Over the past 2 months we have focused on preparing our teachers to differentiate instruction.
I’m writing this post to explain to readers within my own community why this emphasis on preparation and why we need to adopt three different strategies at the same time to gain the improvement in student learning and engagement.
This preparation for differentiation, particularly for many of our new graduate teachers commenced at the beginning of the school year when we provided some scaffolding for teachers to learn to build learning communities in their classrooms and for our senior students,who are working in more flexible groupings, a learning community across the whole year 5/6 cohort. A supportive learning community has high levels of relational trust where members know and demonstrate respect towards one another. They agree to work in mutually beneficially ways which for us is communicated through pledges or class agreements . When teachers and students know one another – their interests, passions and preferred ways of working then teachers can use that information to differ instruction – make learning more accessible to students. This is time consuming but critical work.
We provide additional support by having Marg Armstrong, an educational consultant, working with different teachers in their learning communities learning to use restorative justice strategies like circle time to build relationships.
Most recently we have started to follow the work of Dr George Otero from the Relational Learning Centre in New Mexio who has talked to the executive leadership team about the need to re frame teachers view of their work so that they see themselves as members of this learning community bound by the same pledge. This is a challenging view of teaching I think, as we often see ourselves as apart from the student learning group – more of a manager or controller than as a member / learner of the same community [albeit in a slightly different role within that community]. This is vey much new thinking for us to consider and we have set up some conversations with George and members of the our executive team and teachers when he is next back in Melbourne in May.
At the end of the term, once learning communities were firmly established, we also cranked up our assessment online systems to deepen our understanding of student learning needs. Up to that point we have been using the previous years assessments to group and teach students. The new assessment data will be available for teachers for curriculum planning at the start of term 2. Building the assessment literacy for teachers is ongoing work for us.
These strategies: building classroom communities for relational learning and using formative assessment data to plan learning that is within students zones of learning capabilities form two parts of Elmore’s theory of action on what’s needed to improve student outcomes.
The third major strategy is that of instructional coaching with teachers. The executive leadership team [pictured above] have explored a few different models of coaching more recently attended a two day workshop on how to use a differentiated instructional coaching using a GROW model linked to the E5 instructional framework.
This is the early preparation days as we as a coaching team support one another to learn this GROW coaching model practicing skills like questioning and paraphrasing. There will be further posts on this work but for us the important thing to note is that through coaching our aim is to strengthen teachers instructional capabilities and that all 3 strategies when combined together provide the scaffolding for differentiated instruction.
I have been asked instead of all this work why don’t we just copy what other schools with better data do. Without going into the whole copying argument I prefer to say that good schools, accordingly to the research, become great schools when they adopt a series of co-ordinated strategies like the ones proposed above that invest in people, build their capacity and accountability so that results which are the end product can be sustained over time.