Who’s at the Wheel?
Driving School Transformation in the Right Direction

With the widespread agreement that U.S. education needs substantial change, those of us within the education ecosystem are constantly hearing about different solutions to fix it: blended learning, standards-alignment, high-quality curriculum, grade-appropriate assignments, social-emotional competencies, 21st-century skills… the list often feels truly endless. Most of these topics are interrelated, and all of them have shown great promise in helping students. Amid them, however, it can be easy to overlook or misunderstand the vital role that teachers must play in rethinking learning. When teachers come up in the conversation, I often hear them discussed like another one of these topics; a piece on the board of the game that is fixing education. But for a school’s learning transformation to succeed, teachers need to be the ones playing the game. They need to drive the change.

As the Director of Professional Learning at LEAP Innovations in Chicago and a former teacher myself, I am a firm believer in personalized learning. It’s an approach to education that, ending the one-size-fits-all paradigm, recognizes the fact that every child is different and tailors learning around the individual needs, strengths and interests of each student. The approach looks different in every classroom, as each model for bringing it to life is designed around the specific context of the school at hand. This is why models designed by teachers make the biggest difference for students, and foster the most excitement and investment from educators: teachers know their students’ needs best.

How do you make sure, then, that teachers drive the learning transformation in a school? At LEAP, we do this by following the same principles that guide how we personalize learning for students: we listen to, empathize with and empower teachers to take control of their own professional learning. Actively considering the contexts of their schools, our programs adapt to meet the needs, strengths and interests of our adult learners where they are. Our work with teachers, as with all meaningful collaboration, is driven by an emphasis on personal connection.

At the 2018 Illinois Charter Schools Conference on Nov. 15, I’ll be joined by President of Distinctive Schools Scott Frauenheim in facilitating a session, “Engaging Teachers as Designers and Innovators,” to discuss the importance of placing teachers in the driver’s seat. We’ll share school stories, lessons and tools gained from our work to bring personalized learning to life. We hope to see you there!