Last week, a colleague shared with me a request for proposals (RFP) from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. I read through it and believe they have established a great framework to focus on personalized and student-centered learning. It is my impression they want to build something significant and nimble for students and have ideally unlimited interoperability.
After reading the RFP, I reflected upon being a former student, teacher, principal and superintendent of schools. It made me think about my involvement in student-centered learning throughout those stages of my life and career.
Thinking about my time as a student, I was reminded of my first memory of a phenomenal student-centered teacher. Her name was Ms. Raspen and she was my second grade teacher. She was a master of creating opportunities throughout the day that met the needs of her students. She handled me, a bright and VERY ACTIVE boy with great wisdom and skill and did the same for others. She always had me working on a project or teaching my “math skills” to other students.
I was also reminded of my time as a principal of a non-traditional high school in Georgia. Our program was geared toward recapturing students who had dropped out of high school already and also to help those who were at risk of dropping out. Below are some of the characteristics of that school and I imagine they may sound familiar, especially if you are working with online and blended learning:
- The school was open from 8a to 8p.
- Students could choose the time they attend.
- They could take as many as 1 to 4 classes at a time.
- They were not required to meet state regulations for seat time because they got credit if they passed the end of course assessments.
- Students could do work at home and they came in for teacher-led and teacher-assisted instruction.
- They had access to a few computer-based courses.
- If they finished a course, they could start another immediately.
- We worked around THEIR schedule.
- We provided onsite child care.
- We gave them a kitchen to bring their own meals and heat them.
- Every student had an individual graduation plan and every teacher was responsible for stewarding the plans of up to 15 other students. Equally important, they received training on how to do it.
I next thought about an amazing art teacher in Longmeadow, MA, where I was superintendent of schools. The work she did to meet her students’ needs, and take them from where they were to some place better, was best in class. I wrote about one example of this in one my previous posts. The example I shared is about how she helped a blind student complete a self-portrait painting.
In my over 25 years in education, there is a theme that has remained supreme: the necessity for and tremendous impact of personalized and student-centered learning.
I believe our job is to create the best possible opportunities to do that through multiple modalities, including digital learning, because I know it is imperative to the success of many of our students.
Every student deserves a path that is best fit for them, whether digital or not. We must conform to who they are, where they are, how they are, why they are, and when they can learn.
When we stop trying to squeeze them on to the conveyor belt of K-12 education, it is no surprise to me, and should not be to anyone, that so many of them fall off that belt. We must be smarter than that. We cannot be successful by trying to pick them up and put them back on that same belt. In fact, we must carefully decide whether or not they should even be on that belt to begin with.
These are the things that I thought about as a teacher, a principal and a superintendent. Now, I still think about them in my current work. I want to help connect as many students as possible to a path that is best for them. I do that by helping others: districts, superintendents, and other school leaders, think about the options available in the digital and online world and assist them in constructing a plan to bring those options to life for their students.
When we partner in doing so, we help ensure that as many students as possible are on a pathway that makes sense for their own individual success.