Benefits of Differentiation in Professional Development

Emily Coleman
Emily Coleman
ELL academic support specialist; Ph.D. candidate in Strategic Leadership and Administrative Studies with Education concentration
Group of professionals sitting at a table together looking at papers.

Benefits of Differentiation in Professional Development

Differentiation is a teaching strategy that has created classrooms and lessons that give all students the opportunity to interact with the curriculum and reach the content goals in a manner that is suitable to their individual needs. Just like classrooms are filled with mixed-ability students, administrators need to keep in mind that their teachers have very diverse teaching needs, hence, the reason why it would be extremely beneficial to differentiate professional development for teachers throughout the school year.

Professional development can be challenging for administrators, as it can be difficult to find a topic that is relevant to all staff members. Oftentimes, administrators do not actually choose the professional development because these are dictated by learning the new rules and regulations for standardized testing that is happening in schools. However, by going the extra step of differentiating the day’s activities, all teachers in the building will be much more engaged and feel as though they are getting concrete tips/strategies that address their diverse teaching needs.

All teachers and administrators across the world have rolled their eyes at least once in their career when a professional development topic is announced that has absolutely nothing to do with what goes on in their classroom and day-to-day teaching routines. On days like these, hours are wasted for these individual teachers.

On the other hand, if administrators take an in-depth look at what all teachers need in their buildings and differentiate the day’s activities, it will be worthwhile for all who are present. Administrators, just like when teachers differentiate, must keep the professional development content in mind when differentiating the professional development. However, even with different paths that can be taken in the day to suit the needs of the teachers, they will all end up reaching the same goals.

Strategies for Implementing Differentiated Professional Development

An easy way to first think about differentiating a school’s professional development is when new technology is brought into the school. Perhaps a school has purchased new curriculum software, new laptop carts, or new hardware that can be used throughout the school. In the elementary schools, breaking the teachers up by grade will allow them to focus on their content and how they will use the new technology.

By assigning a lead teacher well before the professional development to guide each grade, the differentiated professional development would go very smoothly. Furthermore, teachers would not feel as though their time is being wasted by listening to something that they would never use within their grade level. These small-group sessions are ideal because teachers will get the opportunity to dive into the new software/hardware and create lessons that they will use that week or next week in their classes.

Secondary schools can separate teachers into content area small groups. For example, when professional development is focusing on the newest best practices, all science teachers should break out into a small group, all math teachers into a different group, reading teachers would be together, and so on and so forth. By doing this, teachers can share ideas and use the best practices within their subject area. At the end of each session, all teachers can come back together as a group to share one of their best ideas that could possibly be used in different content areas.

Differentiation does not have to be an overwhelming task within professional development. Taking the time to find out the wants and needs of the teachers in a building can be as simple as surveying them to find out common themes or topics that they are in need of instruction and then breaking them into these groups during the professional development day. When new programs are going to be taking place in a school, reach out to all of the teachers and give them choices as to what activities they would like to partake in to learn about the program. Choice is a wonderful strategy when differentiating for students, and doing the same for teachers will lead to better engagement and increased participation.

By grouping teachers by shared interest, ability, or topic to complete the professional development’s assignment, teachers will leave the day knowing that they have learned something that they can use in their classrooms in the next several weeks. Hopefully, what they have learned has been worthwhile and will become a mainstay in their teaching repertoire.

To ensure this, administrators need to take the time to differentiate the day, by reaching out to teachers ahead of time to learn what they need in regard to the professional development topic and then to also give the teachers choices as to how they will complete the day’s work. Professional development days do not need to be wasted by having teachers think that it does not pertain to them at all. Keep teachers engaged by accommodating their diverse teaching needs.

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