mindset of an educator.
Here are Five Ways to Differentiate Professional Development for Teachers:
- Survey Teachers on What Their Needs Are
Time and time again decisions are made for teachers without their input. A quick survey will inform a school or district on what the desires of teachers are for their own development. Based on the results, offer professional development on the top 2-3 choices. Like students, give them a menu of options to choice from. No need to force teachers to attend a district session on introducing smart board technology when their school has had them for years.
- Go Online
Districts often rely on in person professional development. This requires travel expenses (hotel, meals, airplane tickets) and careful calendar coordination. There are excellent trainers that can run professional development sessions online through synchronous webinars. Files and tools can be shared seamlessly. Attendees can participate in the professional development sessions from their own location rather than traveling to a central meeting place. Participating in a Twitter chat with educators from around the world on a variety of different topics is another way to utilize technology for PD.
- Utilize Local and National Conferences
Every month, there are dozen of educational conferences around the country. Most educators never take advantage of all the different learning opportunities out there. Furthermore, educators can pick and choose not only which conferences they want to attend, but pick the sessions to individualize their learning.
- See Best Practices in Action
Schools and districts across the country should be looking to view best practices in action. Innovative instruction is occurring at schools in every city. Best practices need to be shared via social media so that educators can visit to see the work in action. Schools can become beacons for educators to learn about their successful practices. Visiting schools and classrooms across town or even just down the street can also yield some amazing new ideas.
- Cluster Schools in the District By Need
Districts often will create large-scale, one-size-fits-all professional development sessions based on the perceived needs of all the schools. However, in large districts, schools have diverse needs that might not always align. Schools in one part of the district might need PD on addressing the needs of English Language Learners. Schools in a different area of the district might by working on major instructional technology initiatives. We need to groups school together by need. We do this with students, why not schools?
Dr. David Franklin is an experienced school administrator, education professor, curriculum designer, and presenter. Dr. Franklin has presented at national and international education conferences as is available for school and district professional development sessions.