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!