Human Centered Education

May 25, 2011 by

I attended a great education “unconference” this past week- Educamp Philly.  EduCamp was attended primarily by teachers and administrators, and most sessions discussed challenges facing education, both philosophically as well as integration of technology into the classroom. I gave a session asking the question “How can we bring differentiated instruction to professional development?” in order to try and gauge whether forming individualized education plans and project based learning principals for teachers seemed to be a logical and reasonable approach.  I’m becoming more and more convinced that the basic good teaching and learning concepts we all know and love are equally applicable to adults as to children, but somehow, we seem to forget that these principals are true when it comes to professional development.

For example, in every school, the teachers will fall along a normalized curve regarding their tech skills and comfort with computers.  There will be those who are gadget and gear heads, always exploring the outer boundaries of what’s possible, those who are willing to try new things if they know they’re there, those who only want to give it a whirl if they can ensure success before they start, and those who are a bit phobic and doubt the usefulness of all these new toys as another fad or  false promise, because they’ve seen so many trends come and go in the past.  If you think about this, this may mirror the distribution of kids in any classroom- a few geeks and gifted students who will always need more challenge; the high achievers motivated by grades and performance; the middle kids who try hard and learn, but aren’t the gunners; and the kids who are hard to reach or don’t seem to care, or need special help to make sure they can pass.

Therefore, if we know that in order to meet the needs of the kids in the classroom, we should consider adopting differentiated instruction and personalized learning for kids tomeet their own learning styles and needs, why would the same thing not hold true for the adults?

Should we consider rethinking professional development?

Paying consultants and speakers to come in and tell us about the proverbial school on the hill can be inspiring, but often this shining example is met with resistance because no one ever sees that they have the ability, if they pull together, to achieve similar results. However, if we move to a model of professional development based on teachers setting up a learning plan based on what they need and want to achieve, professional development can adopt a project-based learning model where teachers can have firm goals of what they want to achieve over the course of a school year, and a plan on how to achieve it.  By checking in every other month or so, teachers and administration can gauge progress and offer help in areas where a teacher may be stuck or need to re-evaluate and adjust goals.  This method of professional development, if supported by administration and other teachers would go a long way to help achieve the supportive personal learning communities we all talk about.  It will be a demonstrable experiment on whether differentiated instruction and project based learning works, helping teachers to gain the confidence needed to integrate this approach into the classroom for their own students.  More importantly, in the end, teachers will have something tangible to point to, indicating what they have learned and how they have potentially increased their student’s learning and achievement in the classroom in the process.

Just like the marketplace in the “real world” becoming more customer-centric, education for adults and for students needs to adapt and become more learner-centered and focused. Project based learning, personalized learning, and individualized education and professional development plans may be one way to achieve this.

I’m dying to hear what you think, including any and all obstacles to making this a reality.  how would this play out in your school?  What barriers are there to acceptance?  What would have to happen to make sure your professional development was not one-size fits all and seemed more meaningful and engaging?  Share your thoughts below!


  1. So just like we do with students to discover who needs what in the classroom, couldn’t we offer pre-assessments to educators to find out what their strengths and challenges lie? And, if your state/district/school had teaching or pedagogical standards couldn’t we use those as a way to define performance measures on rubrics? Surveys don’t really fit the bill since we want to know what students/educators know or can do, not what they think they know or can do.
    I know teacher evaluations can be a sensitive subject so I am interested in hearing what others think about these ideas. I think it could be very empowering as long as the data was used solely for self evaluation and professional development and not tied to pay or to rank teachers.

  2. Anonymous

    When we talked about this at a recent district technology committee meeting, there was some concern that educators might over-estimate or under-estimate their own current skill levels and what they needed, but just like in real life, everyone will soon discover where their “zone of proximal development” or optimal learning lies, so I think any issues with this should be self-correcting (hopefully).

    Until teachers can be honest about what they know and what they still need to learn, I’m afraid we’re going to be stuck with one size fits all professional development that seems to meet the needs of very few and ends up being programmed for the least common denominator.  I would hope if schools adopted an individualized professional development model, instead of being a platform for punishment, judgment or other things grown-ups worry about, it would be more of an acknowledgement that we all need to learn continuously, and everyone needs to start somewhere.  The growth and accomplishment over the course of the school year and engagement in the process should be as important as the results.  After all, isn’t that how we say we judge student achievement as well?  Especially when we keep encouraging them to be reflective and self-evaluatory-  shouldn’t we hold educators to that same metric?

    i think the pre-assessments and self-identified areas for learning would be incredibly helpful, and stop admins and PD committees from guessing at needs, but instead really know what teachers most want (and need) to learn.  It makes logical sense to me.  That’s why we need to discuss it, and figure out or at least ask why people think it wouldn’t work- then we can work towards making it a reality if it makes sense.

    I just want to make sure I’m not too “edutopian” about it, and it’s based in reality.

    Thanks for stopping by and I’d love to hear more!

  3. Speaking specifically to technology PD, the state where I taught uses a survey to gauge teacher use, familiarity, and comfort level of technology. Then my district would use that information to inform PD opportunities or needs. I took this survey every year for 6 years and it wasn’t until I started my new job at an ed/tech company to realize the vast differences between a survey and an actual assessment of teacher technology abilities, like the one we offer. I’m not here to promote it, but just to point out that a survey will never replace an assessment, no matter how honest or not we are.

    However, as I mentioned above, once you assess or evaluate teacher strengths some people can get nervous although just like there would be a normal bell curve of teacher tech abilities there will also be a normal bell curve distribution of pedagogical skills amongst teachers.

    Your points make complete sense to me. Why don’t we approach teacher education the same way we approach student education in the classroom? And if we did, what would that look like and what concessions would we make (if any) for adult-learners?