At the heart of personalization is the “person”. John Clarke will be the first to tell you that the reason Pathways works well down at Mount Abe is because they start with the student advisor relationship. In that relationship there is trust, encouragement and a deep understanding of what the student’s goals are. In a high school model such as with the Big Picture Schools, Pathways or the Coalition model, at the heart of the model is the relationship between the teacher, student, parent and community. “Knowing a student well” is often cited as a cornerstone for developing student voice, choice and ultimate success.
So the question our institutions need to consider is how do we “know our students well”? Ted Sizer repeatedly notes that knowing students well, a core tenet of the Coalition Schools, revolves around teachers having no more than a student load of 80. Elementary schools are often the most successful at this model because it is somewhat built into the contained classroom model. With a contained classroom, elementary teachers often are responsible for a group of 20-25 students. In some cases they loop two consecutive years so they may know those students quite well at the end of 2 years. Middle school has teaming, but depending on the configuration of the teams that can mean a load of anywhere between 25 and 95 students for either anywhere from one to four years. High school content teachers and unified arts teachers (AKA specials, exploratories etc.) can have a student load of anywhere from 80 to 150 students or more. So how do we personalize given these numbers?
Some high schools are beginning to return to a personalized model where graduate expectations and content area standards are part of a personalized learning plan that may or may not involve a traditional classroom settings. These plans are developed (almost exclusively) between the student, their teacher advisor and their parent(s) or guardian(s). Teacher advisors generally advise between 10 and 14 students. This allows them to know those students well. Clearly the number of students a teacher has can highly impact their ability to know students well. When considering personalizing education on a macro level of experience, structures must first be designed so that someone in the building really does know the student well. It is unlikely that a faculty member will know 140 students well by December, but as long as every student is known by one teacher and they are able to support the student in developing goals, voice and scholarship, the school will be on its way to providing a more personalized experience. How does your school handle knowing students well? Leave a comment!