In a week or so, I will be presenting at AEC 2017 about blended learning design and evaluation, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to give my thoughts on the enormous responsibility that we have as trainers and presenters to differentiate for the various levels of teachers that exist in our schools.

I am lucky enough to have worked at schools that take professional development seriously. When done right, in-house PD provides a forum for professional discourse on theory and practice. It is varied, active, and differentiated for the needs of all levels of teachers, and intrinsically satisfies an educator’s craving for learning. When done wrong, in-house “PD” and is little more than a few speakers force-feeding teachers information that they could easily obtain by other means (a memo!), aka Death By PowerPoint.

Like students, not all teachers have the same learning needs. What’s the sense in making a teacher with 30 years of IB experience sit in a meeting about the fundamentals of the IB program? While we all need a refresher now and then, meetings that are little more than training or housekeeping disguised as professional development can really hurt the moral of a professional learning community, and contribute to burnout, turnover and widespread apathy among educators. It also just shows a total lack of respect for the teaching profession, as if teachers are not smart enough to make their own decisions about where they are and what they need to learn next.

This is why I like book clubs

I’ve been running book clubs for teachers at my school for three years now, and I find them to be beneficial on so many levels. One of the most popular articles on has been 5 Books To Start a Book Club for Teachers, which tells me that other educators are itchin’ for professional reading as well. Last week, we started up this year’s first book club on “Never Work Harder Than Your Students” by Robyn R. Jackson, inspired in many ways by my course at AEC 2016. The discussion was the highlight of my week.

The thing about book clubs is that it turns PD into an active exercise rather than a passive one. In the book clubs that I have been a part of, teachers read at their own pace while being guided and held accountable by their peers. Teachers choose if and when they want to attend, and are given chances to contribute to the conversation outside of meeting hours through online forums and journals. Good professional book clubs kind of model how I think learning should take place in the classroom; If students don’t deserve an education where they are merely seen as passive receptacles for dry information, then why should teachers?


Make in-house PD worthwhile with differentiation

Clearly there are times when a school will need teachers to be all on the same page, especially if there is a sense that the teaching and learning has become off-mission. But, for the most part, beginning teachers have their needs, experienced teachers have their needs, single subject teachers have their needs and generalists have their needs. It is important that we put as much thought into our in-house PD as we put into our lessons for the students. When teachers’ needs are met, and we begin to treat them as responsible, creative, intelligent theorists who are able to grapple with the latest ideas and trends in education, then we will begin to re-professionalize the profession from the ground up.

What do you think? What is in-house PD like at your school? Do you meet just to meet, or do you meet to learn about things that are important to you? Stephanie and I would love to hear your ideas in the comments below.

– Zach Groshell @MrZachG

12 thoughts on “When it Comes to PD, Teachers Need Differentiation

  1. Sensational idea – Book Club for teachers! Out of curiosity, are the changes teachers make just at a personal level (in their classroom) or do/have whole school changes come from this?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When I’ve led the clubs, we’ve always tried to create an action plan during the last session and submit it to our supervisor to see where it will go. Since we try to use the book to promote action research opportunities, we are also trying things out in our classrooms and bringing them back to share. When done right, there is noticable change and growth (not just reading for pleasure, for the sake of argument, etc)


  2. A book club for P.D. is a great idea. I love belonging to a like-minded group of people to bounce ideas around with. It is always much more fun to do things with others and can be very isolating to try things on your own.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is this kind of isolation or the lack thereof that separates true professional learning communities from “teaching facilities”. When teachers model the profiles and the attitudes of a learner in their own lives, I believe it passes on to the kids.

      Thanks for commenting, Norah!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Zach,

    I have just started the online training to (hopefully) become a Google Certified Trainer, so this was a very timely post for me as I take on this challenge. I have little experience of training at this point other than training that I have participated in. As you say, PD can be very beneficial or very time-wasting. I’m quite confident that I know how NOT to lead PD. The next step is to figure out how it can be done for the most impact. This post was very helpful. Thanks!



    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting. I find that looking at what you want participants to DO during the PD helps to make the learning happen – unfortunately I have seen PDs where adult participants were less than willing to participate, probably because they felt “put on the spot”, or that their thoughts were being evaluated by others. It’s a difficult balance to achieve PD that gets participants involved without making them feel like they are back in school, if you know what I’m saying.

      Cheers – and feel free to post your blog posts on my facebook page:

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I shared this article with my coworkers and my boss, as it’s something we’ve been saying for a good while in our district. I am a speech-language pathologist, and in our state, school SLPs are licensed as teachers. Our district is huge on uniformity (and there are some appropriate reasons for that, high student mobility for one), but one PD template for several thousand teachers in 170 or so schools cannot meet the needs of all. Our department is allowed maybe one meeting of ten opportunities to provide speech-specific information, and we are celebrating having been able to keep that! The irony of “one size fits all” re: PD in the age of differentiation seems lost on so many. Thank you for this article.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really appreciate the comment, especially that you shared it with other people! Sometimes the blogging can go through extended periods without any positive feedback, so it really brightened our day to hear these kind words.

      All the best,
      Zach and Stephanie

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi! I am new to your blog, so thank you for sharing your insights. I am blessed to have recently become a part of a dynamic learning community at an international school in South Korea. For the first time in my professional life, I am taking part in a book club with my teammates. I look forward to our meetings where we discuss the great new ideas and “aha” moments with our PYP Coordinator. No matter where I go in my professional life, I will be sure to continue this model of differentiation for educators.

    Liked by 1 person

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