The Benefits of Differentiation in Professional Development

The Benefits of Differentiation in Professional Development

Although many teachers have made strides in providing innovative, individualized learning, most of them still receive one-size-fits-all professional development. We know that differentiation is a powerful vehicle for student success—and these same approaches can support teacher development.

I believe it’s time to transform professional development, which is too often passive, into professional learning, which is engaging, rigorous, task-oriented, and experimental. Every teacher deserves personalized learning they can engage with at their own pace, in a community that provides opportunities to collaborate with peers.

Blended learning combines in-person and digital off-site learning. The key benefit of blended learning for teachers is flexibility—educators can control the time, place, and pace at which they learn. Incorporating blended models for professional learning creates an environment that caters to the individual needs of each teacher.

Blended learning takes a variety of forms: Teachers might learn a new tool in a traditional face-to-face setting led by an expert, then engage in self-directed learning and online chats. Alternatively, they might begin learning from instructional videos, explore scenarios in a series of face-to-face sessions, and then practice independently.

In a model that has come to influence others, the University of Central Florida and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee employed a blended program for staff in which instructors met biweekly face to face to learn directly from each other. Their learning was sustained through deep reflection and metacognitive dialogue via online discussion forums. At the program’s end, 87 percent of participants reported a more positive outlook on teaching—and said that they’d changed their approach to teaching as a result of the program.

Professional learning is most effective when it’s ongoing, active, specific to learners’ needs, supported throughout implementation, and consistent with institutional vision. After the Montour School District of Pennsylvania established a digital community for educators to engage in year-round, on-demand professional learning, they determined that there was a 600 percent increase in staff participation.