I recently read a publication from the Alliance for Excellent Education about Personalized Learning and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The new legislation is in strong support of schools implementing personalized learning. But what exactly is Personalized Learning? And what does it look like? The even better question might be, "What SHOULD it look like?"
The Alliance for Excellent Education notes that Personalized Learning emphasizes:
- Developing trusting and caring relationships between teachers and students
- Connecting learning to the real world
- Linking curriculum to students' interests, strengths, and aspirations
- Providing students individually targeted instruction, practice and support where they are struggling
- Creating more flexible learning environments
Let's be real here…these 5 principles aren't new to educators as most if not all would agree that these 5 practices are highly impactful to positively impacting our students and our schools. The challenge begins as we transition from the "What" to the "How". Give these 5 principles to a classroom teacher with 32 students in a classroom and say, "Go get em" is certainly easier said than done. Teachers are inundated with duties and responsibilities that increase every year and are essentially expected many times to do "more with less".
So getting back to the "How"—How can leaders in education empower and enable teachers to implement personalized learning strategies that are highly impactful to student learning? The answers are not easy here—there is no "silver bullet" but here are 10 ideas running through my head that I thought I'd share with you.
Think Big while Keeping it simple
You can't do it all at once! And I don’t think you have to do it all at once. The key is to set high expectations for everyone while focusing on a couple of main ideas. Ask yourself the question, "What are 2-3 big ideas that my faculty can focus on that will help move the needle? All too often I've seen administrators create school improvement plans that look more like a technical manual than a practical plan that will lead to success. Try creating a "plan on a page" and keep it simple.
Focus on culture just as much as you focus on academic success
Teachers, students, parents, and administrators need a safe, challenging, and positive environment in order to thrive. This is Maslow 101. You can't reach the academic achievement you are shooting for without creating a culture where people feel a strong sense of belonging and support. Be systemic in your approach and prioritize your school's culture just as much as you focus on raising achievement.
Listen to teachers & give them voice & autonomy
Teachers know. They are on the front lines and educational leaders need to create opportunities for teachers to be heard, to express challenges, and to recommend programs, initiatives, and ideas that will help them accomplish their goals. Listen to what they have to say, and give them as much autonomy as possible.
"It takes a village to raise a child"
Create a coalition of moms and dads, of local businesses, and organizations in your community to work collaboratively in your schools. I've seen some of the most innovative and effective ideas and programs come from external stakeholders in schools. Leverage the collective power found within your community to create flexible learning environments and to customize instruction for various types of learners.
Communicate expectations & Success Criteria
You don’t know what you don’t know. Students need clear expectations and they need to be communicated consistently and pervasively throughout the building. Find ways to connect learning with standards and develop processes that foster student discussions and ownership over the learning process. Clarity precedes competence.
Make them prove it!
When you walk into a classroom, how do you know that learning is taking place? What evidence do you see that proves that student learning is taking place? Prioritize student-centered instruction that forces students to thing critically and demonstrate competency. As teachers facilitate the learning process, they are constantly assessing student progress so think about ways that you can make formative assessment a more efficient process for teachers.
Empower those who empower.
Principals need central office support that gives them the flexibility they need to support learning and teaching in their schools. Empowering the principal empowers the teachers, which empowers the students.
Jump in headfirst!
Don't be afraid to think outside the box. Model they way by challenging current processes and think of alternative ways of doing things in your building. After all, just because it worked in the past, doesn't meet it will work in the future. If something goes wrong and mistakes are made, use this as an opportunity to grow. We emphasize the "growth mindset" with our students but we must also have a "growth mindset" as educators. Go for it, dive in headfirst and don’t look back!
Don't be techie for the sake of being techie.
I say this because I believe it is so important. I work for an education technology company and I am super excited about the ways we can leverage technology to impact learning and teaching in schools. By all means, I believe it is imperative that schools get on board with technology and that it is absolutely essential that we are preparing our students for colleges and careers using digital tools in our classrooms. But don’t misstep and throw technology into a classroom or a school without addressing capacity, readiness, and sustainability. Be strategic in your approach and make sure you have done your homework. Don't be "techie" for the sake of being "techie", but make sure the technology is an impactful and applicable part of the learning process.
This is so cliché here but so true—If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Personalized learning in the 21st Century requires a well thought out plan. Create a committee that includes students, teachers, parents, and community members to develop a strategic plan for Personalized Learning. Create SMART goals and progress monitor these goals always connecting them to measurable outcomes.
FocalPointK12 provides educators with a robust and comprehensive Personalized Learning Management System. Data, assessments, resources, and virtual environments are embedded into the platform giving teachers the opportunity to improve efficiency and student engagement all while delivering instruction that is relevant, personalized, and student-centered. Standards-aligned blended learning is enabled, students can see clearly where they are in the learning process, and the platform serves as a catalyst for 21st Century learning.