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How to Update Your Classroom for Differentiated Learning

Four people having a meeting in a conference room

I recently read a good article geared towards teachers. The premise was how do you know when you're ready to lead? Coincidentally, not long after, I was asked the same question. I make a living teaching and leading. It's what I do and what I love. Since much of my work is focused on helping teachers "understand" the bigger picture, I thought I'd share with you some of my thoughts on how to help people move forward:


Self assessment is important, but take note from others too.

There's nothing wrong with admitting you're not perfect. In fact, it's those who are able to accept critical feedback from peers that continually move along in their development. It takes years to perfect some qualities of good teaching. How will you know what you don't know?

To get better at something you need to understand what it is that you do well, and what you need improvement in. So it is simply not enough to ask yourself what you think YOU need help with; it's important to ask others that you trust to provide feedback too. Ask them to visit your classroom and watch you work. Visit theirs. Take notes; ask questions. Talk to their students; talk to yours. You can learn a lot from people if you just spend some time with them.

Look around at your environment. Take note of your peers. Who do they interact with? How do others respond to them? Ask them to take video and replay your sessions together. Use a rubric to help you recognize patterns. A technology progression chart or rubric will provide a framework for conversation. Discuss. Listen.


Know your "students".

Observe your students in different classrooms during the day and in different spaces. Take notes. Ask yourself, are the needs of most students being met? I like to ask myself, "Who is my most "interesting" child?" Interesting can be interpreted in many ways. How will I plan my lesson to ensure that that child's needs are being met? This helps me think about ways to differentiate my lesson. It also helps me keep the work challenging and interesting enough to capture the most "interesting" child's interest.


Everything that you can hear, touch, smell, taste and see will affect the learning environment for someone.

What do you see, hear, touch, taste, as you observe lessons being delivered? Take note of how these sensory experiences may affect students. Perhaps they even affect you. Everything that affects the senses - the sounds you hear (it is noisy outside), acoustics of a room, (does the teacher need a speaker to be audible enough), visuals, (are visuals distracting or not attracting enough attention) will impact delivery of lessons. Are you teaching in the best possible environment? What can you do to change that?

Design is important

What is my classroom layout? How does it support good teaching?

Even the way the desks are arranged make a difference in a classroom. If you want to work towards increasing collaboration and communication, take note of the way your chairs are arranged. Change the layout to make it easier to introduce group work. Is it easy for students to speak with each other? Are there also spaces for students to work independently? Does the layout support good learning for the cohort? I have had teachers move desks in between sessions to accommodate different cohorts of students in order to impact learning positively. Guess what? It works.

Creativity and Innovation

Think about what makes your class "different".

You're ready to lead if you can truly say you live in this century and it shows. Ask yourself, "If I walked into my classroom today and I had a choice, would I stay?" What makes your classroom innovative? Is it the method of teaching? Engaging others from outside the school? Are students excited because they feel like they are part of the action? Learning is a verb. Your classroom should look like one.

Define the terms

Speak with one voice.

Every teacher should come to an understanding of 21st century skills that is equal to others. Use correct terminology. Don't confuse collaboration with cooperation. How do you define risk? Probe each other and fine tune your objectives. What areas of 21st century learning do you want to embrace?

Build a Relationship

Nothing can replace the building of a relationship with people.

Discuss all you want with your fellow teachers but don't forget to listen. It's too easy to "suggest" something to them rather than try and work the lesson from the inside out so you will need to dedicate time to planning and redesigning lessons from scratch. Be fearless but also create a fear-free environment. You'll learn plenty along the way too.

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