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To Personalize Learning, Change School Staffing
posted by: Melissa | June 07, 2018, 07:45 PM   

Personalized learning is one of the buzziest education buzzwords of the moment. Teachers are urged to individualize instruction, to promote mastery learning, and to help students identify with the material. When it comes down to how a teacher should do that, especially when that teacher works in the typical K-12 school, they are often left on their own.

It’s no wonder that in recent years, the emphasis has been on finding the right technology to personalize learning. Led by programs such as Altschool and School of One, software developers and educators are working together to find the perfect learning platform. This learning platform will help students move at their own pace through their subjects by guiding them through instruction that focuses on their weak areas while pushing them further in their knowledge. However, these platforms are still in their infancy.

Now, the Clayton Christiansen Institute and Public Impact are suggesting a different, low-tech approach to help schools look at individualized learning. Instead of looking at new curriculums or technology, they conducted research that looked at one thing and one thing only: school structure. Specifically, they looked at how schools organized their staff, and what impact that had on the school’s ability to personalize instruction.

The researchers looked at eight different schools, districts, and school networks and how they reorganized staff time. They then examined how that reorganization impacted student learning and the ability of schools to personalize instruction. They found a few commonalities:

  • Schools used some form of blended learning which both freed up teacher time for other uses and provided more accurate student data.
  • A teacher leadership career path helped individual teachers develop their skills, provided greater support for teachers of all levels of expertise, and provided greater flexibility when responding to student needs.
  • Collaborative teacher teams provided more insights into students and helped students develop their knowledge and skills quicker.
  • Intensive coaching for instructors helped them to refine and improve their skills.
  • Fellowships and residencies allowed these schools and districts to train their own teachers and move them up their career ladder.

So, according to this research, if you want to personalize learning, technology is key, but it can’t do the job alone. Just as important is thinking about how the school’s staff is organized and changing what it is a teacher does. Often, these career paths revolve around teams of teachers that plan together for a group of students who can work in small groups, individually, or receive whole class instruction. Beginning career teachers often act as a support in the classroom and teach small groups while they observe and learn from expert teachers, and teachers of all levels received constant feedback on how they can better teach their students. Students were rarely taught by just one teacher and the ability of the school to respond to student needs with flexibility seemed to be a high priority.

More and more, we see some new charter schools and some district schools move towards these models. Even large, established public schools have begun to incorporate coaching and teacher career pathways; however, these often continue to rely on the one teacher per classroom model that the studied schools are moving away from and there is still quite a bit of work before a new model of school staffing emerges.

You can read the entire report here or see a blog that summarizes the findings here.

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