More teacher voice and choice will get you to personalized learning

Schools talk about the need for student voice and choice to get to personalized learning but what about teacher voice and choice?  Often I hear that it’s important for kids to own their learning and be accountable.  But on the other hand, teachers are mandated standards they must meet with a pacing and planning guide that tell them the units they must hit.  An approach you often hear about, especially for urban schools, is to systematize the entire process and have everyone using the same strategy and be on the same unit.  My question is, where does teacher voice and teacher choice fit, in helping our kids get to student voice and choice?  You can only get to student voice and choice if teachers are provided the resources, professional development, and autonomy of guiding their students.  

David Osborne, in his book, Reinventing Education, recently differentiationtalked about schools being held accountable for the end results. He emphasizes that 21st Century Schools need to meet the academic and social needs of the students we are serving and that teachers work for schools, not the district.  This decentralized approach applies perfectly to personalized learning schools which provide their teachers more autonomy in the design of their lessons.  After teachers have mastered the parts of running an effective classroom by first establishing routines, building relationships, and planning their units, they are given the liberty to have more teacher voice and choice. Many schools, especially urban schools, are driving a one-size-fits-all approach to education. But this will squander student voice and choice if we don’t add teacher voice and choice to the mix. Giving teachers the flexibility to focus less on what their students are learning and more about how they’re learning will bring back the creativity and innovation needed in modern classrooms.

One of the gems at my school is Ms. Arianna, a 7th-grade language arts teacher.  She recently launched her lesson by allowing students to “choose their own adventure.” Some students chose to focus on the writing assignments that met the objective while others were able to listen to a video and complete the assignment in a different format. Student choice was provided when students were able to choose their adventure to meet their overall goal.  

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 9.32.44 AMFor Ms. A to do this, she designed her curriculum around the school agreed-upon standards.  She has a thorough understanding of the standards and the skills needed to help her students meet proficiency.  Her Personalized Learning (PL) model focuses on conferencing with students.  An idea of this is when you walk into an Apple Store.  Customers walk in with a goal in mind; they are greeted by an associate and then can go to the genius bar for specific help.  Similarly,  Ms. Arianna provides the students the goal, and then they guide their learning as she checks on their progress.  As students are working, she calls on students, or they come up to her to ask questions regarding their work.   

Another example is Mr. Horowitz, our 8th grade Social Studies teacher.  When you walk into his classroom, students are challenged by the questions he is asking them.  The Social Studies PL model is built around project-based learning.  All of the lessons have a common goal, but students are given multiple pathways to meet the overall goal.  

For example, two students may look at the idea that America is founded on the premise that all men are created equal. Both will explain how that relates back to the colonist’s experiences under the King and how it ignited the conflict between England and the colonies.  But then they are given a choice to make connections to modern day.  One student may explore equality for black people today, while the other will research women’s rights.  The students are choosing how they want to make the connection to the original conflict and are required to defend their answers with primary and secondary resources to support them.  

Mr. Horowitz and Ms. Arianna spend countless, upfront hours in designing their self-paced lessons through the Beacon Moodle Learning Management System (LMS).  The LMS is built on the units where students can unlock the next lesson by mastering the current concept.  Their utilization of the LMS and their passion for students to self-discover their learning by asking the right questions provide their students the opportunities to experience a PL classroom.  

Therefore, for PL to work, teachers must have the voice of choice in the developing their curriculum,  be provided school-wide resources, and given opportunities to expand their personalized learning model.  By allowing teachers more voice and choice, we will have more teachers that are sharing their passion with our students.   We need to allow teachers to focus less on what their students are learning and more on the how they’re learning.  This is the only way we will get to more creativity and innovation back into our classrooms.Pillars V3-03-HR

Ways to increase  student voice and choice in a Personalized Learning School:

  • Belief: Work with your teachers in designing a school-specific PL model.  Allow departments to develop their model with their content teachers.  One can also work with their grade-level teams, it depends on how you want to develop your teams.  
  • Resources:  Classrooms should be designed to support personalized learning.  Resources can include the technology in the classroom, teacher technology, learning management systems, and overall classroom environments.  
  • Autonomy:  After relationships have been established and teachers have rituals and routines in place, give them the voice and choice to get to the “how” their students are learning.  
  • Ongoing Professional Development:  Teacher learn more from each other than they do from one-shot workshops.  Create a culture of sharing in the building by allowing teachers to learn from each other.   



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