Time is weird right now. Hours can feel like months, weeks can feel like days, and a year into a global pandemic feels both like an eon and a few seconds at the same time. Regardless of how we perceive time or how much time has actually elapsed since school days shifted from 3D to 2D learning, we know that our students have coped with this complex time in a myriad of ways. Some have thrived, others have been barely keeping it together. Still others we might have lost touch with altogether. And that variety and variability of student experiences since March 2020 make it challenging to imagine how to teach when the next normal begins. The question we must ask ourselves becomes: when we open our school doors to all students again, will we revert back to standard operating procedures? Or will we take this seismic shakeup in the status quo to shift our practice to something more responsive, more equitable, and more student-centered? Let’s opt for the latter.
When I tell friends and family about the types of projects I’m working on with Education Elements, I throw around terms like “personalized learning” and “competency-based education” like they’re the titles of new Beyoncé albums. Usually, they smile and nod politely, but sometimes they ask further questions. Recently, I had a conversation with an educator friend who had some confusion around the difference between PL and CBE. So I decided to set the record straight.
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In some ways, creating a successful personalized learning classroom is similar to winning a basketball game. To give us direction, my high school basketball coach consistently focused on three key areas, which he called the Big Three:
One of the most common questions I answer about Education Elements is, “So what do you guys do?” If we have an elevator ride that goes to, say, the top of the world’s tallest building, I can give a fairly satisfying and comprehensive answer. If, on the other hand, we are just waiting in a short line for a cup of coffee, I tend to say something like, “We help districts solve their biggest challenges,” which, judging by the reaction I often get, is not nearly the level of detail people are looking to hear. So in the age of TL;DR and Buzzfeed lists that always come in odd numbers, I decided to try to put pen to paper and explain what we do in a way that gets more head nods and doesn’t have anyone thinking, “For the love of God will she ever stop talking?” (Don’t worry, you can just read the bold parts)
We published The NEW School Rules: 6 Vital Practices for Thriving and Responsive Schools this winter to help leaders make a shift toward being more effective, responsive leaders. Since the book’s release in February we have had dozens of requests for webinars and presentations about The NEW School Rules. Demand has been so great that we’ve developed a leadership course based on the rules. This summer we kick off leadership courses across five districts and four states.
I’ve mentioned to a few people that I’m having my education mid-life crisis. After almost 20 years in education, I’ve seen various initiatives, software solutions, and programs come and go. Hundreds of millions are spent each year trying to move the needle, yet we continue to get similar results. It isn’t without the sweat, blood, and tears of all the educators in the country that work so hard.