What I learned as a school principal and re-learned as a peer parent

About 10 years ago, I worked as the headmaster of a mixed education pilot school. We were a small, K-8 Oakland charter, working mainly on heart and wreckage.

Then, unexpectedly, we were given a large grant to test a new subject: personalized education. We bought fancy student laptop carts and attractive furniture. We trained ourselves in smart, child-friendly tools and computer programs.

A year later, our test scores had increased.

When our school opened in 2009, only seven of our 220 students were studying at the class level; As of 2013, the majority were proficient or advanced readers. Enter our five minute publicity as a school. Tour buses full of men in suits appeared in front of our modal, motel-esque building. They broke into our small classroom, took a lot of notes and asked, What is the secret? Is it a computer program? Is it flexible furniture?

I knew what I was Should Say I knew the mystery word. But the truth was simpler than that. We had amazing teachers who trusted our students. We had a clear educational vision. We were a close team. And now we’re lucky to have some useful tools. It wasn’t something revolutionary or sexy – just computer programs allowed our teachers to shine by giving each student a way to meet every day, and they also enabled our students to have some agency in their time.

We experienced many trials and errors, but regardless of program or schedule or desk configuration, we kept learning the same important lessons: the power was in the interaction between teacher and student. Our teachers and students thrived; Each student received personal support and feedback each day in both math and reading.

Was the mixed learning program itself so great? No. Was it better than a worksheet? Of course — they gave immediate feedback to the students and the teachers did not have to waste their time in making and printing worksheets till late at night.

Were students at the computer all day? No. Mixed learning means that students have three cycles: teacher-led, short-group instruction in reading and math; Partner or group project; And some personal practice of learning on the computer. He didn’t replace vacations or morning circles or read aloud or class discussions or science experiments or any other incredibly valuable full-class experiences.

At the time, we didn’t know the right balance between personalized learning versus full-grade education. Since then, Research The ideal balance is shown to be approximately 50/50, with students spending 50 percent of their time accessing and learning grade-level content and working 50 percent on their personal goals.

Mixed education means that our students develop the agency according to their time and their education. He set a goal for himself. They can choose how and when to learn online skills. They can choose to practice mathematical facts on a computer and then use the knowledge to solve a complex, real-world problem with a partner. I will never forget to see a sixth grader complete his reading Appetite Games Book, take his computer to take the online assessment quiz, pass the quiz, mark that he has achieved his reading goal and then his whole class boiled in a moment to celebrate him without any teacher notifying him.

That was my life – my reality – almost a decade ago. Now flash forward to 2020. I am crying frantically towards my husband. I’ve been a teacher for over 20 years — a good one, I thought — and now I’m stuck at home, trying to “homeschool” my own three kids and failing.

My twins were in first grade. They had 30 minutes of zoom school a day, but the rest of the time they were with me.

I had somehow forgotten everything I had learned in my previous school. I created a strict schedule. I tried to teach them math together, causing at least one of us to cry under the table. Often me. I tried to give writing lessons. My daughter wanted to write in as broad a way as possible from a human point of view. “I don’t punctuate my writing,” she declared one day. Meanwhile, my son aims to spell as accurately as possible. I tried the book club. My daughter showed the pages of ideas and highlighted paragraphs for us to discuss. My son said, “Can we read this book ourselves so that we don’t spoil it by saying all this?”

In the end, it just so happened to me: they are individuals. They like to learn differently, so why was I forcing them to come together? They know what is difficult for them and what they want to learn. Why didn’t I put their unique needs at the center?

So I sat down with each of them. They told me exactly what I wanted from homeschool and what they were eager to learn. I dug up the old adaptive programs I had checked many years ago – fortunately, many had improved dramatically in 10 years. We created a personal schedule.

My son was able to learn on his own most of the time and only get help when he gets stuck. My daughter preferred to take a lesson first and then practice independently. Now he could spend hours learning Greek history and chess as she blew up Hamilton while drawing and writing creative stories. We had come together to play cards and check-in, but we were no longer pretending we had to run a three-person brain. (And we were all crying very little.)

My role as a parent-teacher let them go and let them flourish. I had to overcome my self-imposed fear of the screen and challenge my own assumptions. Is it really terrible to learn multiplication from Khan Academy instead of me? Are they going to explode if we learn some history and science from BrainPop? Do they need to spend as much time with each other on each subject? What are my fears about unstructured time? As soon as I let go of my own expectations of the method of learning “should be”, I saw them grow and come alive.

Now they are happily back at school. They love to watch their teachers and their friends and the routines of all of them. I am sincerely grateful. Still I can’t help but wonder: how do we keep those sparks alive? How can we reorganize the school day so that students have targeted support and feedback as they pursue their curiosity? How can we loosen up and allow students to set their own goals and manage their time? How can we take advantage of technology so that our teachers can do the irreplaceable and deep human task of building relationships, trusting students and challenging them academically? After all, who do we want our students to be as adults, and how do we plan behind that skill and mindset?

I don’t have the answers yet. I know it’s just a magical computer program or expensive flexible classroom furniture, as men in suits would have believed years ago. Not letting students do what they want throughout the day, not even the urge to learn in a 45 minute lecture.

It is about re-imagining how we can create space for the prosperity of teachers and students. It’s about believing our students create their own paths and elevating our teachers as guides, challengers and motivators. This is to ensure that each student receives the support and feedback they deserve And Access to rigorous grade-level materials. I’m sure – in this unknown center – we’ll find out how all the kids and teachers can really spark.

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