Friday, January 30, 2015

The 20th Friday: IF We Believe...

…when we segregate students for instruction based on what we perceive they are capable of doing, we have already sent many of them messages that homogeneity matters more than community and that we believe only some students are truly smart.” 
Carol Ann Tomlinson

My quest to learn more about differentiation by reading Carol Ann Tomlinson’s second edition of The Differentiated Classroom continues, as does my desire to share just a bit of my learning as I read. In addition to her book, I also enjoyed reading Carol's powerful response to a recent rant against differentiation; please take time to read her rebuttal here if you are interested.

A downside to reading this book and, in turn, trying to share my learning with others is that I simply find myself wanting to share word-for-word many of Tomlinson's sage insights. For example, she makes a strong case that no patented formula for differentiation exists. However, she does outline what she calls, “Three Pillars That Support Effective Differentiation.” Those three pillars are the three P’s of: Philosophy, Principles, and Practices. Although several chapters of the book are devoted to the latter two pillars, it is the former, philosophy, that must be our foundation for effective differentiation and, without which, we have no chance of effectively responding to the needs of all learners in our schools. What does a “Philosophy” of differentiation look like? According to Tomlinson, it is based on the following four beliefs:

  • Diversity is normal and valuable.
  • Every learner has a hidden and extensive capacity to learn.
  • It is the teacher’s responsibility to be the engineer of student success.
  • Educators should be champions of every student who enters the schoolhouse doors.


Last week, I crafted a few “We Will” statements educators should take to align with creating learning environments conducive to student growth. In hindsight, I think I got ahead of myself. Before we talk about any action steps (or behaviors), we must first examine our mindset (or beliefs). Do we believe in these four statements attributed to a differentiation mindset? Truthfully, as I read them, I saw them not merely as cornerstones of a “differentiation philosophy” but of an overall "educational philosophy." Years ago, a question that seemed to be in vogue during interviews--that I rarely hear posed nowadays--was, “What is your philosophy of education?” If asked today, my personal response would align with these four statements.

If we accept and welcome diversity among our students--and each other--as the norm, rather than the exception, we take our first giant leap toward existing as a thriving community of leaders and learners….who also happen to believe in differentiation. If we sincerely believe that every child we teach possesses hidden talents and a vast capacity to learn, we take another giant step toward creating a vibrant community of learners and leaders...while also serving as educators who are effective in differentiating services for our children. Next, we all know that the most powerful variable impacting student academic achievement is the classroom teacher. If every teacher accepts responsibility for engineering a successful journey of learning for each student they teach, we take a gargantuan step toward creating a high-achieving community of learners and leaders…who happen to respect and support each other’s differences, needs, and strengths. Finally, if each one of us champions every child who enters our schoolhouse doors, we take the largest step of all in creating a world class community of learners and leaders...a community that also happens to become known for having schools filled with differentiated classrooms.

Let’s avoid labeling our students or adhering to any preconceived notions of their learning potential; instead, let's believe in a community of learners and leaders, each of whom possesses an innate curiosity and capacity for growth and strive to ensure that each one realizes their full potential. I am thankful for the thousands of amazing teachers I know who operate from a philosophy grounded in the tenets of differentiation; believing in these tenets--and acting on these beliefs--is another way we Teach with Passion!



6 comments:

  1. Jeff thank you for always putting kids first. I often think about what we have our students do all day long and what adults do all day long and they don't seem to mesh. I truly wish we would spend more time trying to discover and uncover students' strengths so that every child thinks of school as place where they can feel good about themselves. Instead I think we are so focused on re-mediating weaknesses that there is not time left to explore strengths. In turn kids view school as a place they go to be "fixed", as if they are broken. Instead we need school to be a place where kids can go to add to their highlight reel, not their bloopers page. Thanks as always for leading with passion.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jon, Thank you so much for reading and commenting! I agree w/ everything you say here and especially love your analogy that we should focus on kids' highlight reels, rather than bloopers page! Thanks for always stretching my thinking!

      Delete
  2. Thank you for this post Jeff. It is so true every student has the capacity (and even deep down desire) to learn. I am always saddened to get students who come to my school defeated by 2nd grade. It isn't rocket science to differentiate but it is difficult in today's education landscape of public schools sadly with expectations of educators. Hopefully the more push back for what's right for students rather than anything else, we can make a change.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Sharon,
      Thank you for reading and replying! It is sad and shocking that students as early as grade two arrive to us defeated. We must stop sifting and sorting our kids, letting them know there are educational "winners' and "losers" particularly at this early age. We must let all learners know we believe in them. Thanks for fighting to be the change!
      Jeff

      Delete
  3. Thank you for your on-target post. The four beliefs should be at the core of what drives decisions in education. It struck me that Tomlinson uses the word "schoolhouse" when it is so often referred to as a school building... that sense of community gets lost in the later.
    As a teacher in a heterogeneous math class, differentiating my instruction taught me what it meant to teach. That was when I truly learned how to "be the engineer of student success". It required a shift in mindset for students and parents as well as educators that I worked with. We hung a poster with Tomlinson's advice, "In the classroom, we are never finished, learning is a process that never ends." A constant reminder for everyone in the room that we were going to continue to push your thinking no matter where you were in the process!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Laurie,
      Thank you so much for reading and commenting! I love what you say RE: "schoolhouse v. "school building." The words we use matter and used consistently over time with all community members, it eventually impacts--in a positive way---the school culture. Thanks again,
      Jeff

      Delete