Guest Post from Trish Yeates, Crosby Heights P. S. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
LEADERSHIP AND DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION
LEARNING FOR ALL K-12 reminds us that “all students learn best when instruction, resources, and the learning environment are well-suited to their particular interests, strengths, needs, and stage of readiness” – that is, the most effective instruction is Differentiated Instruction, adapted to student interests, learning styles and readiness to learn. Although differentiation occurs in the classroom, between students and teachers, leaders have a role in supporting this key strategy for student success. Tomlinson and Demirsky-Allan write about the need for leadership in their book LEADERSHIP FOR DIFFERENTIATING SCHOOLS & CLASSROOMS (2000):
“An individual classroom teacher, without any system or school support, can take steps toward differentiating instruction in his or her classroom. Many teachers have done so. Even within a single classroom, however, moving toward a philosophy of accommodating academic diversity and individual needs generally constitutes a change. The likelihood that a teacher will be able to make such a significant change—even within the confines of his own classroom—is greatly enhanced by accompanying change in the school culture as a whole. At the very least, a sense of support and approval from the administration goes far to encourage classroom change. More powerful support is provided by alterations in the organizational structure that are catalysts for classroom changes. Therefore, the task of the school leader—whether a school administrator or central office staff member—is to design systemic strategies that encourage teachers to implement differentiated instruction in the classroom and that support teachers in honing the skills of differentiation.”
This passage begs the question: what are we doing as leaders to support and encourage Differentiated Instruction in our own schools? If our moral purpose is grounded in the belief that EVERY student can achieve high standards (given the appropriate time and supports), then at the core of the role of every leader should be providing support for teachers to differentiate instruction in their classrooms.
The tough part is knowing just how to do this. Tomlinson and Demirsky-Allan suggest that the key element in supporting Differentiated Instruction in schools may be having a firm commitment, tied to a clear vision and purpose. After that, leaders need to give the gift of time – time to collaborate, partner, learn, plan, and reflect.
In your school, is there a culture supporting differentiated instruction? Is there a clear vision and purpose, helping to ensure that teachers have the time and supports needed to differentiate for all of the students in their classrooms?