First Glance: Our move to Personalized Learning

In January of this year my elementary school was awarded the opportunity to pilot a one to one program within our district. Since that time I have been reading, talking, thinking, listening and generally pondering “Personalized Learning” as that is the focus of our implementation. I am admittedly early in the process but want to get on the record now so that my reflections are committed to the record of public opinion and debate. Here are the conclusions I have been able to gather so far:

  • The idea of teaching each student where they are and with what they are excited about is both the essence of Personalized Learning (PL) and what every teacher dreams their job will be.
    • It is foolish to lump all teachers in any one grouping, and I would like to be the very last to suggest that we all teach for the same reason.
    • I also know that at the end of the school day the definition of a good lesson, and the motivation behind developing a better one, rests on those two elements: teaching them where they are, and getting them excited about the learning.
  • The ubiquity of technology has created a path that makes it possible for us to get much closer to that dream.
    • This path may use the super highway, but it is neither clear nor smooth nor toll free. It is not clear which parts or piece of tech will work in real world schools with outdated infrastructures and FRL population that regularly dance above 50%.
    • Those unknowns are a poor excuse for not moving forward, and blazing that trail.
    • Fear rises with, the all too legitimate, concern that ubiquity implies some kind of equity. It does not. The restriction of access to technology will be the 21st century equivalent of segregation.
  • Personalized Learning as an educational initiative is one of the first in a long time that grows from the bottom up. It is based not on an outcome, but on a process. In fact, by definition, even the process cannot be dictated to teachers as it must be individualized.
    • This is HUGE. Teachers have the power. They have the ability to make this happen rather than react to it.
    • At the elementary level, which is all I know well enough to speak publicly about, PL is based in building personal connections with kids, helping them build a quiver of tools to attack the challenges head of them, and teaching them how to struggle and grow.
    • After a one hundred million dollar stumble in New Jersey back in 2012, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife have come back into the education game having done their homework and learned from their missteps. They are putting big support behind PL in the bay area, and Facebook is developing an internet platform to house and deliver PL in classrooms. Zuckerberg is an easy person for me to find distasteful but he does his homework.

For the perfect teacher, who is filled, fueled and fortified by rigors work helping children struggle and grow academically. The teachers that can use the enticement of a child’s own curiosity to power scholarly learning, PL will be fast track to a cacophony of options that they will uniquely filter through the science of pedagogy and the art of teaching to make a symphony of meaningful education.

For the real teacher, who is overworked, overextended and overlooked by the system they help and struggle in. The teachers that have spent decades mastering all the aspects of teaching about space or the Civil War or their favorite novel. PL will be a fast track to a cacophony of loss, disenfranchisement and confusion.

***

In my perfect school, where all the children are happy and healthy and eager to learn PL looks like a classroom regularly filling with those moments, the small but priceless flashes, when the teacher sparks a connection not just with a kid, but between a kid and learning. That child, now self-motivated works with the teacher to expand their understanding and incorporate the standards in personally meaningful ways.

In my real school, where not everyone is happy or healthy or eager to learn PL looks like a classroom with a much more diligent teacher. Those flashes are more common than before, but could be easily missed or go unprovoked by the less observant teacher. That child who came in devoid of passion, rigor, experience, motivation or desire is no less challenging. Because PL simply creates an opportunity for students to grow and learn.

***

For the Perfect district, where the decision are based on student needs, best practices, and input from a supportive staff. One in which financial concerns never conflict with academic growth and communication flows with the clarity and consistency of summer sun. PL will build community, open new and needed paths for teacher leadership and create graduates for whom secondary education is a viable option.

For the real district, where the complexity of decisions regularly battle with the reality of conflicting needs and multiple choices, one where financial concerns are always present, and communication is subject to the law of diminishing clarity over distribution PL will challenge our ability to standardize assessment as we currently think of them, create anxiety and chaos around access, filtering, curriculum compliance and new forms of assessment.

Despite the challenges personalized learning has offered us and will continue to create on every level of education, I am excited about the potential it offers both my students and my teachers. I would love to start a dialogue with others that have already traveled this path and can offer insight or opinion as well as those that have only begun the journey as we have.

Brian Cleary
Brian Cleary
myerscleary@gmail.com

<p>Mr. Brian Cleary works for the Evergreen School District of Vancouver, WA. He has been in elementary education for almost 25 years, as a teacher, librarian, and currently as an Elementary Instructional Coach. He received his BA in Elementary Education for the University of Puget Sound, and an M.Ed. in Leadership from City University of Seattle. </p> <p>“I believe in the teacher, the student, and learning; the small start of big things, and the teachable moment. I believe in rigor, connecting, and real assessment, that the books of Rowlings, Seuss, and Curtis change lives. I believe that learning to fail is more powerful than learning to win. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing high stakes testing and merit pay. I believe in reading out loud, project-based lessons, and number 2 pencils and teaching children how to learn rather than what to study – and I believe in long, slow, deep, conversations that last more than one period.”</p>

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.