Leaders – do you know your staff’s learning needs? Does it matter to you?

Over the last 10 weeks, I have had the most humbling opportunity to influence pre-service Teachers during their final year before they enter the profession. Having had a taste of instructional leadership in my grad studies, and within a school district and now in a Faculty of Education, I have noticed that the approach to adult learning differs greatly once these adult learners enter the field. Let me explain.


Just like in the classroom with children, these pre-service teachers differ greatly in their learning needs. In every one of my classes, I have some students requiring specific accommodations and/or modifications (even adults are on an IEP). I have noticed huge disparities in knowledge and understanding of tech use and problem-solving ability, of coping and stress management skills, of organizational skills and of resources. I have students who are privileged with supports from their family and I have students who are living thousands of miles away from anyone familiar. I have students who are coming to school hungry and living in poverty every day. I have students who are caring for terminally ill parents or who are taking care of their own families. I have students with reading disabilities, processing disabilities and anxiety disorders. As their teacher, just like with children, it is my duty to provide a varied approach to my instruction.

These are the teachers who will be soon applying for teaching positions.

These new teachers will NOT disclose their learning differences (I didn’t). They will NOT disclose their personal stressors such as poverty, or familial issues. When hired, they will be treated the same as everyone else. The accommodations and modifications that they were once provided will no longer apply. They will need to abide by the same time-lines, schedules, and instructional duties as all other teachers.
Is there a dichotomy here? On one hand, in the field of education, we are advocating and insisting universally designed instructional practices, success for all, differentiated instruction, and varied approaches to teaching and learning. On the other hand, we rarely provide a differentiated approach in our instructional leadership within the schools – in fact, learning differences in teachers are in most cases seen as a weakness (which is why our Unions suggest we NOT disclose this to our district).

Since it is my job to prepare these adult learners for the workplace, I cannot dwell on this real, and frustrating dichotomy. Instead, I need to help them find ways to self-differentiate – and to cope. So, I present them (and you) with three timeless, authentic and organic strategies: Network, collaborate and find a critical friend.
It is these very strategies that contributed to my own success. My network provides me with current, on-going, and varied forms of information. By collaborating, my learning communities balance out my weakness and strength and offer me shared rewards and success. My critical friend (s), provides me with real and authentic feedback, especially when I am feeling vulnerable and scared. Leaders today have the use of social networks, collaboration tools, blogs, websites, shared wikis, and more – all which can sustain a professional learning community, collaboration, and mentorship (critical friends).

What are you doing as a leader to model a differentiated approach for your staff? What are you doing as a staff to support the varied learning needs of your colleagues? What are we doing as a system to encourage diversity in our teaching population.


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4 Replies to “Leaders – do you know your staff’s learning needs? Does it matter to you?”

  1. Thank you for your post. As a teacher with a language learning disability currently struggling with report cards and the definition of professional being tied to handing in reports without mistakes, I am currently a little frustrated with the same dichotomy you describe. I look to my principals to be managers of people – enjoy my strengths and help accommodate my weaknesses. I also experience this at workshops and PD. I have to hold my tongue while being lectured in a room of 300 of the value of DI or giving choice and control to your students. Are they wrong? Is the lecture a universally successful teaching/learning strategy? Or are they able to enjoy the irony? Or do they enjoy the hypocrisy?

  2. Thank you for this comment Patrick. First, I can resonate with it personally. Especially when it comes to how we are modelling DI strategies and the value of choice in learning. We know that both – how we are learning along with the tools that we use to help us learn have seen changes that I don’t think anyone fully understands. We continue to perpetuate the old system – old way of teaching and learning, which we know is not so good for those of us who might have “different” needs that the rest.
    I recently had a discussion with someone about this very issue, who asked me out right – “Why should employees (teachers) be differentiated or accommodated when NO OTHER job would do this?”. I had to smile at the ignorance of this statement. Not many other jobs deals with the growing of children. If we are not modelling in ALL facets of our organization – teaching and learning strategies that are conducive to the needs of EVERYONE – that we are ultimately doing a disservice to our students. Right?

  3. You put it much nicer than I would have. 🙂 I’m struggling with this now too, it seems so schizophrenic of the system to advocate for personalized learning for students and only pay lip service to doing the same for teachers as students. I’m starting to advocate for a full system DI mentality within my work. Small steps. Thanks for throwing this out there to talk about.

  4. Hi Zoe; I heard you speak at the TLLP training today. Really enjoy this post… may I re-blog it on my website: http://www.verateschow.ca ?

    (Ps I, too, have taught pre-service teacher ed… at Tyndale!)

    Thanks for considering,

    Vera 🙂

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