Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
Photo courtesy of

Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Show your students EMPATHY!

In times of change, stress, and frustration, it is easy to get into auto-pilot mode and ignore the true needs of our most important group: our students. The more we get to know them personally, the more they will learn from us and be willing to put forth their best effort.

I love Brad Kuntz's column on doing just that. May he inspire you to do so more each day!

In the Classroom with Brad Kuntz
Be Good to Yourself
by Brad Kuntz
October 2012 | Vol 54 | No. 10 
 It's amazing how many roles teachers today are expected to fulfill, and each of these roles comes with varying degrees of pressure and expectation from society. The school board prioritizes teachers' roles differently than parents do; while the demands of the federal government certainly differ from those of students.
From content specialist and instructional expert to curriculum developer and assessment designer; from mentor and role model to physical and emotional caregiver; from school leader and culture creator to community liaison and district representative, each function possesses the potential to influence individual students, the school, and the community in incalculable ways. It's up to teachers themselves to determine which of these roles (and the countless unmentioned others) they will focus on, improve on, and excel in.
There is one role, though, that many of us put at the top of our lists, especially in the beginning of our careers: we wish to be a source of warmth for our students, to be kind and gentle, showing them unwavering care and respect; making them feel loved; and reminding them that however tough things are outside the classroom, in our room they are safe and welcome.
We know that if not for us, some students might spend a whole day without hearing positive words, without being complimented or encouraged, or without being made to feel important.
This is certainly one of my top priorities. I have written about some of the other roles most important to me in this publication over the past year. Several of them revolve around making leaders out of our students, creating agents of change, forming active citizens, and pushing students to go above and beyond the norm. I want to guide my students toward becoming extraordinary.
Often, though, these goals require the use of tough love that I admit is sometimes more tough than loving. As a result of the pressure and expectations I face as an educator and the self-imposed goals I described above, I have occasionally lost sight of that kindness that was once my top priority. I have lost patience, forgotten to be kindhearted, and acted coldly or in a way that was overly demanding.
In this period of unfunded mandates, increased emphasis on standardized testing, and layoffs, the stresses of the job are many. Some teachers do a fantastic job of being consistently kind and patient without sacrificing the advancement of other goals; however, when I have become overwhelmed by the scope of everything I'm trying to accomplish, I have lost sight of this fundamental approach.
We need to remind each other that the more we get to know our students, the more we will understand their challenges. The better we look after our students' emotional well-being, the more trust we will earn from them. The more we put ourselves in their shoes, the better we will understand how to work with them.
This empathetic approach sets up everyone for success and combats the impatience and irritability that we inevitably face in this profession.
In my opinion, to most effectively ensure that we maintain the necessary levels of patience and kindness as we strive to push our students to be the best that they can be, we must take care of ourselves too. When I neglect or forget to care for myself, stress affects my demeanor.
So, as I sign off on my last article in Education Update, I encourage you all to treat yourselves gently, to refresh and protect yourselves, to make healthy choices, and to manage your stress. Exercise, eat well, ride your bike or walk to work once a week, meditate, play music, and take time for yourself. Do whatever it takes to keep yourself at the top of your game.
You owe it not only to your students, but also to yourself. 

Brad Kuntz teaches Spanish and environmental leadership at Gladstone High School in Gladstone, Ore., and he is a 2011 winner of ASCD's Outstanding Young Educator Award.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Education Week is approaching!

For American Education Week, it is time to celebrate great public schools, which are our civic right and responsibility. The 91st American Education Week will be November 11-17.

Monday, 11/12 - Kick Off Day
Tuesday, 11/13 - Parents' Day
Wednesday, 11/14 - ESP Day
Thursday, 11/15 - Educator for a Day
Friday, 11/16 - Substitute Educators' Day

For more information, visit: Go out and root on your fellow colleagues and other educational professionals!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Steps to Co-Teaching Successfully

I was blessed with a wonderful co-teacher for 4 years at my last school and know how crucial a compatible relationship is for all students. This NEA article has some great suggestions on how to make co-teaching models work for inclusive classrooms. Enjoy!

6 Steps to Successful Co-Teaching

Helping Special and Regular Education Teachers Work Together

Are you wondering how you can co-teach effectively and make it a successful year for both teachers and students?
As co-teachers - a regular and a special education teacher - you will plan lessons and teach a subject together to a class of special and regular education students. Your co-teaching will support academic diversity in the regular classroom and provide all students with access to the county and state curriculum.
Co-teaching can be a wonderful experience when planning and communication are in place beginning day one. Here are six steps I've found very helpful when preparing for a co-teaching experience.

1. Establish rapport.

The first step that you (the regular classroom teacher and the special education teacher) need to take is to establish a relationship -- even before the students enter the building. Get to know each other on a personal level. After all you will be together the entire year. What things do you have in common? Are you married? Children? Hobbies? Where did you grow up?
When the two of you have a comfortable relationship and rapport with each other, the children feel more comfortable in the classroom. Students can sense tension as well as harmony within the learning environment. A positive relationship will help minimize misunderstandings and motivate you to resolve problems before they escalate.

2. Identify your teaching styles and use them to create a cohesive classroom.

Are you a hands-on teacher who loves doing experiments and using manipulatives, never to open a textbook? While your co-teacher needs to use the textbooks first and then supplement with experiments and manipulatives?
How do you manage behaviors? What are your discipline styles?
Instructional and discipline styles are just two factors you need to examine so that you can combine the best of both of your styles to create a cohesive classroom. You need to find a balance that makes everyone comfortable.
When you plan lessons together, you can use your two styles to complement one another and thus enhance the lessons and the delivery of instruction. You create a cohesive classroom with consistent expectations when both of you are on the same page with instruction and discipline styles.

3. Discuss strengths and weaknesses.

How can you utilize each instructor’s strengths and weaknesses? A good way to do this is to have each of you make a list of strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes. Then take the lists and compare them and highlight the strengths that are dominant for one teacher and allow that person to be the lead teacher in those areas. By using these strengths, you can differentiate your instruction to meet the needs of a larger group more frequently within the classroom as well as allowing for individualized instruction.

4. Discuss Individualized Education Plans and regular education goals.

To create Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), the special educator needs to involve the regular educator in the special education process. Students in special education belong to both educators, so the general educator must be informed about the IEP for each child. Otherwise, the two of you cannot effectively execute the plans. It's difficult to educate a child if you are unaware of his or her special needs. It is important to discuss the modifications and accommodations as well as the goals and objectives to ensure student success in the classroom. The special and regular education teacher can then work together in meeting the student’s goals and ensuring adequate progress.
In the same way, the regular education teacher should discuss with the special education teacher his or her goals for the regular students, as the regular education students belong to the special education teacher as well. Both educators should be addressing the goals, objectives, and mandatory curriculum for that grade level.

5. Formulate a plan of action and act as a unified team.

You have to make decisions constantly throughout the year, so if you formulate a plan of action in the beginning of the year, disruptions will be minimal.
Consider the following items in your plan of action:
  • Scheduling
  • Expected classroom behaviors
  • Classroom procedures, such as class work and homework policies, turning in work
  • Consequences of not following rules and procedures
  • Grading
  • Communication between home and school
Talk about what you will tolerate as well as how you will respond to actions that are not acceptable. Be consistent when dealing with parents, and meet as a team for conferences with them. Determine your roles in advance so that you do not contradict each other or foster misunderstandings during the meeting.

6. Take risks and grow.

A wonderful aspect of co-teaching is that it allows you to take risks, learn from each other, and grow as professionals.
Co-teaching provides a safety net when you take risks in your instruction. When you try something new and it doesn't work, you have another teacher in the room who can step in with another technique or lesson that works, or point out the area of difficulty, or assist in redirecting the lesson. When you are the only teacher in the room and a lesson bombs, you often have to stop and move on and then analyze later why the lesson fell apart -- without the assistance of someone else in the room observing the lesson.


Co-teaching is an experience that is as good as you allow it to be. You have the opportunity to work with another educator daily. Make the most of it. Enjoy!


Natalie Marston is a special educator at Eva Turner Elementary School in the Charles County Public Schools in Charles County, Maryland. A special educator for nine years, Marston is currently serving as her school's special education team leader (four teachers and seven assistants) and chairperson of the school's reading committee.
 Full article can be found at:

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dangers of Social Media....

Google "Texting Dangers" and you will find a bevy of stories about the dangers of texting and driving — a serious danger which has been tragically documented. Huff Post Teen has assembled a list of 9 other texting/social media dangers that you may not have considered — including:

 *   Text Neck
 *   Dry Eyes
 *   Insomnia
 *   Drinking & Smoking
 *   Bad Grades
Click to view the entire list.<>
While the Northeast Symposium on Social Media in Schools will not offer a solution to "Text Neck," it will provide an excellent opportunity to gain legal, psychological, preventive and research insights into the potential impact of social media on both educators and students.  This two-day symposium will provide critical information for principals, teachers, counselors, technology coordinators and other educators on topics such as:

 *   Walking the lethal legal tightrope between avoiding liability and violating First Amendment rights
 *   Recognizing and minimizing the negative psychological impact of social media use and abuse
 *   Understanding the implications of the latest research into the dynamics and effects of cyberbullying and social media abuse
 *   Preventive tools and strategies to help students and educators avoid the lasting pain of cyberbullying and the misuse of technology.

This strategy-packed two-day event will feature recognized experts including Charles P.E. Leitch, Esq. (Legal), Dr. Chamarlyn Fairley (Psychological), Dr. Sameer Hinduja (Cyber Research) and Richard Guerry (Prevention Strategies).  It will also provide recommended approaches, strategies and activities that will help to update your understanding of the ever-changing social media and cyberbullying world and best practices for prevention and intervention.


School Response to Student Misuse of Social Media and the Law: What Works, What Doesn't and WHY
- Charles P.E. Leitch, Esq.

What is Really Happening to the Facebook Generation? The Psychological Ramifications of Social Media, Digital Relationships and Cyberbullying on Students
- Dr. Chamarlyn Fairley

School Climate 2.0: Preventing Cyberbullying, Sexting, and Unsafe Social Networking One Classroom at a Time
- Dr. Sameer Hinduja

Public & Permanent: Establishing a New Digital Consciousness™ Throughout Your School
- Richard Guerry


Atlantic City, NJ<>

October 29 & 30, 2012

Trump Taj Mahal



(By 10/23/12)

Individual      $275    $295
3+ Attendees    $245    $265


To register online with a purchase order, click here<>.


Charles P.E. Leitch, Esq.
School Response to Student Misuse of Social Media and the Law: What Works, What Doesn't and WHY

Charles Leitch is a Founding Principal of Patterson Buchanan Fobes Leitch & Kalzer, Inc., P.S.., a regional law firm with offices in Seattle and Portland.  His active practice focuses on representation of School Districts, Public Entities, and private employers.  In addition to his practice, Mr. Leitch provides guidance, trainings and orientations on technology supervision, social networking, cyberbullying, and exploitation prevention throughout North America, including specific presentation formats for teenagers, parents, law enforcement, public and private employees, and managers.  He is a member of multiple work groups and advisory boards nationally on technology supervision and best practices, including the Washington State’s Attorney General Youth Internet Safety Taskforce.    Prior to his civil practice, Mr. Leitch served as a prosecutor on the County and City level. He is a graduate of Whitman College and Willamette University College of Law.



Dr. Chamarlyn Fairley
What is Really Happening to the Facebook Generation? The Psychological Ramifications of Social Media, Digital Relationships and Cyberbullying on Students

Dr. Fairley is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist , and has been a keynote speaker at national conferences on the topic of bullying and relational aggression. She currently serves as sexual trauma coordinator at a large medical center. Prior to this assignment, Dr. Fairley served as psychologist at a juvenile corrections facility – where she interacted with youth in a variety of ways, including predispositional evaluations, pre-waiver evaluations, and sex offender treatment. She has also worked as a forensic interviewer and therapist of children who have been sexually, physically and emotionally abused. Dr. Fairley has led seminars throughout North America on various topics including Mean Girls: How Educators Can Address and Prevent Female Bullying, Cyberbullying & Relational Aggression. Attendees at Dr. Fairley's presentations report their appreciation for her ability to provide profound sociological & psychological insights into the worlds of troubled young people. She is also known for offering practical solutions to very challenging real-life cases involving self-destructive youth who are particularly resistant, defensive and/or defiant to needed personal awareness and change.



Dr. Sameer Hinduja
School Climate 2.0: Preventing Cyberbullying, Sexting and Unsafe Social Networking One Classroom at a Time

Dr. Hinduja is an Associate Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University and Co-Director of the Cyberbullying Research Center ( He works nationally and internationally with the public and private sector to reduce online victimization and its real-world consequences. Dr. Hinduja is a member of the Research Advisory Board for Harvard University's Internet Safety Task Force, and has given trainings and keynotes to a range of audiences including Fortune 500 companies, NGOs, federal law enforcement, school districts, parents, and youth. His co-authored book: Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying was named Educator Book of the Year by ForeWord reviews. His latest book: “School Climate 2.0: Preventing Cyberbullying and Sexting One Classroom at a Time” became available in April, 2012. His interdisciplinary research is widely published in a number of peer-reviewed academic journals, and has been featured on numerous local, state, national, and international media programs, including: CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, NPR’s All Things Considered, BBC, and The New York Times. He has also been interviewed and cited by hundreds of online and print media outlets. He received his Ph.D. in Criminal Justice from Michigan State University (focus area: cybercrime). At Florida Atlantic, he has won both Researcher of the Year and Teacher of the Year, the two highest honors across the entire university.



Richard Guerry
Public & Permanent: Establishing a New Digital Consciousness™ Throughout Your School

Mr. Guerry is a national public speaker and the founder of the non-profit organization the Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communication (IROC2). At the height of the technology revolution, he served as an Internet marketing executive. During his tenure, he encountered the darkest areas of the internet and discovered countless individuals unknowingly being manipulated and schemed, and their content being stolen and exploited. Mr. Guerry now travels across the country speaking to digital users, young and old, regarding the importance of practicing a Digital Consciousness in every aspect of life to avoid any current — or future — digital disease. Mr. Guerry has been a featured speaker at many national conferences and conventions, including the National Conference on Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Prevention, the International Bullying Prevention Association, and the National Symposium on Child Abuse. He has also appeared as an expert on CNN and MTV's Thin Line Campaign, as well as in Parade Magazine and in local, regional, and international publications.


CERTIFICATES: Certificates of Completion for this symposium, which indicate 12 contact hours of continuing education, will be available at the end of the symposium. In many cases, depending on your profession and jurisdiction, this Certificate of Completion is sufficient for tracking your continuing education and professional development efforts. We suggest that you contact your local board or governing agency to see exactly what steps are necessary for approval in your particular discipline. Please note that Developmental Resources is also an approved Provider for the following national and regional accrediting agencies:

ASWB (#1053): Developmental Resources approved as a provider for social work continuing education in participating states by the Association of Social Work Boards through the Approved Continuing Education (ACE) program. Developmental Resources Inc. maintains responsibility for this program.

NBCC (#5602): Developmental Resources Inc. is recognized by the NBCC to offer contact hours for continuing education/recertification use by National Certified Counselors. We adhere to NBCC Continuing Education Guidelines.


All cancellations incur a $25 administrative fee and must be received in writing or electronically seven days prior to the symposium. No refunds will be issued on cancellations received after that date. Substitutions are welcome at any time. Developmental Resources, Inc. reserves the right to cancel any seminar in the event of insufficient registration, in which case a full refund will be returned. If we are forced to cancel the symposium for reasons beyond our control, it will be rescheduled for a later date. If you cannot attend on the rescheduled date, you will receive a Voucher. If for any reason the seminar is not held, Developmental Resources' responsibility is limited to refund of the registration fee paid.


In this symposium, you will learn:

 *   Critical insights to help you fulfill your legal obligations and protect your school/organization, staff & administrators from lawsuits
 *   Cautionary insights into dangerous digital situations and trends from the Legal, Psychological, Research and Prevention perspectives
 *   Recommendations for preventing cyberbullying, sexting and unsafe social networking one classroom at a time
 *   Key elements needed to evaluate already existing school/district-wide social media and cyberbullying policies and action plans.


 *   Principals & Administrators
 *   Teachers (3-12)
 *   School Counselors
 *   School Social Workers
 *   Technology Coordinators
 *   Computer Science Teachers
 *   Cyber Safety Committee Members
 *   Anti-Bullying Committee Members
 *   Online Safety Education Coordinators
 *   School Psychologists
 *   Media Specialists
 *   School Resource Officers
 *   District Personnel
 *   Community-Based Youth Workers


Please click<> to view the agenda.



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Sunday, October 21, 2012

More great differentiation resources!

Greetings!  The privately offered Differentiation class at my new school is going wonderfully. We are able to have rich on-line conversations. Even though not everyone on staff is able to participate, I did want to share with you the resources we have used in Session 1. I will continue to post these, so that all can benefit from the content.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Why we must differentiate....

Making a Difference

Carol Ann Tomlinson explains how differentiated instruction works and why we need it now.

Differentiated instruction—the theory that teachers should work to accomodate and build on students' diverse learning needs—is not new. But it's unlikely that anyone has done more to systematize it and explicate its classroom applications than University of Virginia education professor Carol Ann Tomlinson .

A former elementary school teacher of 21 years (and Virginia Teacher of the Year in 1974), Carol Ann Tomlinson has written more than 200 articles, chapters, and books, including The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners and Fulfilling the Promise of the Differentiated Classroom: Strategies and Tools for Responsive Teaching. Characterized by a rigorous professionalism and a strong underlying belief in both teachers' and students' potential, her work has given many educators both practical and philosophical frameworks for modifying instruction to meet the individual needs of all students.

Anthony Rebora, editorial director of the Sourcebook, recently talked to Tomlinson about the theory of differentiated instruction and its use in schools today.

—Photo by Jay Paul

Differentiated instruction is a term that is interpreted in a lot of different ways. How do you define it, and why is it important for teachers today?

I define it as a teacher really trying to address students’ particular readiness needs, their particular interests, and their preferred ways of learning. Of course, these efforts must be rooted in sound classroom practice—it’s not just a matter of trying anything. There are key principles of differentiated instruction that we know to be best practices and that support everything we do in the classroom. But at its core, differentiated instruction means addressing ways in which students vary as learners.

The reason I think differentiated instruction is important is that students do vary in so many ways, and our student populations are becoming more academically diverse. They always have been, but they’re becoming more so. And the chances are pretty good that this will continue throughout our lifetimes.

As I see it, there are three ways to deal with students’ differences. One is to ignore them. We’ve tried that for years, and we just don’t have any evidence that pretending that all kids are alike and teaching them the same things in the same way over the same time period is effective.

See Also

See the accompanying story, “Schoolwide Differentiation”

The second way is to separate kids out—trying to figure out who’s smart and who’s not. When we do that, we end up getting the idea that most teachers are supposed to work with “normal” kids, and the kids who are somehow “broken”—if you don’t speak English too well, if you have a learning disability, if you’re too smart—are put someplace else. But we’re finding that this separation process isn’t helping in terms of achievement, particularly for the “broken” kids. And there’s the problem that the broken kids are often poor and minority, while the kids we see as being in good shape tend to be white and more affluent. So, the division between the haves and the have-nots is being reinforced by schools rather than ameliorated. Finally, sorting kids in this way creates a negative mindset, to use author Carol Dweck’s term. We’re basically telling kids from the outset they’re too different and that they can’t do the work—which is pretty detrimental to their outlook.

So that leaves us with the third, unfortunately less common choice—keeping kids together in the context of high-quality curriculum but attending to their readiness needs, their interests, and their preferred ways of learning. And we have a fairly good body of research to suggest that when you do that the results are pretty impressive. Differentiated instruction assumes a more positive mindset: Let’s assume they can all do good work, and let’s attend to the ways that they need us to teach them in order to get there.

What are the hallmarks of a well-run differentiated classroom? What are the things you look for when you visit a classroom?

One of the first things I look for are teacher-student connections. Does this seem to be a teacher who is really paying attention to the kids, who’s going out of his or her way to study them and understand what makes them tick? To be effective with differentiation, a teacher really needs to talk with the kids, ask them their opinions on things, sit down with them for a minute or two to see how things are going, and listen to them and find out what they are interested in. All that feeds back into instruction. And teacher-student connections not only help teachers plan what to do with kids, it also provides motivation for differentiation: If I can see kids as real individual human beings, I’m going to be much more invested in helping them learn and grow individually.

Another thing I look for is a sense of community in the classroom. Has the teacher pulled this class together as a team? It’s helpful to think of a baseball team: Different players play different positions and fill different roles, but they also work together and support each other in working toward a common goal. In the same way, it’s really important for kids to come together and understand and appreciate their differences, and to be willing to help one another succeed—as opposed to the cut-throat competition that sometimes goes on in schools.

The third thing I look for is the quality of the curriculum being used. You have to differentiate something. And if what you differentiate is boring enough to choke a horse, you’ve just got different versions of boredom. If you differentiate something that’s murky and not clear regarding why anyone’s doing it, then you just generate multiple versions of fog. Or if all you’re doing—as unfortunately many teachers feel pressured to do today—is teaching a telephone book of facts in preparation for a test, you’re not really providing memorable or useful learning. So teachers who are trying to reach out to kids really need to keep asking themselves about the quality of what they are teaching. This is also a mindset issue: If I really think all my kids are capable of learning, then I want to give them the most robust materials, not the watered-down stuff.

So what are the key things a teacher needs to think about when developing a differentiated lesson plan?

This gets us further into the core principles of differentiated instruction. One of these is what we call “respectful tasks.” This means that everybody’s work needs to be equally engaging, equally appealing, and equally important. It’s very easy to fall into the pattern of giving some kids no-brainer tasks and giving other kids the teacher’s pet tasks. What you really want is every student to be focused on the essential knowledge, understanding, and skill. And for every student to have to think to do their work.

Another important principle is that of flexible grouping. This means you don’t arbitrarily divide students or automatically group them with kids of the same skill level. You need to systematically move kids among similar readiness groups, varied readiness groups, mixed learning-profile groups, interest groups, mixed interest groups, and student-choice groups. In a sense, the teacher is continually auditioning kids in different settings—and the students get to see how they can contribute in a variety of contexts.

Another key to a good differentiated lesson is “teaching up.” We do much better if we start with what we consider to be high-end curriculum and expectations—and then differentiate to provide scaffolding, to lift the kids up. The usual tendency is to start with what we perceive to be grade-level material and then dumb it down for some and raise it up for others. But we don’t usually raise it up very much from that starting point, and dumbing down just sets lower expectations for some kids.

You alluded to the fact that teachers are under a great deal of pressure to teach mandated standards and to improve standardized test scores. How does differentiated instruction fit into this context?

I think it fits in pretty well actually. As I see it, you’ve got two choices. One is to say, “Look, all I think I can do is cover this list of skills.” But even if that’s all you think you can do, it’s still better to start where the kid is and help him move from that point instead of trying to skip over gaps.

But what we really know from people who work with good quality curriculum is that the stuff we’re being asked to teach kids for the tests is part of a bigger picture of something that helps them make sense of the world. To teach that bigger picture is the second choice. Typically, what we’re being asked to teach kids are facts and skills, but you can wrap them in understanding. You give kids a sense of how this makes sense in the world, how it all fits together, how it ties in with their lives, and what they can do with it as people. You don’t jettison the facts and skills; you just package them in a way that makes them more interesting to learn, more memorable, more transferable, more useful, and retainable.

No one would ask teachers not to teach what they feel they’re responsible for. But you can teach those things in ways that are more meaningful and richer. So what I’m talking about is quality curriculum and my sense of it—and I think this is where most curriculum experts are, too—is that quality curriculum is centered on understandings.

I found it interesting that in The Differentiated Classroom you say that an effective teacher “must like himself.” What do you mean by that?

When you see purpose in what you do, when you really like what you do, when you get up in the morning ready to make a difference, when you see human beings that are going to be impacted by your work—I think these things enable you to be a fulfilled person. And I think that teachers who really find fulfillment in the classroom feel better about themselves and are more likely to have the courage to reach out to kids and try new things than those who doubt themselves and feel discouraged. And I would guess this is also true of teachers who are more self-efficacious in the first place. You need a certain sense of self-assurance to teach at high levels.

To use differentiated instruction as you discuss it in your books, teachers really have to get to know and understand their students—in terms of their learning styles, interests, strengths, and weaknesses. It seemed to me that this would be very difficult to do if you have five or six classes a day. How do teachers digest all this?

Let me just clarify that I taught for 21 years, so this isn’t just something I thought of at a university and never tried in a classroom. I’ve done it with 150 kids a year. But it is difficult. Teaching is difficult. So are many other professions.

But getting to know students in this way isn’t really as hard as you think. The key thing is to actively get kids to show you who they are and what their needs are. There are a lot of pretty simple techniques to do this. For example, we have a fairly substantial body of evidence that some of us learn better in creative ways, some in practical ways, and some in analytic ways. To start to gauge where your students fall within this schema, you could create three different journal prompts that all ask the same question—but with one coming at it from an out-of-the-box perspective, one bringing in a life-application aspect, and one in a more methodical or analytic way. Then just ask the kids to respond to the prompt that’s best for them personally. More generally, you could give students periodic surveys of the class, asking them what they particularly liked and what they found particularly difficult. It’s also good practice for a teacher to keep a kind of journal where they jot down things they learn about kids—about they’re likes and dislikes, and what they get really excited about—and be able to refer back to it.

Actually, we’re hitting on another key principle of differentiation, which is ongoing assessment, meaning that I’m continually checking in on who’s where with the knowledge and understanding I’m trying to teach and continuing to track the progress of kids, much the way a hospital would track the blood work or respiration of a patient. There are really a lot of ways to do this, outside of formal quizzes and tests, that aren’t tremendously laborious. You start by systematically watching kids, taking good notes, checking work regularly and closely, and asking good questions. It’s really as much a predisposition on a teacher’s part as anything else.

The growing numbers of English- language learners in schools pose particular challenges for many teachers. In your books, you talk about the ability of differentiated instructors to build “language bridges” to help these students. Can you explain how that’s done?

You learn a language through speaking, so making sure these kids participate in discussion groups where they can make a contribution is really very important.

One great way to do this, when possible, is to put a student who is just learning English in the same group as someone who can serve as a kind of bridge—someone who speaks the same native language but is further along in English. This gives the English-language learner a way to contribute and follow the work.

Another helpful strategy is what we call “front-loading vocabulary.” This is when the teacher identifies the half-dozen or so words in a unit that really are central and really give it its meaning. Then you teach this academic vocabulary before the unit begins, so that when the lessons and readings start the kids have something to build on. This is helpful not only with second-language learners but also with students with learning disabilities or below-level vocabulary skills. It helps tremendously with focus and understanding.

A related technique is the use of word walls—which we tend to associate with younger grade-levels but can work well with older students, too. These are simply places on the classroom walls where you list words and definitions and categorize them in word families and in other ways. This gives kids something to refer to and helps them learn words and derivatives. I know a high school teacher in North Carolina who has her students—many of whom are learning English—“adopt” particular words by creating poster-board presentations on them, complete with definitions, pronunciations, and illustrations. Strategies like these really amount to vocabulary-support systems and can help kids create associations and understandings.

Another tried and true technique is to make audio recordings of reading assignments that kids can listen to while they read. Oftentimes, hearing vocabulary in a new language develops more quickly than their reading vocabulary.

Graphic organizers can also help English-language learners organize and make sense of ideas in the content.

Teachers often say they don’t get enough—or any—training or professional development in differentiated instruction. Why do you think that is?

I think the main reason is that differentiated instruction requires a complex change process for most teachers. It’s not something you can show me how to do today and then I can go back and do in my classroom tomorrow. And unfortunately, the professional development models used in most schools aren’t conducive to complex, meaningful change or growth. For most schools, a good professional development program is, “Well, shoot, we used two whole staff-development days.” But something like differentiated instruction takes a lot more than that. You have to have people in the classrooms with teachers and you have to give teachers opportunities to trouble shoot and work together. And you need a leader who’s both approachable and insistent, who commits to the program.

In the book I recently co-authored, called The Differentiated School, we actually look at two very different schools—one elementary and one high school—that have moved their entire faculties to differentiated instruction. The one thing that was immediately evident in both schools was that they had leaders who really understood what differentiation meant. And they went about staff development with the understanding that asking teachers to change their practices in this way is a complex thing. Both schools came up with staff-development plans that were sustained and persistent and embedded in the school’s culture, with people in charge who never went away. On some level, when you look at those schools, it’s almost a no-brainer. Everything they did was entirely sensible—it’s just that we almost never do those things systematically and persistently in schools.

Considering the high teacher turnover in many schools and the increasing use of scripted lessons, are you optimistic about the growth of differentiated instruction in schools?

I think I’m sort of a realistic optimistic. I understand how hard change is, and I understand the complexities of schools and school systems. But there’s no doubt that our classrooms are becoming more diverse, and that’s going to continue. And whether you call it differentiation or something else, we’re going to have to reach out to those kids. Educators get this. New ideas in teaching often disappear from the scene fairly quickly because real change is so hard. But I’ve been working with differentiated instruction for at least 15 years now, and people are sticking with it. It’s even starting to take hold, quite effectively, in some good teacher-prep programs, giving young teachers a strong basis for development.

Now, I don’t think this is because people just like the way it sounds. I think it’s because we all have these kids, in all their wonderful diversity, right there in front of us every morning—and we have to figure how to help them reach their potential. So, I think my optimism comes from what seems to be a sustained interest on the part of educators in reaching out to diverse student populations and a willingness to pursue change even if it doesn’t come in a simple formula.