How Do You Get Teacher Buy-In for Differentiated Instruction?

Photo of Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson

In a recent 90-minute webinar with PresenceLearning, an audience member asked Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson, an expert on differentiated instruction, how to get buy-in from teachers for differentiated instruction, especially among more seasoned teachers. See Dr. Tomlinson’s response below.


You can get teacher buy-in in a lot of ways, just like you do with kids. Ask yourself how you get the most reluctant kids to join you. In a classroom, that’s with a relationship. It might not always be a cuddly relationship to start with, but it can at least be honest where you can say something like, “I know of three kids here who would really benefit if we could figure out a way together to do something a little bit different for them. Are you game for doing that with me?”

Help the teacher to understand that you are not there to make anyone’s life harder, and that you are actually there because you’d like to make a kid’s life easier and their class a little more successful.

At one school, a principal brought in several young adults who had graduated, and he videotaped a panel with them talking about the things that made a positive difference in their schooling, and what had been really hurtful to them. He showed this to the teachers later, and it was clear that the graduates weren’t calling anyone names or trying to spite anybody. They were just being reflective. They would say things like, “It would be been so much better for me if somebody had noticed that I really couldn’t read those books, and had done something to help me. Because once somebody did that, I got much better.”

Help teachers see that things can change, and that they can make a difference. One of the things I do really often is to work with a teacher for an early win. Do something in that teacher’s classroom that’s likely to be successful even it it is small. For most teachers, when they see something that makes a difference for a kid, they find it hard to continue resisting.

It’s also important show, not tell, and work together. Suggest watching some kids together and talk about what might be useful. Discuss two or three choices that you might use and decide which of those would be the most useful to the kids, and that also feels more approachable, so that the teacher has as much voice as possible as well.