When we work with school districts to embark on a personalized learning journey, we empower students to be self-directed, independent, motivated, and well-versed in articulating and sharing ideas. We encourage students to reflect on their own performance data and collaboratively plan an academic path forward that meets their needs. Yet we don’t build that sort of student agency when it comes to behavior and discipline.
As a former secondary teacher myself, I found that personalized learning best practices, when applied to behavioral challenges, have a significant effect. In particular, examining middle or high school disciplinary culture through a personalized learning lens may encourage a transition away from punitive, zero-tolerance policies that keep the in-school suspension room full. According to the Texas study Breaking Schools’ Rules, students who are suspended and/or expelled are more likely to be held back a grade or to drop out of school. Therefore, disciplinary culture has a profound academic impact. That same study found that nearly 60% of public school students studied were suspended or expelled at least once between seventh and twelfth grade.
How might you harness personalized learning to change your discipline culture? Consider the following strategies to get started:
An underpinning of personalized learning is trust. Trust is not easy to give students, whether for academic or behavioral pursuits. However, the only way we can enable learners to be self-directed, motivated, and independent is by empowering and trusting them. Disciplinary policies should philosophically align with a school's approach to student learning, thus sending students consistent messaging about how they are empowered and trusted. The hope is that, through a personalized learning approach that spans academic and behavioral domains, students will develop agency and critical skills that will bring them to success in college, career, and life.