6 steps to help your district systematically personalize education

Personalizing education requires a transformational shift in the design of schooling that includes every stakeholder

3. Provide comprehensive professional development
With personalization came the redefinition of the teacher role from one who gives information to one who guides student exploration. However you define it, shifting to a more personalized approach will required a comprehensive professional development (PD) plan for teachers. In CCSD93, our educators are invited to participate in a weeklong Technology Academy during the summer months that provides personalized PD around relevant tools, resources, and strategies. They’re also invited to submit proposals to take on an independent study project throughout the school year, committing to implementing a new personalized teaching method in their daily practice.

In partnership with our teachers’ union, we created greater opportunity for ongoing PD, shortening our school days on Mondays by 90 minutes (and extending them the rest of the week) to enable our educators to meet weekly in communities of practice. With guidance from our Teaching, Learning & Innovation Department, our educators devote 90 minutes to a personalized learning strategy or concern and interact collaboratively on how to continuously improve their practice. Along with PD days, institute days, and team meetings, every PD opportunity focuses on our strategic plan and how we personalize education for our students.

4. Build relationships
Teaching and learning happens most effectively if there is a strong relationship and the students know that the teacher is there for them. For this reason, we’ve emphasized that the start of the school year needs to be geared toward building relationships. We don’t want our staff focused on rules and grading systems but how to get to know each child personally. We need to understand their likes, dislikes, strengths, needs, hobbies, and dreams. We also ask staff to open up to their students about their personal lives and share personal stories their students can relate to. Though this needs to be the focus throughout the school year, the foundation must be laid at the start so that the first impression a student has of their teacher is of an adult who cares about their best interests.

5. It’s not all about technology, but embracing it can empower students
The proliferation of devices, social media, online learning resources, and classroom-based tools such as interactive whiteboards, robots, and digital literacy has become a reality for CCSD93 students. Though we do not need technology to personalize education, by incorporating it, children are more able to learn at their own pace and be challenged consistently to develop critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity skills. They experience greater flexibility and can learn anytime, anywhere. Teachers can develop student-paced learning paths driven by day-to-day assessments of strengths and opportunities for improvement, informed by real-time data that helps to meet individual student needs.

6. Find great partners
Organizations, curricular resources, publishers, and even technology companies can develop into strong partners for school districts. It’s critical that the companies and organizations you align your school system with fully understand teaching, learning, and the design and direction of your district. Early on, we made the mistake of working with a publishing company that did not fully understand our direction and could not deliver on promises. If you find yourself in a similar situation, it’s important to dissolve those relationships quickly or your progress will be hindered.

We’ve had the great fortune to work with a local college, key associations such as AASA, ISTE, and CoSN, and exceptional companies like Discovery Education to help meet our personalized learning needs. We’ve found Discovery Education in particular to understand our vision, as the company is staffed by current and former educators who work with us to achieve our strategic goals. Whoever you partner with, continue to foster those relationships to improve your partnerships year after year for the betterment of your school system.

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