Members share ideas during Professional Development Network conference

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Among the pre-convention activities in Detroit was the AFT's Professional Development Network conference (formerly the ER&D Network Conference), where more than 100 educators gathered to discuss and learn more about issues such as using data to inform instruction, preparing parents for the Common Core State Standards, teacher development and evaluation, and strategies to reduce suspensions and disciplinary referrals. The goal is to equip participants with skills and knowledge they can take back and share with colleagues.

The conference's closing session featured education consultant Robin Fogarty, a former teacher, who gave a presentation on differentiated learning and the importance of recognizing that "no two kids sitting in a classroom are alike."

"The question," Fogarty noted, is 'How do we connect with every kid in that classroom?' I like to say 'different brains, different learners.' "

Responding to the differences in how students learn is the core rationale for "differentiation and student-centered classrooms," she stressed.

Fogarty believes the Common Core State Standards provide educators with the opportunity to help students "build background knowledge, build vocabulary," which will help them develop a deeper understanding of what's being taught. Teachers, she added, are going to be the ones who help students reach their goals in terms of college and career-readiness.

Attendees also participated in a series of exercises designed to help them with whole group differentiation, small group differentiation and individual differentiation. "It's really about having a vast repertoire of strategies," Fogarty said—"having a lot of tools in the tool kit."

The AFT educational issues department hosted the Professional Development Network conference. [Roger Glass]