This Blog is from Colonial School District's Teacher of the Year, Laura Bossert. She is an incredible educator and her words have not been modified at all: This speech meant a ton as it showed me and everyone in the room what #cddolphins are all about... It was delivered about 3 weeks ago.
I am incredibly humbled to stand before you tonight, ready to represent our district as the State teacher of the year if I am chosen for that honor. I look around and see that we are just a small representation of over 700 truly wonderful, dedicated teachers who are making an impact on their students’ lives each and every day. We are all so lucky to be in a district that places so much importance on teacher excellence and ensuring that our students really are college and career ready. We are blazing the way to using technology in meaningful ways that create 21st century learners who will be able to compete on a global level. As part of my portfolio I had to create a platform that if chosen I will pursue, and I wanted to share that with you tonight.
Like most educators, I grew up in the era of textbooks and worksheets. Technology was not readily available, and education was a one-size fits all curriculum. Teachers delivered lessons to the whole group and I can remember the distinct feeling of it’s either sink or swim. I was the type of student who could not keep their attention on the teacher and would daydream. I needed to move, to be entertained, and engaged. Rather, I felt bored and just an empty face in the crowd. Most teachers did not get to know what made me tick, what interested me, or how I learned best. Then came the tests. The test assessed what I had learned, which was often a struggle because I didn’t retain information from straight lecture style teaching. Tests were always the same format and always presented a challenge. This isn’t to say that I sank. I still got by, but rather than enjoying going into school each day, eager to learn something new, I dreaded sitting in another class bored.
Fast forward to today and now I have started my fifth year as an educator. Each year I come with new ideas and new knowledge as how to best engage my students and deliver content that fits their learning style. I learned best by seeing and doing, but many students I encounter each year do not. That is why it is crucial I take the time to get to know their personalities so that I can help them reach their fullest potential in my classroom.
There is a movement in education that is changing our students’ lives like never before. Teachers are starting to see the need for personalization and customization of lessons in order to keep students engaged in school. No two students learn the same, so why are we teaching a class of 25 students the exact same way? It does not work. We see a few students excel, some students pass, and many students struggle to keep up. Through personalizing learning, we are going to make sure that our lessons fit our students, not trying to make them fit the lesson.
We are also in an incredible era of technology. Not only is the technology becoming more readily available in schools, both through district funds and students BYOD, but what we can do with the technology is transforming the way we teach. Students can now connect with other students all over the world with the click of a mouse. Students can create, collaborate, and find thousands of ways to be innovative with what is arguably the most incredible tool education has ever seen. That’s right. Technology is a tool and only a tool. But when used correctly, this tool has the ability to change the way we educate our students.
This personalization is very hard work. I worked closely with administrators and trainers who have a deep understanding of personalization. It took many hours to develop one single lesson. We had to create multiple pathways for students to access content that allowed for creativity, as well as customizing the activities to make sure all students are able to meet the standard. However, I will say that after many hard hours, not only did I have a better understanding of what it meant to personalize and customize learning, but I saw the most incredible outcome.
The implementation of personalization was astounding. Time, path, pace, and place were all considered. What does this look like? Students are given options on what activities they wish to complete to practice a skill. They are given choices as to how they are going to present their new knowledge to me through a variety of tools. Students are able to work on their assignments in whichever order they desire, or as many do, multi-task their way through the assignments. They have a choice of where to sit and whom to sit with. They can sit on the floor in the dark, or in the hallway with a friend. It is all self-paced so students are in charge of keeping themselves focused and on track.
I will be honest, without strong classroom rules and routines, this task sounds very overwhelming. However, I was amazed at the results. Student engagement and understanding was like I had never seen. Students were thirsty to continue to work and received such enjoyment out of creating products to show their knowledge in a way that best fit them. Students loved having autonomy over their education and couldn’t wait to get back to work. They were proud to show their understanding in a way that fit their personal learning style. The students conveyed that they loved that this project was all their own, they had ultimate choice in their education.
This is what we need to keep students engaged in school and see the need for higher education. When a student sees that education is about them, they excel. When they are given choice, they choose to challenge themselves and have such intrinsic motivation that the need for extrinsic motivators and behavior management seems to diminish. It is time students know that we are here to teach them how they want and need to be taught, and that they have an incredible amount of responsibility over their own education.