March 7, 2018

My Thoughts on Personalized Learning Part 3...The Admins' Role

What does a classroom that focuses on personalized learning look like?

Is it straight rows, neat papers, organized...just like in the picture below??

I bet you thought I was going to say NO!!

Well, I'm not because, depending on the situation that could be what a classroom that focuses on personalized learning looks like.

I have been in many, many classrooms over the years and they have all looked a little different. Of course I have seen some neat and tidy like the one above. And, I have seen some with desks pushed up against the walls and poster board projects on the ceiling (yes, I did that).

The point is, I am not sure there is a distinct look of a personalized learning classroom. One has to dig a little deeper to see what is going on.

Take for instance, this classroom...

I see desks lined up in rows but the students aren't. Is personalized learning occurring?

What about this one??

Or this one?

Well my fellow administrators (and teachers for that matter), I can assure you that yes, personalized learning is taking place in all of those photographs. How do I know?

I watched...



asked questions...

As an administrator are you doing those things? Do you see personalized learning in your classrooms? If not, what do you do to encourage it?

I mentioned before that I have had experience in every level from PreK to higher education. It wasn't until I was a principal at an elementary school that I really started seeing the benefits of this type of learning.

So Admins...what is YOUR role?

1. Share - Find articles, videos, podcasts, etc that talk about personalized learning and then share. You do not have to be specific or share with certain teachers, although you may have a good idea of who would be successful with certain techniques or strategies. But, keep it simple...just share.

2. Suggest - Talk to your teachers and mention certain things that YOU have seen or heard of and start collaborating on ways it can be implemented in the classroom. Obviously this is easier for folks who want to try things but it is possible for others as well.

3. Freedom - provide leave time, cover classes, get subs...whatever it takes to allow teachers to observe other teachers. You can start in the school and then expand outside of the school if necessary. Technology has allowed for easy observation, especially if teachers are willing to record their activities.

4. Support - Continue to provide resources for meeting the needs of that teacher. Allow for an environment in which mistakes are ok.

5. Promote - If someone is using these techniques and is successful, allow them to present to others their successes (and failures for that matter). Be positive about those who try different personalized learning strategies and show enthusiasm. We all know enthusiasm is contagious.

That is it. Pretty simple.

Understand that not everyone is going to be willing to attempt personalized learning in their classrooms (they should). But, build on those who are curious and those who are enthusiastic. Who knows, the ones who are not excited, may actually be converted when they see the successes.


February 14, 2018

My Thoughts on P.L. (part 2)...5 Tips to Get Started

If you want to skip ahead and get to my strategies, I totally understand. But, you may get a glimpse inside my head if you stick around for a few paragraphs...there is always a chance that could be entertaining.

The past two school years I have been on a personalized learning kick. I want you to understand though that it did not start in a classroom. This madness in my head started with my own personalized learning. I started looking into how I could personalize MY professional development so that it benefits me and my school directly. Then I started thinking about how I could spread this to my colleagues and teachers. I am still working on that by the way. But, it made me think back to how it could work with kids too.

If you have not read the previous post on personalized learning, click HERE, this may make more sense.

Rewind back to my elementary principal days when I recognized that there was a possibility that my high school students could not read. Yes, you read that correctly...I recognized as an elementary principal that my high school students may not have been able to read. That is not to put the blame on any prior teachers but realize that our viewpoint in middle and high is getting them through the content, making sure we cover ALL of the standards and preparing them for the end of the year assessment (that we never get back on time to help make decisions...).

So, since that time I started tinkering with ideas of what in elementary schools would be beneficial in secondary schools. I realized really quick that there is a BIG difference in preparation. My educational preparation focused a great deal on content...yes, we did focus on presenting content (Thanks, Dr. A. TTU). But, I realized that elementary folks spent a good deal of time on pedagogy. It became apparent that maybe, just maybe the secondary folks needed some additional exposure to pedagogy. The problem is, how do we help encourage educators to gain that knowledge (see below, it might help).

Now I understand that there is a difference in how age groups learn. I can tell you that because I have worked with ALL ages (see Not so scary world of technology to see how high I went...). However, I see the benefit in sharing strategies no matter the age of the learner. Now a disclaimer...I am not a fan of grouping, never have been, never will. BUT, I do believe it can happen within a classroom. It is possible to create "classrooms" within classrooms. I have seen it done AND I have seen it done in secondary classrooms. So it is doable.

Disclaimer number two...I do not have any specific answers on what it looks yet and it may not look like "classrooms within classrooms," but I do have some strategies on how YOU can get started. I think specific topics on what it looks like will be in part 3 or part 4...stay tuned. If you have any great ideas feel free to EMAIL ME or send me a TWEET.

In the meantime, check this out...

My strategies on what to do NOW.

1. Build your Professional Learning Network (PLN) starting now. There are many, many ways to accomplish that. I choose Twitter but that is not the only way. You can create email groups. You can use Facebook, Voxer, Google Plus, follow blogs or even just meet up with teachers at a local restaurant, coffee shop, or donut place (right Julie Davis??). My friends from Chattanooga have a monthly meeting they call #CoffeeEdu where they meet, talk and strategize. I challenge you to do that where you live. When you build this PLN, ask questions. Talk about what works, what does not work and steal as many ideas as you can. Remember, we are all in this together and we are all seeking ways to improve constantly. Your PLN is your go-to group and in many cases, keep you from totally losing your mind.

2. Observe teachers outside of your grade-level, outside of your school...even outside of your district. If you have not done this I highly recommend it. Start small, within your school and pick someone outside of your grade-level or subject level. As you get more comfortable and depending on how much your admin supports leaving school, then you can expand to other schools and other districts...VERY VALUABLE! At my school, I had two teachers start a Pineapple can go to the link and see for yourself. It can be a really valuable tool and I highly recommend doing something similar.

3. Pick one idea and hone it and own it. Repeat after me...I do not have to try EVERYTHING new and innovative! Don't worry, I am guilty too. I am bad about seeing "shiny" things and wanting to learn as much as I can about it...until I see another "shiny" thing. There is a reason I have a squirrel staring down on me from my desk as a reminder of my ADD tendencies...Look a squirrel! (Thanks Cindy!). Find something cool that you think might work and then try it. Spend some time tweaking it to fit YOUR space and if it does not work...tweak again or find another strategy. There is no harm in punting.

4. Do not be afraid of it not working. This goes along with the above statement. Not everything is going to work for you. If it does not work, that is OK...try again or find something else you are excited about. Do not take it personal and do not give up on being innovative. It took Edison 1000 attempts to get the light bulb right. I am glad he did not give up.

5. Re-evaluate ,when you get better, add another tool to your toolbox. Always re-evaluate what you are using. Do not teach the same material or use the same techniques for your entire career. I am sure those strategies are still effective, but man it probably gets boring for YOU after awhile. If you find a new tool or strategy that is working, keep getting better at it. When you feel comfortable enough, find something new to get better at. The biggest mistake people make is trying to do TOO many things.

6. Repeat steps 1 -5. Probably the most important...repeat as necessary.

That is it, should be simple enough right??

Try it out, let me know and ENJOY!

Tune in next for My Thoughts on Personalized Learning...the Admins' Role.


January 4, 2018

My Thoughts on Personalized Learning - Part 1

What does this...

Have in common with this...

Or maybe this

and this... 

Do not worry, I will tell you...

All of those activities use some type of personalized learning.

Activities such as basketball and football have more in common with the academic world than we would ever have dreamed. Having been a coach, I never really put that into perspective until I was listening to a recent keynote. The speaker made a reference to the method a line coach or a quarterbacks coach may use to prepare his or her players for the upcoming game.  Sure, things are practiced together but where the biggest impact occurs are when the linemen learn with the linemen, the quarterbacks with the quarterbacks or the offense with the get the idea. 

As a basketball coach I routinely had practices within practices where the post players would work on inside drills and the guards would work on outside drills. Or a combination of posts and guards would work on drills that were relevant to their levels. In fact, we had six goals on our basketball court and unless we were doing whole team drills, all six of those goals were being used. The coaches and players knew what they needed to work on and those specific skills were addressed within the regular practice. We met the players where they were. 

Interesting thing, you know where else I have seen this practice??


The band folks do it too!! Sure they practice as a whole but a large portion of their preparation occurs within a group of common instruments. We could go on all day about where personalized learning occurs. 

Here is an interesting observation...this simple concept of meeting the "people" where they are, does not always appear in an academic setting. This is especially rare in the secondary and higher education world. When thinking about my preparation for teaching, we did have some instruction on the pedagogical side of things but there was an even larger emphasis on the content side. It is not that secondary people or higher education people are not capable of personalizing. It is just that personalizing instruction is somewhat of a foreign idea, unless of course you were trained as a special education teacher. 

Here is a story that may reinforce my thoughts...because remember, I do not claim to be the guru, nor do I think I am always right...simply my observation.

As a high school social studies teacher, I quickly realized there were students who would always do my work and there were some who would never do my work. I really assumed the ones who did not work were being disrespectful or obviously just did not have the same passion for history like I did. It was FRUSTRATING. 

Fast forward several years when I become a principal at an elementary school. First, here is a disclaimer, before becoming a primary principal, the last time I was in an elementary school was when I was in elementary school. What I discovered after my involvement with reading intervention at the elementary level was, my high school students could not least they could not read at their appropriate grade-level. I had NO IDEA!

Now before you pass judgment, I believe that some of you secondary folks are thinking to yourself..."I had the same experience." It is ok if you did not but I am telling you it was a slap in the face, a wake up call.

Long story short, I realize that if I teach today, my classroom looks completely different than it did when I first started. In fact, I would go so far to say my classroom could potentially look more like an elementary classroom. Yes, my secondary U.S. History classroom would be full of opportunities to learn in work stations, learn with manipulatives, learn at different reading-levels and so on. I would guess that my outcomes would be different and frustration levels would also decrease. 
What my high school history class could potentially look like is an entirely different post...and that post will be coming soon. 

What I have discovered in all of this is that it is no different for adult learners. Our attention-span may be longer (probably not mine) and we may be more mature (that may be a stretch too) but we still have different learning styles, we still learn at different rates. I think that is why I see more and more excitement about EdCamps and Twitter Chats. It allows people to personalize their own learning. 

So...what do we do next?

Simple. Start mining for information on how to personalize learning. Simply Google it and you will find a wealth of information. I also suggest following me on Twitter and other too for that matter. I am always finding and sharing information that could help. So do the people I follow. So, when you do find what you are looking for, start small.  Take steps to improve on one technique and only move forward as you are comfortable. 

For those of you already doing it...share what you know. Get people excited because we all know enthusiasm is contagious!