BYOT SERIES: PERSONALIZED LEARNING & THE WORLD OF WORK #3
I work in Education Elements’ Washington, D.C. office as a senior consultant on school design and implementation. No two days are alike, and the term “D.C. office” is used loosely - an office implies a place where you go to work every day. But we’re on the road visiting schools. A lot.
During our busiest times I’m facilitating large workshops with groups of school leaders, or looking at data with smaller district teams, or providing support and guidance to clients via calls in coffee shops, cars, and airports as I make my way from one place to another. And if my location is flexible, the times at which I’m working are even more so - late night hotel meetings after a delayed flight, or early mornings after waiting for set of files to arrive. All of which is to say that my work is not subject to a consistent set of parameters; where and when it gets done varies based on a host of shifting variables and priorities.
That said, I still function as a part of a team. Our design and implementation consultants work together frequently, constantly comparing notes and ensuring that best practices aren’t isolated to specific locations within the EE network. We’re mindful of our progress as a team and an organization, without losing sight of the individual progress made with each district and innovations that are made along the way; in short, we need to take stock of the forest without losing sight of the trees. And as in personalized learning, we work anytime, anywhere, but still are held accountable to a general set of touchpoints and deliverables throughout the year.
And we work on our touchpoints and deliverables until we get them right, not just until they’re due. In such instances I’m reminded of how we often talk about traditional models of education versus personalized models, particularly those that are competency-based. In traditional schooling models, time is held constant through fixed bell schedules and unit plans, while the amount of learning varies from student to student. For example, as a student I could show up to class, coast through the week, get a “D” on a quiz, and the next week we’d be on to something new. I wouldn’t have to see that “D” material again until the unit test, or if lucky, ever again. But in my current job, I can’t imagine a situation in which I bomb a workshop, slowly walk away, and hope we never talk about it again.
Therein lies the rationale for a more personalized, competency-based model of learning: we try to (1) Hold learning constant by getting everyone to demonstrate knowledge or complete a performance task at a high level, and (2) Allow for time to become more of a variable by giving students flexibility in when they master material. As a student in a framework like this, I would know that I would have to perform at a higher level than a “D” in order to make progress, and in exchange, the time I’d take to build my knowledge base or final product could vary.
Now one of the chief concerns of a competency model is this: if you have unlimited time to work on a subject, what’s to stop you from getting stuck or slacking off? Point taken, but only at its extreme: there are plenty of deadlines in the world of work (oh so many deadlines), and there ought to be in well-designed competency-based classrooms too. And to be successful in both environments, you need to be able to (1) prioritize your work and (2) approach it with a learning mindset.
On the prioritization front, I’m required to look across a range of clients and projects; consider timelines, project goals, and my own background knowledge on the work at hand; and be sure that I have sufficient resources to effectively prepare for the next conversation, webinar or workshop. Students would do well to go through a similar process in school – one in which they consistently reflect on their own learning and are asked to actively consider their plans for meeting their own learning goals.
But perhaps the most important aspect of my work is possessing and acting on a learning mindset. In my mind, this first implies listening, a critical piece of our design and implementation team’s work. Listening allows me to learn about schools’ priorities, challenges, hopes, and aspirations. From there, I’ll encounter new circumstances that require me to delve into research, work with a colleague, or facilitate a workshop in order to solicit new ideas and arrive upon our next course of action. Finally, a learning mindset demands a commitment to reflection with schools – how far have we come, how effective were our actions to help us get there, and what are we still missing?
Our best teachers organize their classrooms in accordance with a Listen-Learn-Reflect mindset – one in which students are encouraged to listen to themselves as well as their classmates, to work individually and collaboratively to explore challenges and realize aspirations, and to reflect on their experiences along the way. These classrooms run in much the same manner as I need to function at EE, where I work anytime, anywhere; individually and as part of a team; and keep iterating and reflecting until the job is done.