Aunt Peg gave me a plastic desk/lectern with spaces for pencils, chalk and erasers when I was about five years old. It had a sliding drawer where you could store plastic letters, and a place to file papers at the bottom.
I’ve been teaching ever since. At first it was two rows of stuffed animals. Later, cousins reluctantly allowed me to play teacher as they sat in a row of chairs in the basement. That reluctant part bothered me. I was good at what I did; I knew lots of stuff and could tell them all about it. All they needed to do was sit there and absorb it all. After some “social challenges”, by the time I was in first grade I knew my favorite game of teaching wasn’t about what I knew and what I could do, but should have been about was of interest to my ‘students’. They did NOT want to hear me yak. They were interested in tennis or piano and couldn’t imagine why I was going on and on about something else.
Still, I played teacher when I majored in education in college. I knew what was safe and what was expected; lesson plans focusing on content like latitude and longitude using gimmicks like balloons and magic markers made a hit. I got my A and got my job. Once I had a high school class of my own it hit me (right between the eyes, I might add) – no one cared about the easy-to-measure content. I believed passionately that every student has a powerful potential, but I was testing them on minutia. At a parent-teacher night, a father accosted his college-bound daughter about her “C” grade in my class. “Are you kidding me? Social Studies is just about playing the teacher’s game! How can you only be getting a C?”
That’s when I stopped being the fount of wisdom. My “students” have become my co-learners as we explore content through the lens of skills. We know people need to be skilled at communication, collaboration, problem-solving, global citizenship, and personal development; why aren’t we measuring that instead of latitude and longitude? How can teachers adapt from being the source of content to being the supporter of learning? My Rowland work is about helping teachers make that transition.
Personalized Learning means that the plastic lectern is gone, despite the security and comfort and neatness it brought. Allowing learners to guide their own learning, connecting to their passions as they collect evidence of skill development, is messy and not easily boxed up. Teachers who embrace this transformation will be immensely enriched and our students will become the people of potential we hope they will be in the 21st C.
Rowland Fellow Lauren Parren is a member of the 2012 Cohort and is the Innovation Coach for the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union which is composed of six schools in Addison County, Vermont.
Her work as a Fellow looked at how to transform school libraries into full service library media centers with intention to develop the library as a centrifugal point for professional development, collaboration, and student exploration. Her focus now is to spread the work of Personalized Learning from High Schools down through Pre-Kindergarten.
Visit her at her blog Innovation ANESU!
This is a chapter from Lauren’s story. Tell us yours.