Want teachers to take risks? Take them too.

We are in our first year of a long-term plan regarding teaching and learning.  This year involves a lot of professional development given by me at all four of our district buildings (one each of a K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12), with the idea to get the pump primed for teachers to gradually take over in three years after the main seeds are planted.

One of the seeds that is a focus for this year is the seed of differentiation.  I know that some people don’t think it works, but if you’re looking at it from a student proficiency standpoint, it does work.  How do I know?  Because I saw it work in my classroom (in other words, I have practice-based evidence rather than evidence-based practice research).

In order to help differentiation take root with all of the other professional development watering going on, I am modeling differentiated practices.  Which is why for our last Institute Day teachers at all buildings worked on the choice board below:


The left column consists of choices from the curriculum realm, the middle column are all choices that generally involve assessment, and the far right column all relate to instruction in some way.  Every team had to choose one option from each column so they were hitting some part of the curriculum, assessment, and instruction cycle, and then upload any documentation to their building’s Google Classroom group.  From the feedback I’ve received so far, teachers liked having choices, and liked having the freedom to choose whatever units/learning targets/assessments they found most useful.

One piece of feedback, however, was the most powerful for me: “It’s nice to see you modeling what you’ve been telling us to do.”

And that’s exactly why I did it.  You can’t just tell people to take the risk of differentiating in their classrooms without taking the risk yourself.  I feel that if I’m going to ask teachers to take risks, I need to be willing to take the same risks with them.

If we’re not willing to model for and take risks with teachers, then how do we expect anyone-teachers or administrators-to ever get better?

Of course, that’s assuming getting better is the goal.

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