Personalize - Don't Standardize
Dick Jones, Center Staff
Kathy Weigel, Dean, College of Education, Lynn University
Having standards in education is important! However, focusing on standards should not prevent school leaders from making the right decisions about students, staff, and schools. Standards help define a clear learning destination. However, the route to achieving that learning destination does not have to be standardized. Furthermore, helping
all students achieve at high levels requires a significant degree of personalized learning, which recognizes the uniqueness of students, the distinctive talents of teachers and the identity of our school communities.
It is the school leader’s responsibility to ensure that the implementation of standards does not result in “cookie-cutter" approaches to teaching and learning. Leaders have to advocate for standards, but also apply common sense to make adjustments in practice to meet student needs.
Further, school leaders often serve the role as protecting effective education programs from arbitrary state or district procedures, which can actually diminish student learning in the name of standardization. When school systems attempt to standardize instructional programs, assuming that all students learn the same, it's time for school leaders to step forward to nurture and protect those integrated and technical programs, which provide outstanding learning opportunities for students.
Leadership for College and Career Readiness
One positive result of the Common Core State Standards movement has been the elevation of the phrase college and career readiness. The Successful Practices Network (SPN) has created several resources for schools to understand better the meaning of career readiness. Achieving career readiness must change the traditional school environment, which has focused on a " college for all culture.” SPN identified ten shifts that school leaders need to address to achieve a balance of college and career readiness. These shifts are described in a white paper, Leadership for College and Career Readiness. One of those shifts is to embrace the notion of standards but implement standards with a focus on personalization.
There are three aspects of personalization, which directly involve Career and Technical Education – personalizing people, personalizing schools and finally personalizing instruction.
CTE teachers know how to connect learning to the real world and prepare students for readiness beyond school. CTE teachers teach market ready, relevant technical skills and help to build positive work habits along the way. School leaders need to "push CTE teachers into light”, to provide greater recognition within the school community for the contribution that they make in preparing students for lifelong success.
Personalizing Your School
Each school community is unique in the geographic setting in which it resides and for the student population it serves. Sometimes standards and related district procedures seek to provide equity in opportunity by standardizing school procedures. There needs to be some consistent procedures. However, school leaders and staff need the freedom to personalize their school to best meet the specific needs of the population that they serve.
CTE can be an integral part of personalization by providing unique programs. School creates a specific identity or brand when marketing to the community as a school with a science and technology focus or medical professions focus, or an agriculture focus. These schools are defined by strong CTE programs in one or more technical career fields.
Every school should have its own brand and every staff member able to echo that uniqueness of the school that personalizes the learning. Think of this as a short slides deck with bullet points highlighting the strengths and uniqueness of the school community. This aspect of promotion helps to build a cohesive reflection of staff and a collaborative environment, which lead to solving problems that arise and improvement.
Curriculum standards give us clear targets to either develop academic foundation skills or the technical skills required in a career field. However, each student may require different learning experiences to reach those learning goals. Students do not come as a blank slate eager to learn the skills and knowledge defined by those standards through standardized instruction. Students come with expertise in some areas and occasionally negative mindsets that become barriers to taking advantage of learning opportunities. Effective teaching adjusts to these differences.
CTE is a model for all instructional programs in the personalization of instruction. Within CTE there are some common projects but, the uniqueness of a meal prepared by a culinary program or an antique truck refurbished in an automotive program showcase individual talents and giftedness. Standardized test scores tend to make everyone look alike when instruction in school should be developing unique talents. We need this in all instruction, and CTE is a role model in that the can be applied to other instructional areas.
School leaders must embrace standards but resist standardization. CTE is part of a solution and an instructional to personalize learning to the benefit of all students in school.