Assumptions about homogeneity are baked into schools and schooling; grade levels are sorted by student age, classrooms by numbers of desks, and sets of standards specifying what to teach and when students will reach proficiency. While most people understand and would agree that students’ needs and rate of learning vary greatly, we seem to forget this when it comes to adult learning. Based upon this, we emphasize not all teachers need the same learning experiences and environments to develop expertise.
Teachers differ in the nature of their personal and professional experiences, in the assets and dispositions they bring to the job, in the role they play in their particular schools, and in their specific goals as educators. Thus, the professional learning opportunities available to them should not be one size fits all. This is easier said than done. Differentiating professional learning in any domain is complex, and reading is no exception. It is easier to book a speaker and order some materials than it is to design opportunities for professional learning that meet each educator where they are. Yet, for Science of Reading (SOR) based reforms to be implemented in ways that make a difference for students, coherent, contextualized, and engaging professional development on the SOR is crucial.
As a wave of reading reform, legislation related to the SOR represents an attempt to focus instruction on the explicit teaching of foundational skills, based on research that affirms the importance of phonemic awareness and phonics in beginning reading. Many SOR reforms aim to boost the knowledge and skills of individual teachers, with less attention to the ecosystem of schooling where these teachers are embedded, or to how leaders and teachers collaborate to improve instruction. SOR reforms often mandate that districts adopt new curricula and teachers teach with these materials. But implementing SoR reforms is complex, as it simultaneously involves individual learning and organizational change. Therefore, as we have described here, here, and in this podcast, it is crucial to align professional development, curriculum, and leadership – the three pillars of the reading infrastructure. These pillars enable instructional improvement by creating organizational conditions for systemic change. In this post, we concentrate on the professional development pillar.