May 11, 2012

Jamie Billingham

Differentiated Engagement – School Districts Doing It Right

May 11, 2012
Jamie Billingham

Differentiated Engagement – School Districts Doing It Right

If you want something done right, ask a teacher to do it.

If you’ve spent any time in a classroom then you know why this is so. Educators have to balance multiple needs, be organized, stay on task, engage the sometimes uninterested, and get people to work together while measuring results. Many educators do this while also attending to the unique needs of their increasingly diverse learners, through differentiated instruction.

Differentiated instruction

Teachers have long embraced an approach to teaching and learning called differentiated instruction. This approach maintains a focus on providing learners with options that work for their style and preferences.  It is the heart and soul of learner centered education.

It’s an approach to teaching that advocates active planning for student differences in classrooms. ~ Carol Tomlinson

Differentiation engenders a richer and more engaging experience for learners. Given the adoption of differentiated learning and instruction in education it’s not surprising that school districts would adopt a similar approach in their strategic planning.

Differentiated engagement

Differentiated engagement is like differentiated instruction in that it approaches engagement – student, teacher, parent, community engagement – in ways that are respectful of individual differences.

School District 68, The Nanaimo-Ladysmith Board of Education, is embarking on one such differentiated engagement activity. Over the next few months they are holding multiple community engagement sessions where they will meet people where they are, using a variety of methods.

The invitation to engage

As the school district plans for the long-term they are asking themselves and their school community key questions. One of the questions they need answers to is – What key areas should we focus on to support student learning? To get the answers and insights they need they are asking parents, students, staff, and community members to join them for informal discussions. They have arranged meetings at every school in the district and to differentiate they are using ThoughtExchange to provide an alternative and more accessible way to engage.

A unique feature of the consultation process will be the use of online public engagement software, ThoughtExchange, to provide a feedback loop following each school meeting. In addition, members of the general public who do not have a connection with any particular school, will be able to participate in an online engagement process using ThoughtExchange during the last two weeks of May. (Press Release)

The importance of differentiated engagement

We live in complex times and with the increase in complexity comes the need for more minds, more involvement and more information being shared. Henry Jenkins said, “None of us can know everything; each of us knows something; we can put the pieces together if we pool our resources and combine our skills”. But all this “more” needs to be done with less. We have less time, less money and less available attention due to the vast amount of information pushed on us daily.

With demands to do more with less its easy to place the responsibility of participation onto the community and stakeholder but easy doesn’t get the job done. We work with school districts that are actively inviting, engaging and facilitating these kinds of community “pooling” events, in ways that are respectful of differences. These districts have collaborative leaders who recognize that the quality and quantity of engagement can be improved by providing a variety of ways to engage.

Do you have an example of a differentiated engagement activity? How do you engage in ways that appeal to different preferences?

Jamie Billingham
Jamie Billingham

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