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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Thoughts about Differentiated Professional Learning

There's lots of talk about differentiated professional learning. I'm a big fan of the concept and have been advocating for it for a long time.

One rationale for differentiated professional learning is that if teachers are expected to teach with differentiation, then they should experience it as part of their professional learning experiences.

Another reason for this professional learning approach is simply that all teachers have different learning needs. For example if a teacher just got his/her master's degree in reading education, that teacher would not need a beginning "How to Teach Reading" seminar.

And, of course, today's awesome technology means that good learning is only a click of a key or touch of a screen away. We can learn anywhere at anytime.

So how would you promote differentiated learning for adult learners?

I think the first step is to know your learners well? Who are they? What do they want? What do they need? If you have a trusting relationship, that information would be easy to cull. If trust is an issue, that might be more difficult to discern. If that's the case, then, perhaps, you provide a menu approach. And the menu should always include, "Do you have a better idea?" That gives adults who already have a good idea about what they want to learn, an avenue to continue the learning.

Yet, what if you work in an organization that has a problem to solve. For example, let's say you work in a school where a big problem is truancy. If you're an administrator in that system, you would want to solve that problem. So rather than invite all the educators to hear a lecture about truancy, you could use the professional learning time to provide a menu of truancy related learning and action events. And perhaps, part of the learning time would be spent on actually carrying out a significant point learned to work at changing the truancy problem in a class, school, or system.

This summer, Mike Ritzius and Dan Callahan, presented the "Hosting Conversations" workshop at the MTA Summer Conference. Their work signaled the next step for learners everywhere which is greater discernment about professional learning choices and how we work together with good process to learn together.

Now that we know that facts and figures are not that difficult to attain, the question lies at what is most important to study, and how do we take the study and collaboratively turn it into meaningful, endeavor--the kind of endeavor that truly makes our places of learning and teaching better for each and every child.

There is tremendous potential with differentiated professional learning, and how we tackle this kind of work on our own and with others matters a lot. Good process that includes substantial voice and choice of all stakeholders and results in meaningful action is the way to go, and that way will look a bit different in every educational context since schools and the people in them differ in ways that matter from place to place.