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Top Three Parent Tips for Making the Switch to Personalized Learning

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By Marjorie Adcock, mother of two-rising 7th and 11th graders-and 6th grade math teacher at Bailey Bridge Middle School outside of Richmond, Virginia.

With summer in full swing, I keep catching myself reflecting back on the past school year. It was a year of intense change and growth in my family; in the fall, my youngest moved into uncharted waters of middle school and personalized learning.

As a middle school teacher, when I found out that my administration was going to pilot personalized learning for incoming 6th graders, I knew it would be a good fit for our family. My daughter was in a nearby school but wasn't being as challenged as I knew she could be. After researching personalized learning a bit more, I decided to move my daughter to my school.

I soon found myself sitting in family orientation sessions as a parent. I felt overwhelmed by information, new ideas and unsure about how my family might make what felt like a monumental switch over to middle school and a new way of learning simultaneously. It felt like just yesterday when my daughter was in elementary school, where rigid control over student learning was the norm. Now, I was learning about a model where my daughter would be leading her own learning, with the ability to choose how she wanted to learn. Was she ready for such a big change?

My concerns were quickly put to rest. I realized that as I relinquished more and more control and let my daughter lead the way, she began to blossom. Not only was she excelling in her coursework and collaborating with her peers, but she was building confidence in her academic ability. She began developing meaningful relationships with her teachers and taking more initiative. Throughout, I noticed that the quality and level of work she was doing continuously improved as the academic year progressed.

Summit Learning, the approach to personalized learning in my daughter's middle school, is focused on helping students develop important skills to help them navigate school and life. It can be a big shift for parents, especially for those of us entering middle school for the first time. With one year behind me, I wanted to share my key learnings for new families setting out on a personalized learning pathway. For me, it boils down to three fundamentals:

  1. Do your homework. I researched everything, every step of the way. I also made an effort to learn the new vocabulary that comes with personalized learning, which ultimately made it easier to track progress, support my child and connect with her teachers on an ongoing basis. And, of course, I kept an open mind throughout the process.
  2. Relinquish control. This is arguably the most difficult aspect of my experience with personalized learning. As a teacher, I'm accustomed to finding those "teachable moments," even with my children. Now, I had to go to my daughter and have her explain her learning process and her time management techniques. As her teachers sent emails about assignments or projects, I set aside time to talk with my daughter about what she was working on in class. She would share with me her independent strategies for tackling the work and at what point she felt ready to take an assessment. Instead of hovering and helping her prep for a big exam on a pre-set date, I shifted and had to become familiar with how my daughter learned and when she prepared herself for those milestone tests. I gradually came to terms with, and embraced, change - empowering my daughter to lead the way. In the process, I found a directly inverse relationship between my daughter's confidence in her learning and her stress levels.
  3. Communicate often. Patience is critical in any transition, particularly one of this scope. Educate yourself as much as possible and ask questions constantly - of school administrators, teachers, mentors and your child. I attended as many family orientation sessions as my work schedule would permit and incessantly asked my child's teachers questions. Another option is to develop a personal rapport with your child's assigned mentor; together, my daughter's mentor and I often unpacked her growing pains and any challenges in class. This gave me a stronger foundation and invaluable insight as I headed into parent-teacher conferences throughout the year.

Now that I've seen both sides of this personalized learning coin - as a parent first, and also as a teacher - I'm convinced of its tremendous potential to improve student learning. I can't wait to incorporate personalized learning into my own classroom in the upcoming school year, and to help a new class of students flourish and see the same kind of academic and personal growth that I've seen in my daughter.

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