Learning and Teaching at Gilson College

Learning for living, Character for life, Hope for the Future

Professional Learning – Teachers need as much differentiation as students


Over a number of years now teachers in most schools in our system have been fortunate to have had access to whole-school-focussed professional learning opportunities. For us a number of these opportunities have been partially funded through application to programs such as the Australian Government Quality Teacher Program, Smarter Schools National Partnerships Program and Targeted Funding Program. These have been supervised by colleagues from Independent Schools Victoria. For several schools this year an aspect of ICT professional learning has been included in these programs.

However, one of the challenges for our system and school leaders when developing and leading the whole-school professional learning programs (which are based on each schools’ data-identified teaching and learning needs), has been knowing how to be sure this learning is also differentiated according to teachers’ needs and takes into account teachers’ experience levels.

In order to move students from where they are to where teachers want them to be – effectively working to close the gap in their achievement levels – we expect our teachers to differentiate teaching and learning according to their students’ needs – and rightly so! It follows then that leaders for the same reasons, must also differentiate teachers’ learning.

Mark Gleeson in his post, quoted and linked here, writes about how to work with teachers to develop the skills required for integrating ICT and 21st century learning skills in their classroom programs and practice. He pleads for leaders, rather than merely providing ICT and expecting it all to ‘happen’, to consider more seriously the provision and scaffolding of teacher ICT professional learning so teachers may develop their knowledge and skills collaboratively and at their own pace.

While we must take notice of Gleeson’s concerns, I feel we can also benefit from applying to our whole-school teacher professional learning programs the general principles Mark outlines! His ideas for ICT are worth serious consideration for all professional learning situations.

Gleeson writes:

As teachers, we have come to learn over the years that we should never expect our students to fully understand a new idea without some form of structured support framework, or scaffolding as the current buzzword defines it. If we want them to solve a problem, we tend to provide them with a range of strategies and tools to assist them. Before writing a persuasive text, teachers present a text framework and spend time developing the language structures and features required. It’s common sense thinking that we need to help learners when exposing them to new experiences.

The same, of course, should be the case in supporting learning for our fellow teachers. From Literacy Co-ordinators to Mathematics Leaders, Education consultants to teacher mentors, it is accepted practice to take a methodical, measured approach to develop teacher capacity in any given curriculum area. With one glaring exception. For reasons that have no grounding in common sense or educational practicality, Technology is just thrown at us and expected to magically stick to us and develop. What actually happens is that it slides right off, repelled by the totally justified and expected reluctance of older teachers who trained as teachers before computers evolved beyond command lines or inexperienced teachers who are still getting their heads around making their challenging students stay in their seats. The lack of a systematic framework for developing teacher capacity and competency in teaching with technology is a massive black hole in Education today. We bandy around the term 21st Century learners every day at school but where is the plan for ensuring 21st century teaching and learning is taking place?

At the moment , I am reading the book, “Leading for Instructional Improvement – How Successful Leaders Develop Teaching and Learning Expertise” by Stephen Fink and Anneke Markholt. Chapter Eight begins by focusing on the idea of Reciprocal Accountability.

“Reciprocal Accountability simply means that if we are going to hold you accountable for something, we have an equal and commensurate responsibility to ensure you know how to do what we are expecting you to do (Elmore’ 2000; Resnick and Glennan, 2002). Practically speaking, this important concept means that accountability must go hand in hand with organizational capacity building with a specific focus on ensuring that teachers and leaders have the expertise necessary to ensure high achievement for all students. ” ( pg 221-2). It goes on to say that “teachers must know deeply each of their students as individual learners, differentiating their instruction accordingly so that each student meets the expected standard regardless of the student’s starting place……..the concept of reciprocal accountability provides the same useful lens to examine the relationship between teachers and principals…..Although principals don’t take the relationship between teachers and students for granted, they often fail to recognize the similar reciprocal nature of their roles with their own teachers.” ( pg 222)…

For me [Gleeson] it comes down to these points.

  1. PLTs [Professional Learning Team Meetings] dedicated to Technology integration into our teaching practices
  2. A constant focus on Technology throughout lesson and unit planning
  3. A restructuring of the role of ICT Leaders/teachers in schools
  4. A greater focus on Technology in Teacher Training programs
  5. A commitment to Technology Professional Development courses on an equal footing with Literacy and Numeracy Projects.

…Read more…

Author: Sandra England

Learning & Teaching Coordinator F-12 at Gilson College, an Adventist Schools Victoria school. Twitter: @GCLandT or @sandy_e

8 thoughts on “Professional Learning – Teachers need as much differentiation as students

  1. In a nutshell student adaptation can only be achieved by the prior base knowledge firmly instilled in the mind the educator. This is the way I see it, am I close?


    • That is somewhat true. Although we must consider not only knowledge base, but understanding and skils bases too. All students, whether children or adults always learn best in order to increase their achievement if they are brought from the base of their prior knowledge, skill and understanding. For example students can’t easily learn new Year 7 concepts IN Year 7 if they are still at the level of achievement of say, Year 5. Their teachers need to recognize where they are at and plan for them and work with them to bring them along from their base. Even if the achievement gained in the time a teacher has them doesn’t bring them to expected class level, as long as some good value-added gain has occured the a sense of success will have occurred. Students experience much frustration and discouragement otherwise, and many give up. The same can be said of students already achieveing above expected class level. Take them on from where they are. That’s differentiation! Scaffolding! So also with adult learners. We must take them forward from where their knowledge, understanding and skills base is if we are to avoid frustration and ‘it’s all too hard’ thinking!


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