Why I Became a Personalized Learning Coach
I taught first grade for five years before transitioning to fourth grade. In first grade, cultivating a personalized learning environment is very easy. As a matter of fact, it is almost something you do in order to survive. In the lower grades, it is necessary to create separate spaces for students to transition between due to their attention spans being shorter and their need to move in order to "get their wiggles out". Small group instruction and individual conferencing are an absolute must as well because five-year-olds rarely listen to you unless you are speaking directly to them.
Then I decided to transition to fourth grade....and everything changed. I was sitting in a classroom of 29 students. The CRCTs were looming at the end of the year. Grades (real numeric ones) were supposed to be reported and put into TAC in a timely manner. I was also seduced by a perceived independence that was exhibited by almost all of my students. Surviving in the upper grades felt very different than what I was used to in first grade.
That "perceived independence" that I referred to kept me from creating a personalized learning environment in my classroom. All of the other things I listed before that made teaching in the upper grades so difficult felt balanced out by the fact that I didn't have to work in as much time for small group instruction, choice in learning opportunities, or even making concrete connections to my student's interest. It was this passing conversation with a parent in the hall about a math grade that changed the way I saw the work I was doing with my students.
Personalized Learning is just good teaching. It is the difference between saying, "Jason has an 87 in math," and, "Jason is working hard on comparing fractions using benchmark fractions." It's about putting whatever you need to aside so that you can spend as much elbow to elbow time as you can with your students.
Once I realized this, I changed everything. Now, I didn't do it all at once. I addressed the issue in small manageable pieces, and every time I did something would fail. Nothing catastrophic, but always something that needed to be improved upon. I took note of all of these things and in my pursuit of trying to create the most ideal, or personalized, environment for learning it all started to come together.
It was at this time that I decided I wanted to start working alongside teachers in order to help make this happen inside of their classrooms as well. Far too often teachers are given an objective and not the proper tools to execute the task. They are told things like, "Create a workshop environment in your math class," but then they aren't given the steps that it takes in order to make this happen effectively. I worked hard for many years creating, applying, and reflecting on ways to make a personalized learning environment possible in all grades at the elementary level. Now I want to share this with others. Not because I think that what other teachers are doing is wrong, but because I know what it feels like to do it both ways. It is that second way, the "Jason is working hard on comparing...." way that is the most rewarding way to spend your time inside of the classroom. Not only for the teacher, but also for all of the students.