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Differentiated Delegation: How to Ensure Individual Success for Each and Every Teacher
When we, as educators, hear the term differentiation, we think of a classroom full of students whose distinct needs are being met in a variety of ways by the teacher.
Each student needs to know what they are learning, how they will show they have learned it, what strategies they can use to learn, how they will be monitored and assessed, and their role in the classroom.
Due to each student’s distinct needs, a teacher who utilizes differentiation does not use a one-size-fits-all approach:
In a differentiated classroom, the teacher assumes that different learners have differing needs and proactively plans lessons that provide a variety of ways to “get at” and express learning. The teacher may still need to fine-tune instruction for some learners, but because the teacher knows the varied learner needs within the classroom and selects learning options accordingly, the chances are greater that these experiences will be an appropriate fit for most learners (Tomlinson, 2017, p. 5).
How teachers explain, practice, and monitor learning must meet the needs of each and every student learner.
The same is true for adult learners.
A principal utilizing instructional leadership knows that all learning is supported by a differentiated approach to delegation based on each individual’s motivation and capacity.
To that end, a principal utilizing the power of instructional leadership understands that with each new initiative, the teacher must be treated as a learner who must receive support specific to their needs.
For adult learners – even those who are highly educated in the pedagogy of teaching and learning – this still holds true.
Each learner needs to have their support differentiated in terms of how they understand the initiative, receive the support, and are held accountable.
The Value of Differentiation for Adult Learners
Because effective teachers are the most important factor contributing to student achievement, as the principal you need to focus on the growth of your teachers.
You should respect each teacher as a learner and honor the teacher’s learning process. In other words, you must differentiate each teacher’s learning by strategically offering those practices that most effectively and efficiently support their distinct approach to adult learning. The differentiation process is a critical aspect of instructional leadership.
In our book, Developing Instructional Leadership, we help you determine the work involved in curriculum, instruction, assessment, and climate of your school-wide initiative and its successful implementation.
As you plan your work, our book guides you to build in a variety of supports that can be differentiated based on the needs of each and every learner.
Once your supports are decided, you should determine how you delegate and explain the work involved in the implementation of the initiative.
You cannot delegate the work in the same way to every teacher. You need to determine the best approach to explain the decisions, monitor these decisions, and honor the decisions of each and every teacher.
Your approach to delegation must be differentiated for each and every teacher.How teachers explain, practice, and monitor learning must meet each student's needs. The same is true for adult learners. Strong instructional leaders know each teacher must be treated as a learner & receive support. @Learn_Sci Click To Tweet
Differentiated delegation must take into account the teacher’s approach to the initiative – their desire and energy, as well as their skill and experience. Richard F. Elmore (2004) points out that for many teachers, this needs to be a personalized approach.
It is unlikely that teachers who are not intrinsically motivated to engage in hard, uncertain work will learn to do so in large, anonymous organizations that do not intensify personal commitments and responsibilities (p. 39).
In other words, the support is dependent on each teacher’s motivation – the will, the desire, and the energy to perform well.
Support is also dependent on each teacher’s capacity – the skill, the capability, and the experience necessary to implement the initiative.
Please note that a teacher’s motivation is separate from their capacity. A high or low motivation tells the instructional leader nothing about whether a teacher has high or low capacity.
An instructional leader also knows that this schema is situational and is dependent on the initiative.
For example, with one task, a teacher might have low motivation but high capacity to succeed. For another, the same teacher might have high motivation and low capacity. When support in each of these instances is differentiated to meet the teacher’s needs, the probability for success is increased.
The Process for Differentiated Delegation
Your understanding of each teacher’s motivation and capacity to implement the initiative at the highest level offers you the information to determine your approach – directing, encouraging, instructing, or clarifying.
How you plan and offer your support ensures greater likelihood of successful implementation from each teacher.
- When a teacher approaches the implementation of the initiative with low motivation and low capacity, instructional leadership suggests you offer differentiated support by directing.
- When a teacher approaches the implementation of the initiative with low motivation and high capacity, instructional leadership suggests you offer differentiated support by encouraging.
- When a teacher approaches the implementation of the initiative with high motivation and low capacity, instructional leadership suggests you offer differentiated support by instructing.
- When a teacher approaches the implementation of the initiative with high motivation and high capacity, instructional leadership suggests you offer differentiated support by clarifying.
Thus, you will notice in Figure A that support falls on a continuum of more directive to less directive.
You might discover that within the implementation of the initiative, a teacher’s motivation and capacity change and you will need to alter your approach.
For example, as you work with a teacher who initially approached the initiative with low motivation and low capacity, you might discover that, with their success, you can ease how direct your delegation needs to be and become more collaborative with decision-making.
The following tables (Figures B–E) offer guidance on how to differentiate support for your teachers in each quadrant.4 main approaches for instructional leaders to differentiate adult learning: direct, encourage, instruct, or clarify. Do you understand your teachers' level of motivation & capacity enough to choose the right approach? @Learn_Sci Click To Tweet
In order for you to implement a sustainable initiative, it is vital that you utilize the actions of instructional leadership and begin to see yourself as a leader whose role is to build a climate of ownership at your site.
When leaders honor their teachers by giving them the authority, the capacity, and the responsibility to implement the initiative, they see heightened motivation and enriched capacity.
This increase in teacher motivation and capacity leads to more focused decision-making, which, in turn, leads to increased support for all students.
WEBINAR on Differentiated Delegation
Sign up for a free webinar on Differentiated Delegation with the authors, Robert Crowe and Jane Kennedy (LIVE, June 2, 2021) or watch the webinar recording.
Elmore, R.F. (2004). School reform from the inside out: Policy, practice, and performance. Harvard Education Press.
Schemel, R. (1997). Management training exercise: From theory to practice. Ankara, Turkey: Turkish Psychological Association. Reproduced with the permission of the American Management Association (www.amanet.org).
Tomlinson, C.A. (2017). How to differentiate instruction in academically diverse classrooms, 3rd edition. ASCD.
- Book: Developing Instructional Leadership: Creating a Culture of Ownership Through the Use of Strategic Learning Practices
- Related blog post: Question-Driven Feedback: How to Ensure Teacher Metacognition
- Related blog post: Developing Instructional Leadership: 10 Questions with Experts Robert Crowe and Jane Kennedy
- Related blog post: How to Build Your Dream School: An Article for School Administrators and Aspiring Leaders
- Related blog post: Strengthening Instructional Leadership: 6 strategies to promote a culture of continuous improvement, close COVID gaps, and increase principal retention
- Related blog post: How to Use Virtual Classroom Walkthrough Tools: 7 Best Practices for K-12 School and District Leaders
- Recorded webinar: The 4 Actions of Instructional Leadership That Will Turn Your Dream School into a Reality
- Recorded webinar: 6 Strategies for Strengthening Instructional Leadership
About the Authors
Robert Crowe is one of the co-founders of Elevated Achievement Group, a professional development company dedicated to helping educators develop student ownership at all grade levels and at all types of schools. He has worked extensively across the United States supporting district administrators, school administrators, teachers, students, and parents at the elementary, middle, and high school levels to implement standards-based curriculum, instruction, and assessment. He is the author of Developing Instructional Leadership and Developing Student Ownership with Jane Kennedy.
Jane began her career over 25 year ago as a self-contained classroom teacher in an inner-city, urban setting with the majority of her students receiving Title I support and free-and-reduced lunch. She has since consulted with all types of districts – urban, suburban, and rural – as they implemented the latest curriculum, managing a team that worked directly with administrators and teachers, and developing processes that successfully supported the implementation of research-based reforms. Jane is now Chief Financial Officer of Elevated Achievement Group. She is also the author of Developing Instructional Leadership and Developing Student Ownership with Robert Crowe.
Our vision for education is to close the achievement gap. Equip all students with the social, emotional, and cognitive skills they need to thrive in the 21st century. Expand equity by giving every child access to rigorous core instruction that empowers learners to free themselves from generational poverty.