The Self-Aware Educator -- Developing systems for the educator’s mind
Today we have access to more instructional strategies, procedures, and technologies than ever before. From competency-based learning (I just gave a presentation at Keene State’s Education Summit) to personalized learning, Stemscopes (hands on science curriculum) to Dreambox (adaptive math), and Edusight (robust gradebook) to Fishtree (adaptive learning system), we have a lot of choices.
While all these options are great, the range of choices is overwhelming. We have enough things to do during the school day without all trying to make decisions about what to use. If we had risk-free and unlimited access to all the tools and strategies, what would we actually want? Ideally, we would want to have access to all these tools and strategies, to try them and use them and test them and figure out what’s best for our classroom each day based upon real-time information to help us make good choices. And what would it take do that? It would take complex inputs like student behavior, progress, engagement, lesson planning and output a meaningful course of action. Seems like a lot and yet...
We have this today. It’s our brain. The problem arises in figuring out how to organize our processing power to take advantage of the most advanced technology known to mankind. So how can we organize ourselves to do this work? I think it takes 5 principles.
Purpose is fundamental to everything we do. In fact, as educators, we have an even greater purpose beyond ourselves, which is to educate others. We have to be clear on our purpose - which is often to provide the best education possible to our students. What does that mean? Well for me, it means that education is tailored and personalized to meet the needs of each student. If that is the case, how do we push ourselves to do just that? We need ways to push our own limits to maximize impact on students.
What you can do: Know the purpose of every action you take to personalize instruction for every student. Think it through and plan well. Every action, every minute, counts because there are too few of them to waste. We have limited time and every move should be deliberate and have maximum impact. Students experience this personalization in meaningful ways, and often it creates the memorable moments educators all strive for.
Increasing our understanding of all aspects of instructional strategies and edtech tools can only be a good thing. This process builds an array of instructional procedures and tools that are available each of us - so that we can pull out the right tool the right time. You’ve heard the term “square peg in a round hole”, we want to grab a round peg. Having a greater understanding of what is possible and being aware of what is out there is key to choosing the right tool for the right situation.
What you can do: Seek to explore different techniques, tools, and strategies. Basically continue your own education on how people learn and understand how learning happens. By reflecting on how you learn with the support of technology, you will better understand how to teach others.
Educators talk about inquiry-based learning for students as an effective way to develop student agency and critical thinking. Similarly, we can internalize this in our own work. We can continuously seek to improve and adapt our understanding and knowledge. Learning is a dynamic process, and understanding how we learn as individuals can help us better understand how others want to learn. Questioning or inquiry can also result in some trial and error, otherwise known as iteration. And this is a good thing. We need to try new things to find what works best. We need to question what we do now to do something better tomorrow.
What can you do: The term continuous improvement is often used, but misunderstood. Through inquiry, you can determine what works and what doesn’t at any given time. You can change your assumptions based upon new information. This is learning. And it is key to improving.
Performing any procedure or implementing any tool without proper intent will result in inaccurate conclusions. I see this all the time, when digital content solutions are implemented with the wrong intent and schools don’t see the results they expected. Fidelity of implementation is one thing; the other is understanding how the solution fits into the overall instructional strategy. You have to understand if the actions are strategic or specific.
What you can do: You may have heard that your follow-through is as important as your set-up (true in sports, true in life). This is where we often fail - in follow through. Once you pick a few strategies or tools, make sure you do it with the fullest intent and get deep into it with consistency.
We are designers of classroom experiences; we create individual expressions of universal principles. The term, “one size doesn’t fit all” means that we often need to take frameworks and methodologies that are often universal and make them our own. Just because something worked for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for you. We each have different experiences, conditions, and students. What works in one district or building or classroom may not work in our own. Figure out what is a universal principle and what is individual. For example, a “culture of continuous improvement” is a universal principle. What aspect you want to implement or focus on is individual.
What you can do: Implement the universal principles of blended learning: small group differentiated instruction, use of data, leverage digital content for DOK levels 1 and 2 so that you can spend more time with students in DOK levels 3 and 4. How you do it, let your creative juices flow and realize that what you do is not fixed. You have the ability to adapt what you do as the conditions of learning change for you and your students.
Personalizing learning is a philosophical approach to education. Either you want to personalize learning for every student because that’s what they deserve or you want to provide the same to everyone student because you believe that learning should happen at the same pace and depth for everyone. Once you believe that personalize learning is the best way to learn, there are a lot of strategies, procedures, and technologies you need to get familiar with to expand your toolbox. These tools are there for you to design and adapt your practice as an educator.
About Anthony Kim
Anthony is the author of "Personalized Learning Playbook, Why the Time is Now", and his new book, "The NEW School Rules: 6 Vital Practices for Thriving and Responsive Schools". He has contributed to many other publications on new school models including Lessons Learned from Blended Programs: Experiences and Recommendations from the Field. Anthony is a nationally recognized speaker on personalized learning and his work has been referenced by the Christensen Institute, iNACOL, EdSurge, CompetencyWorks, and numerous other research reports. His work includes partnering with districts across the country who are implementing personalized and blended learning through Education Elements. Beyond implementing personalized learning models, Anthony focuses his research on organizational design and culture of innovation at school districts. Though this research, he is currently working on a new book, called Responsive Ed, which bring self-organization strategies to districts so that they can be more responsive to the changing needs of the community. Anthony is a graduate of Cornell University and lives in San Francisco.