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CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.

Building Faculty Support for Making the Shift to Personalized, Proficiency-based Learning

When schools or districts decide to take the plunge and shift to a learner-centered, proficiency-based system, one of the key “must-haves” is the support of the faculty. Even though district/school leadership may have done all the right things and talked to all the right people, the faculty are still the ones who will be implementing personalized learning on a day-to-day basis.

So how can you do it effectively? Here are three ways to help the process:

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
George Bernard Shaw

Did I say communicate? Communication with the faculty is the one true way to have that initial buy-in from the staff. Without it, this initiative (and most others, to be honest) will fail before it even gets off the ground. Involve the staff in the trainings, in the meetings, in the community talks. If the faculty knows what – and more importantly, why – this shift is being made, they will be more apt to accept, and even improve upon, the ideas being put forth. Set up communication loops, and use them. Make sure the messages coming from leadership are consistent; this might actually mean leaders being comfortable with saying “I don’t know, let’s figure that out.” One way to make all this communication easier is to set up consistent protocols and feedback mechanisms. For example, create a parking lot in the staff room that gets responded to on a weekly basis.

Be willing to accept failure.

“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.”
Louisa May Alcott

This sounds odd, until you think about it. Don’t we want our learners to take on challenges, make mistakes, learn from them, and learn stronger as a result? If so, then why do we expect perfection from our faculty when they are faced with challenges? Is it because they are adults? Professionals? Teachers?!? The best way to model for our learners is to fail at things, learn what we can from them, and grow as a result. We want our learners to realize that it’s okay to make mistakes, and that we don’t consider ourselves failures if we mess up in perusing a goal. The shift to personalized learning is hard – people will need to make mistakes to grow the system. This is difficult for many teachers, as they tend to be perfectionists. They always want that perfect lesson, but they need to be reminded that we don’t expect perfection for our learners the first time around - so we don’t expect perfection from our teachers the first time around, either.

Focus on the right things.

“It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”
Henry David Thoreau

I know, I know, duh, right? Wrong. The right things in a personalized learning system are not the same things that were right in the old system. These days, we want to focus on problem solving, on effective communication, on being a thinker, not a knower. Instead of teaching students what to think, or simply dispensing content and knowledge, we want to teach them how to access, make sense of, and use the content and knowledge. We have to approach teaching from the standpoint of providing the learners all the tools and strategies they could possibly need to create something, or tackle a problem. If we focus on that, the learners in our schools today will become the creative thinkers we need for the future.

The main idea around shifting to personalized thinking is don’t overthink it by trying to plan every detail in advance. Have your end goals in mind, and design your system towards those goals. There is no one way or one model that works – there are many! If you involve everyone in the decisions of designing what you want your learners to be, you will have smoother sailing than if you don’t involve everyone.

Matt Shea and Courtney Belolan podcast for “Personalized Learning with Matt and Courtney”, which you can find on iTunes or at plearnmc.weebly.com.

About Matt

Matt is a district administrator, and former math teacher, in a learner-centered proficiency-based system. He is a zealot for learner-centered, proficiency-based education systems, but has no tolerance for educators looking out for themselves in lieu of the learners. He loves Chelsea FC a little too much, and 90's alternative rock way too much. His favorite saying is "to be uncertain is uncomfortable, but to be certain is ridiculous." Sort of sums up personalized learning. He tweets at @eatsleepstats. Contact Matt at PLearnMC@gmail.com.

About Courtney

Courtney is a k-12 instructional coach. She is enjoying her journey in education, and figures that she can fall back on being a rock star if it doesn't pan out. Before working with teachers Courtney worked with middle schoolers in a public school, and animals of all ages, including people, at a nature sanctuary. She believes that personalized, proficiency-based learning is the elegant solution, and that all arguments otherwise are riddled with fallacies. Courtney loves to lacto-ferment vegetables from her yard or local farmers market, and her favorite asana is rajakapotasana. She tweets at @belolanc. Contact Courtney at PLearnMC@gmail.com.