When I decided to change the way I taught, I didn’t have a system. I had a lot of ideas, a lot of thoughts, a lot of failures to push me forward in my quest to be a better teacher. I had kids who hoped that school would be about them again. I had parents that hoped that their kids would like school when their year with me was done. I had dreams of something different, but I didn’t have a clear path, I didn’t have a curriculum to follow. If I would have, I don’t know where I would have ended up.
You see, when you choose to make learning more personal to the students, it is not about buying a curriculum. It is not about buying a solution. Or even reading a book and following the step-by-step directions to make it more personal. It is not about finding the new tool so that you can adapt and make it fit all of your learners. In fact, it may be just the opposite. It is about getting to know your students, getting to know yourself, and then finding as much inspiration you can to become a better teacher for all of your kids. So when I wrote my book, Passionate Learners, it wasn’t so that others could teach like me, but instead so others could start to question their own teaching as well. I didn’t want to give directions, but just ideas, questions, and things to reflect on. Because making learning about the kids again means that we have to be the ones to figure it out. Because they are our kids, in our schools, and no one can tell us better than what they need than them.
Personalized learning is not about a system. It is not about a box. It is not about a computer where students can self-pace as they work through a set curriculum. It is not about a checklist, nor learning in isolation. Personalizing learning is about what is right for the kid that is in front of you at that very moment. About helping them get to a place where they can figure out what they need and what they would like to accomplish. And yes, sometimes that kid doesn’t know what they need and then it becomes our job to help them figure it out. It is not about what you can do for the students to take control of their learning, it is about what they can do. Personalizing learning is indeed what great teaching is all about; knowing the students and helping them find ways to make all learning worth doing again.
So if someone tries to sell you or your school a personalized learning system, a personalized learning curriculum, or even a technology solution so that all students can work at their own pace, I would stop and think about that for a moment. How can they possibly promise you personalized when it is far from personal? How can someone who does not know your students, your school, your needs, deliver something that will fit all of those things?
Education is a business and we should never forget that. As much as we may think that every person who creates something for the education market is in it for the right reasons, we would be fools if we truly believed that. Much like every other educational buzzword, personalized learning will become the new cash cow until a new buzzword overtakes it. Don’t let companies ruin what kids need. Don’t fall for the sales pitches. Personalizing learning for students means the emphasis is on the personal and for the personal to happen, we have to know our kids and we have to listen to our kids. Not a company. Not a sales pitch. But the voices of the very students we teach. And that is free.
If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.