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Building Routines, Systems, and Habits of Mind Before Personalizing Learning

How to cultivate the underlying skills that will help both teachers and students engage productively in a personalized learning environment

Overview

“If you decide to personalize instruction without the requisite skills to engage students, you’ll exacerbate disparities between students, not alleviate them.” (Michael Fauteux)

Challenge: How to cultivate the underlying skills that will help both teachers and students engage productively in a personalized learning environment.

Context: At Leadership Public Schools (LPS), a network of public charter high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, leaders were exploring ways to accelerate math attainment for students who came into the system behind grade level. They found that creating more time on content was part of the solution but also discovered that there were habits of mind that were an equal requirement for acceleration. Michael Fauteux, Director of Innovation, recounts, “We got to a point where we saw that the students who had built these habits and mindsets are the ones who were doing better academically.”

Fauteux believed that greater personalization of instruction for students was a critical part of creating an equitable environment that would serve LPS’s students, but he also saw that teachers in the network themselves needed to gain the skills that would enable them to teach students how to set goals, monitor their own progress, and persist in their work.

Action Steps: In order to develop teachers’ skills, LPS leaders took the following steps:

  1. Made the learning modular and asynchronous - Instead of demanding that teachers implement a host of new content and skills simultaneously in their classrooms, LPS leaders instead broke these skills down into modular components (e.g. building an evidence base, goal setting, etc.) that teachers could pick up and use at their own pace. They believed that by starting asynchronously, teachers could take the lead in building their own capacity while students built theirs.
  2. Operated in the context of what teachers were already doing. LPS leaders focused on supporting teachers by offering parallel academic skills for the academic content they were already offering in class (for example, learning how to take mathematical notes while learning about exponents). They believed that by offering students skills embedded in the content, they would have a more authentic learning experience and be able to apply the skill more effectively in the future. Teachers could also see the relevance of the tool to both the academic objectives and as an aid to eventually moving to a more personalized instructional environment.
  3. Asked teachers to practice the same set of skills themselves. Teachers were offered both formal and informal opportunities to practice these skills themselves. The formal sessions happened as a set of bi-weekly video “hangouts,” where teachers would 1) explore a new skill or tool together and 2) bring individual problems of practice to the group for a mini-consultancy. LPS also created half-day sessions that offered teachers deeper analysis and planning time. These happened during network release days (roughly 8 per year) and came with a stipend for teachers. Teachers met informally as well, utilizing Slack as a tool to ask each other questions and maintain a 24/7 stream of communication. They also created a common online repository of materials that enabled them to share their learning throughout the network.