Since 2003, Discovery’s show Mythbusters has been a smash hit. Though Adam & Jamie stopped hosting in 2016, the reruns and spin-offs continue. Why? Because rumors, myths, and curiosity are a part of what it means to be human. Finding answers to questions we’ve wondered about helps us process and move on with new knowledge. Sometimes the myths they would bust were fun and quirky – like, is there truth behind the 5-second rule for food? Or can you really shoot a scuba tank and it’ll explode? Spoiler alert – NO to both. But sometimes there are myths that aren’t fun and quirky, and don’t end up on TV. Some myths have depth and need to be addressed in order for progress to be made. This is true for advancing the work of personalized learning.
In Forest Hills School District (FHSD) there have been pockets of innovation and personalized learning (PL) for some time. However, when the district came to Education Elements, they sought to scale PL in each and every classroom, district-wide. To accomplish this goal, the district strategically slowed down in year one. They spent the first year focusing on establishing a shared definition of PL and letting teachers generate a clear vision for PL in each school across the district. They’ve done this because they’ve seen how confusion and uncertainty can influence a program in their district. To ensure the success of their PL implementation, they’ve used a grass roots approach - creating conditions and structures for teachers to provide input and drive this work forward.
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Why Pursue Personalized Learning? In October 2017, AdvancEd conducted our five-year district accreditation review. At the conclusion of the review process, we received a couple of recommendations that were spot on and aligned with our district comprehensive needs assessment’s (CNA) overarching needs. Two specific recommendations the review team provided really hit home. First, we needed to strengthen and monitor our professional learning communities in an effort to evaluate, interpret and utilize data for personalized learning and differentiated instruction to increase learning and growth. Secondly, we had to identify and implement professional development strategies that focus on the utilization of digital resources as an integral component of content delivery. With the AdvancED Review Team’s recommendations validating our district and school improvement needs and the focus on student use of technology in classrooms, we believed personalized learning would be an effective improvement strategy to pursue.
During the Education Elements Personalized Learning Summit 2019, one of our keynote speakers, Principal Baruti Kafele, discussed the achievement gap, the attitude gap, and the role all educators play in addressing both. I was familiar with the achievement gap, but I was unfamiliar with the attitude gap. Principal Kafele defines it as, “the gap between those students who have the will to strive for excellence, and those who don’t.” We all know that it’s nearly impossible to change the will of our students, I had plenty of teachers try and fail when I was a student. But the notion that our students need to develop socially and emotionally in order to reach their full potential resonated with me. And not just in the context of when we have them in our buildings – ideally, we want our students to take the academic and non-academic lessons they learn while with us, and apply them to life and the outside world. As we prepare students for their futures, it’s imperative that we prioritize their social-emotional development. We can equip them with a lens to view the diversity the world has to offer as a way to build bridges to solve the problems we couldn’t. At Education Elements, we believe that Student Reflection & Ownership provides a framework for supporting the social-emotional development of students and ultimately, creates an environment that empowers them to become happy, successful, agents of change.
This summer I had the pleasure of working alongside my Education Elements colleagues to reflect on the incredible work our partner districts have accomplished in the past year. We had the opportunity to interview four districts, survey over 100 district leaders, and analyze thousands of data points. We also got to reflect on our own practices to see how we can improve.
I had a middle school science teacher once tell me she was surprised that I did well on a test because she assumed I was bad at science. She pointed to one of my classmates and said, “Her, I assume she’ll do well, but you’re just not very good at science.” I remember being deeply hurt by that statement but not understanding why it hurt. Years later, I would try and remember that moment when I found myself making assumptions about which students I expected would do well on my tests. Why was I expecting some students to do well but not others? Past academic performance was one part, but I realized I had biases that were also impacting those assumptions.