I have this joke I like to tell: “Did you hear about the awesome lecture on Differentiated Instruction?”
It gets laughs because the very concept, on the face of it, is ridiculous. But the funny part is that every teacher has either experienced this or knows a colleague who has experienced it.*
“The medium is the message.”
I’m constantly fascinated by the ways in which learning organizations like schools consistently model poor instruction with how they structure PD. Teachers can go years in their schools and districts only receiving lectures in large groups. Unless the schools want their teachers to lecture all day wrong, then they’re doing it wrong.
Here’s the thing about instructional models: they all carry implicit messages about how learning occurs. In the classroom, this is how teachers make pedagogical decisions all the time. When working in the classroom, once I’d made a judgement call that, say, Project-Based Learning would be the most effective way for my students to understand the content, then that’s the approach I would use. At other times I would use other systems based on my understanding of the content and my students’ instructional needs.
But what if the content of your instruction is the art and science of instruction? Well, then, you need to consistently model the kind of instruction that you expect to see. It’s one thing to hear about or read about a kind of instruction, but the magical** part of Professional Development is that it’s a real opportunity to experience that kind of instruction.
Choosing a format for your PD is a test: do you believe in what you’re saying? If so, you need to make sure that the explicit message, the content, is closely matched by the implicit message, which is the format of instruction. It’s the opportunity for a school to not just transmit expectations for teachers, but to model expectations for teachers.
So if you want your teachers to use Problem-Based Learning in the classroom, the only way that makes sense to show them that is by using Problem-Based Learning. If your school is moving toward Blended models of learning, you should be delivering that instruction both in-person and online. If you want there to more discussions in classroom, have more discussions during your PD. If you want students to learn cooperatively, make sure your teachers learn cooperatively.
And if you want your teachers to differentiate instruction, you had damn well better differentiate your professional development.
*Once I said that, and the teachers all told me that was going to be their PD the following day. They pulled out the agenda to prove it to me.
**If your PD isn’t magical, then you need to rethink your approach, Dumbledore.