Several years ago I observed a highly effective veteran teacher during her annual formal observation. She had incorporated many elements of personalized learning into her classroom practices and her learners were demonstrating evidence that they were capable of being actively involved in their own learning. Unfortunately, this teacher’s years of being in charge of the classroom and the need to control each aspect did not allow her to enjoy the empowerment she had gifted to her learners. Over the past several years, I have continued to urge her to pause, let go, get out of the way and let the learning happen. She continues to challenge herself to let go of the fear of losing control as well as changing deeply embedded past practices as she transforms her classroom to a truly learner centered learning experience.
While it feels good to give others that kind of feedback and I enjoy being part of the growth process of others, I have had to reflect on how I am doing with that same advice as a leader.
- Is my leadership modeling the expectations I have for the teachers as they work with their learners?
- Am I willing to do exactly what I am asking teachers to do?
- Am I personalizing my leadership to empower staff and meet each of their unique strengths, needs, and passions?
- Do I take the time to step back, let go, get out of the way and let the personalized learning process take place?
If personalizing the classroom environment empowers learners to become actively engaged in their own learning path, imagine the possibilities that exist if an entire staff were empowered through a personalized leadership approach.
- What would the results be if teachers were allowed to structure their daily schedule and classrooms in a way that aligns with their strengths, personality and unique teaching style?
- What if teachers were trusted to design and engage in their own professional development - when, where and how it worked best for each of them?
- What if teachers assessed their own practices and were accountable to their peers more than to the formal leader?
- What if a teacher’s entry point into personalized learning was based on their strengths, they were allowed to proceed at their own pace and could implement new elements when they are ready?
Whether our current system remains mired in traditional practices or we have begun to move the needle toward a learner centered approach, modeling the behaviors we want replicated will always be an effective and powerful teaching method. This applies to teachers leading learners and leaders leading teachers.
If we, as leaders, are going to ask teachers to let go of a teacher led, compliance driven approach in the classroom, we must be willing to do the same for our staff. When personalized learning is empowered by personalized leading, the potential for success is limitless.
This blog post was the winning submission in the Future Shaper Pass Contest, in which education leaders from all over the country submitted blog posts for the chance to win free roundtrip airfare, hotel stay, and attendance to The Personalized Learning Summit 2018. Principal Schlender's article was thoughtful and introspective, and asked all the questions we hope education leaders will ask of themselves and their teams. Thank you for your thoughtful submission, Principal Schlender!
About John Schlender - Guest Author
John Schlender is the principal of Mayville Middle School in Mayville, WI. He is passionate about transforming education to a learner-centered approach and believes that has to start with leadership that models and supports the teaching staff.