George Lucas Educational Foundation

Differentiating professionaL development

Differentiating professionaL development

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In a discussion this afternoon, we started to discuss how we could best institute personalized learning plans for professional development, and whether grade level teachers should consider a project based learning environment, where they would set goals, such as develop three unit lesson plans using Notebook, the smart board and Elmo, so there would be more tangible results from PD along with measurable goals. What do you think? If we know differentiation works for kids, shouldn't we ply the same rules to professional development as well?

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Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher

I'll never forget being in a training program where the lecturer spent more than an hour speaking about the fact that lecturing is a highly ineffective avenue to learning. She lectured about several other methods, but did not employ them.

I couldn't agree more, Whitney, the same learning techniques which help children to remain interested and involved also work for adults.


Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

It is AMAZING to me how administrators will want teachers to train on how to use a SMARTboard, for example, or teachers who DEMAND training, when a simple "poke the box" having it in the room and playing with it on off hours would teach them about using the thing in the first place- without the tool to touch and play, you can't learn how to use it well. Hands on works for humans. Any age. Period.
Likewise, the number of educators who forget about the learning curve for themselves and their students. Mistakes are part of the process, and we have to take the penalty box aspect out of making mistakes in order to encourage exploration and learning. This doesn't mean ignore assessments, but hopefully as we move to more differentiated learning, kids will be able to better demonstrate the depth of their knowledge rather than just recognize the right answer on a multiple choice test.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I wrote a blog post over on our blog about the possibilities of using differentiated and personalized learning for professional development. I would love to hear what you think!

Humanizing Education post on the Differentiated Instruction .Co blog

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Edcamper, Former @Edutopia, Founder of Social Media Marketing Consultancy aimed at helping educational orgs.

It also seems weird to me that many schools do not personalize PD, even though they personalize learning for students.

I asked this question to @edutopia's twitter network and many whole-heartedly agreed.

One teacher described a method their school uses to differentiate PD through Google apps:

"We did when doing training when moving to Google Apps - we had 3 levels at diff times & teachers chose which to go to."

I'm also going to ask our Facebook community -- more to come!

Mike Kirkham's picture
Mike Kirkham
High School Special Education and English teacher

I do agree with personalized PD. I wish there was more of it. However, I am aware of a couple of issues that get in the way of personalized PD. First, if a school is in corrective action as a result of low test scores, that school may be mandated by the state to use the PD time for school-wide training. In that case, admin may no choice.

Second, many schools have to set up PD sessions before or right at the start of the school year. If someone doesn't step up and lobby for a day, admin has to go with what they know.

In a perfect world, I'm sure personalized PD would work. However, it has been my experience that decisions way above my pay grade, out of my Admins control, dictate what I am allowed to do.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Hi Mike!

I sit on the PD and tech committees for our school district, so I know the challenges, especially since PD days are the first ones cut if we get beyond the number of reserved snow days, etc. (This year it was hurricane days!) It means there's a lack of consistent PD, and we've been looking into some of the online PD, in the hopes that teachers can set up a personalized learning plan on their own, and have check in points with the administration to see what they are doing and what they are accomplishing. Everyone just needs different things, especially when we are talking about tech skills as well as more general "teachers as learners." Instead, PD becomes new grading systems, new teacher evaluation systems, new curriculum that's being introduced, and less about growing as an adult learner or exploring stuff you might not get a chance to otherwise.
I wish teachers were forced to go to one conference a year and that we had the money for it. Whether it would be ISTE, ASCD, a CHADD conference, Educon, an ed camp- anything that would help teachers network with teachers from other schools and districts, and learn at the same time. This is what happens for most doctors and lawyers- i wish it were the same for teachers.

Laura Ayala's picture

I work for UFT Teacher Center, the professional development branch of the UFT. The foundation of our work is the one-on-one model, with coaches in more than 125 schools across the city. You're so right! Individualized coaching, including modeling, co-teaching, peer-to-peer observations with constructive feedback has much greater impact than a catch-all workshops. And teacher inquiry groups have been shown to have a huge impact as well. I just love teachers who are thirsty for the means keep growing!

Stacy Schwab's picture

This is a fabulous idea. Teachers bring varying degrees of knowledge and skill levels to the table just as our students do. We know one size fits all doesn't work for the kids so why assume it is effective for us? I'd love to see thought and planning go into our PD's so that the varying needs of our faculty could be addressed. -Stacy @

Nina Smith's picture
Nina Smith
Mentor, Teacher Trainer

I think this discussion reflects perfectly the two different views about PD - and learning in general. When learning is viewed as a process individuality is supported and differentiation/personalization is seen as a good tool for educators to grow in their profession. However, when learning is viewed as a product or performance, also the PD is shrunk into jumping hoops and ensuring compliance - hence the mandated school wide trainings.

The difference lies in the level of fundamental values: is learning valued over teaching/training or is measuring the amount of instruction seen as the biggest contributor in learning. Yet we have decades of research showing that learning always happens individually - and this is equally true for both students and educators.

The real problem arises when someone wants to overly control what students (or teachers) learn and how they do it, because this easily leads to teaching WHAT to think instead of HOW to do it.

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