Can Customized Learning Change the Culture of our Country?

In the last two weeks, I have attended the ISTE conference in Denver, CO and the National Customized Learning Summit in Spearfish, SD. As always, these conferences really get my creative juices flowing. 

I believe wholeheartedly in customized learning. I believe we must meet students where they are and allow them to learn at their own speed. We are pushing some learners too fast, resulting in holes in their learning and frustrating them. Our advanced learners are being slowed down and bored. I believe many of these students are not reaching their full potential because they are just giving up. I also believe we need to engage students in areas that interest them. Our kids are not even aware of their own passions any more! I truly believe that the education system is well overdue for an evolution and we can do a far better job with our youth! I have been determined to do whatever small part I might be able to do towards that end.

I have gotten to where I dread turning on the news. Every day is a new act of violence and hate. Our economy and politics are a mess. I realize that our culture is the problem. Hate is learned, as is violence. I have been at a loss on how we are going to fix that. However, I had the honor of listening to Dr. Kevin Lein, principal of Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, SD. this school is starting it's fourth year of customized learning this year. I love the things they have down and admire their willingness to dive right in. Last fall, their was an incident that shocked us all. A student that had just transferred in came to the office and shot Dr. Lein. Fortunately, his injuries were not life threatening and his assistant principal, Ryan Rollinger, was able to tackle and subdue the shooter. Even while talking about it many months later, Dr. Lein asked us all to send prayers or good thoughts (depending on our beliefs) to this young man.

What I took away from his keynote, was Dr. Lein's belief that if we get to know our students and form relationships and if we give kids what they need, they will not feel the frustrations that lead to hate and violence. I have thought of little since yesterday but this. Could it really be that simple? Okay, I realize getting us all to really embrace this change in education is anything but simple, but could it really be important enough to really change the culture to something far more caring and compassionate? 

As much as I believe in customized learning, this possibility just adds to my absolute certainty that this is the way we MUST move. I became a teacher because I know that education is the way to a better world for all of us. Education really could shift our culture to something far more positive if we all made a concerted effort to do so.  That said, I am even more firm in my resolve to take this message further, so I guess it's back to work for me!

Inevitable

While I was still in the classroom, I was puzzled by the fact that no matter how hard I worked, I just didn't seem to be making enough of a difference. And almost every year our school would try that NEW thing that would make it all better. If you are a teacher, I suspect you share that frustration.  Oh, I had my moments.  While I taught computers, kids loved the class and were more than happy to learn ... if it was what they wanted to learn.  Try to teach them how to set margins in the word processor or operate a spreadsheet - not so much.  The last three years in the class, I taught English and one year of Social Studies.  I did notice an improvement in their writing abilities when I started using Google Docs and gave them loads of feedback in the writing process, but I wasn't sure I was instilling a love of writing. I opened up writing topics pretty darn wide so they would have some interest and ownership in the process. I was still met with, "How long does it have to be?" I had great relationships with my students and they were pretty cooperative in my class, but still didn't feel like I was getting there.

A few years ago I read the book, inevitable: Mass Customized Learning: Learning in the Age of Empowerment by Charles Schwahn and Beatrice McGarvey.  This was the vision I was seeking.  I have done much reading over the years about different ideas to change education.  This book took many of those ideas and rolled it into something that made sense to me.  I have been fortunate enough to meet and work with the authors and I can't tell you how much I enjoy talking to them. I have become such a true believer of this approach and I find myself talking about it a great deal. 

Even better than talking about it, a colleague and I are working on a professional development plan to help schools move in this directions.  We aren't going to change what education looks like overnight (no matter how much I wish we could!), so we are going to have to plan for this kind of change.  I plan to be talking about some of the changes, both in the classroom by teachers and and changes that need to be worked on my district planning teams in this blog.

We are certainly not the only ones talking about this movement, but I think I have some thoughts to offer to the conversation! If you haven't read inevitable yet, I highly recommend it.  I have a stack of other books that we will discuss along the way!