Sunday, April 23, 2017

Transformative Professional Development through Differential Professional Development.

Show of hands - how many of us have sat through a PD during a sanctioned professional development day and truly thought “hey  - I am so glad that I am here”?  Now show of hands - how many of us have sat through PD thinking “Why am I here?  I could be doing something more productive - like grading papers!”?  This is a huge problem for teacher professional development - how do we create one professional development day so that everyone gets something out of it?  The answer is - we don’t!

I have A LOT of sympathy for the instructional facilitators for our program.  They have to develop professional development for a variety of teachers with a variety of backgrounds, level of teaching abilities, and a variety of attitudes.  They also have to develop professional development ath can be delivered virtually.  They have to mesh state standards with the expectations with our parent corporation.  And they have to work it in around our meetings.  Plus do it with a smile!  Their job is nearly impossible!  So they, like most people who are in these positions, they try to get the most bang for their buck.  Unfortunately, that means that there isn’t much for everyone.  

Amy Vracar, author of 3 Reasons Why Professional Learning Matter, highlights the main reasons of why teachers need professional development.  “A teacher’s professional learning journey is an ongoing process throughout their teaching career. The classroom is continuously changing, and teachers must be prepared to meet needs of their students. It is important for school districts to adopt rich professional learning opportunities for its teachers.” (2015).  I can attest that in my 20+ years of teaching, the classroom has changed.  When I first started teaching, I didn’t even have an email that I used frequently; now I am a virtual teacher whose students are spread out across the great state of Wyoming.  

However, getting the most bang for the buck is not the best way to approach professional development. Professional development should take the same form as teaching in the classroom - with differential instruction. I can guarantee that my needs as a veteran teacher are not the same as a new teacher’s needs.  Nor should they be. The article “Teaching Teachers: Professional Development To Improve Student Achievement,” states that: “If the sessions do not focus on the subject-matter content that research has shown to be effective, then the duration will do little to change teachers’ practices and improve student learning.” So putting everyone in a big room to discuss literacy across the curriculum or the importance of everyday math is just not going to work.  

What can work is having smaller sessions that focus on what those teachers need.  Our instructional facilitators have started having open room sessions.  They give a preview of what they will cover, then we come to session we think will benefit us the most.  For example, I may attend understanding the data sheet for beginners session while my colleagues may attend understanding the data sheet for advanced teachers.  We know what time the sessions will be offered, so we are able to plan our time accordingly.  The planning for this is really difficult, but so is planning for differential lessons in the classroom.  However, the planning is well-worth the time. Teachers can get the professional development that they most need to continue their own educational journey.  

Simon Quattlebaum, author of “Why Professional Development for Teachers Is Critical” states that, “Opportunities for active learning, content knowledge, and the overall coherence of staff development are the top three characteristics of professional development” (2012).  By offering differential professional development, teachers are learning how to best help their students in the classroom.  

Quattlebaum, Simon. "Why Professional Development for Teachers Is Critical." Why
Professional Development for Teachers in Critical. The Evolllution, 26 July 2012. Web.

"Teaching Teachers: Professional Development To Improve Student Achievement." Teaching
    Teachers: Professional Development to Improve Student Achievement. Teaching
Tolerance: A Project of Southern Poverty Law Center, n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2017. <>.

Vracar, Amy. 3 Reason Why Professional Learning Matters. TeacherMatch, 24 Feb. 2015. Web.
03 Mar. 2017. <>.

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