Summer is basically halfway over for students, but teachers will likely be returning well before that. It is around this time that school administrators began planning for the next year. This starts with onboarding and professional development for teachers. In my 11 years of experience, I have met few teachers who actually “like” PD, and I am no exception. That being said, I will concede that all teachers need PD. However, administrators should concede that all teachers don’t need the same PD.
Every principal knows all their teachers are not the same. All of them have their own individual strengths and weaknesses. All of them have their own preferences. Some teachers are just flat out better than others. Principals should make sure their professional development reflects this diversity of experience.
There are a lot of tangible reasons to approach professional development this way:
- It is more efficient to target teacher skill gaps than to treat them like they are monolith. If you are trying to push every teacher to their full potential, you should meet them where they are at currently. It may be technically “easier” to gather everyone in a big room for a one size fits all PD session, but it is far less effective.
- Teachers will generally be more invested in areas they aren’t already experts. I have not had a problem managing behavior in almost a decade. Making me sit through classroom management PD is the worst thing you can do to me.
- Not requiring every teacher to come can potentially give critical planning time back to teachers. This is especially true before students come back from summer break. Time wasted in PD I don’t need is time I could be using to decorate my room, laminate signs, create deliverables, and label folders.
- It allows facilitators to give more support to the teachers that need it. Smaller classes are better for teachers too. The people leading the PD can actually dive in deeper with a small group of teachers that actually need what they are offering.
- It also reinforces to teachers that their individual development is a priority. The quickest way to make your teacher feel like a number is to ignore their successes and strengths. Making your best classroom manager attend a PD on basic classroom management is the equivalent of saying “we don’t really value your skillset.”
School leaders have figured out it’s best practice to differentiate instruction for students but don’t apply that same philosophy to their teachers.
There are some downsides to instituting professional development this way. Some teachers will feel slighted if they are asked to attend a certain PD and others are not. You can alleviate this by keeping their assigned PD aligned to their individual performance goals and scores. If your school has a strong culture of self-reflection, you can even base it on their evaluation goals.
I work at a school that has started to differentiate PD, and it has been far more successful. Teachers complain less about the sessions they have and get more out of the ones they attend. We also have way more time.
Overall differentiated professional development is vastly superior to one size fits all. We know that students are not all the same and our lessons reflect that. Adult learners are not the same either, and the professional development structure should reflect that.