The Power of Personalized Learning

If we, as educators, place upon our students an expectation to better change the world in which we live, we must start with more thoughtful, engaging, and personalized instruction.
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According to highly respected international educators William Powell and Ochan Kusuma-Powell, a "seismic shift" is occurring in education today, away from the one-size-fits-all learning model to educators recognizing that students bring to the classroom different learning styles, intelligence preferences and interests. They stress that the most effective schools incorporate these factors into their instructional planning.

Recognizing the powerful combination of personal learning and the opportunities to support this in our ever technologically advancing world, I would argue that now, more than ever, is the time for the world to embrace that notion. The reality is that a highly personal, yet collaborative, approach to education is what defines and differentiates a true international education.

As headmaster of a globally minded school in Lower Manhattan, I share our unique approach to personalized learning, one in which parents, students and teachers play equally important and active roles. At the beginning of each school year, students as young as kindergartners collaborate with teachers and parents to create their own personalized plans, providing them with a set of unique, challenging and data-driven goals for each academic year.

Consisting of three parts, the plan guides them as they progress through their senior years by focusing on the students' strengths, documenting areas of growth and identifying special passions. Most importantly, the process empowers them as active participants in the plans' creation and clearly outlines the supportive, nurturing roles of school and home.

The plan also includes a Habits and Attitudes of Learning (HAL) component, which frameworks the steps necessary to achieve the desired behaviors. What can a student do to learn to "work with others toward a common goal (Community Citizenship), "persevere through challenges" (Work Habits) and "ask meaningful, thoughtful, relevant questions (Critical Thinking)?

Arguably, the most critical component of the plans is the enrichment goals -- targets set by the students that directly impact their levels of engagement, drive, self-respect and purpose. Students take ownership of what they are passionate about and what motivates them to become better students. Whether that comes in the form of learning another world language, dedicating oneself to becoming an All-American athlete, writing a collection of short stories, building a model skyscraper or amassing a mock stock portfolio, at the heart of it is a validation of the students' interests and support of their unbridled enthusiasm to learn and achieve.

Together, these three components -- academic, attitude and enrichment -- ensure that our students' minds, bodies and souls are nurtured while encouraging exploration and testing one's limits.

Once all parties arrive at consensus on the plan, each student, parent and teacher demonstrate their agreement and partnership by signing on the dotted line. One of the many joys I get to share as headmaster is watching our very youngest students -- who have yet to correctly hold a pencil -- "sign" their plan.

If we, as educators, place upon our students an expectation to better change the world in which we live, we must start with more thoughtful, engaging, and personalized instruction at the earliest age possible.

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