Leading with the Learner at AUSL

Reimagining Classrooms and School Culture

The term “personalized learning” carries a multitude of definitions depending on who you are, your role in public education, and even what educational organization you represent.  As recently discussed in an EdWeek article, “Inside America’s schools, the term is used to mean just about anything”.  

Like all practitioners in this work, AUSL is working to define what personalized learning means in our context, for our schools and students, and seeking to learn from the paths of others as summarized well in the recent NPR piece, “The Future of Learning? Well, It’s Personal”.  Some are further along, and others are towards the beginning of their journey.  Today, we’d like to share the experiences of two AUSL school leaders who are evolving their focus on the learner through a grant-based partnership with LEAP Innovations.  Through this opportunity, each leader hopes to further realize the essence of “personalized learning” or learner-centeredness, in the classroom and in their schools by embedding it in all aspects of the culture to ultimately further empower each student in being an active and vital proponent in their own learning.

Placing the Learner at the Center

LEAP Innovations’ Learning Framework guides schools in “placing every student in the driver’s seat, actively integrating their needs, strengths, and interests into the learning.” Four elements compose the Framework:

  1. Learner Focused: on the diverse needs of all students
  2. Learner Led: students finding and championing their own voice
  3. Learner Demonstrated: students showing what they have mastered
  4. Learner Connected: to real-world challenges and opportunities to develop social capital and personal, social, and civic engagement skills for life

After acceptance into the cohort of 20+ schools across CPS, Principals Gonney and Knox began on their journey, alongside a handful of visionary teacher leaders from their schools, to reimagine their classrooms and their building through the lens of this framework.  Today, with pilot reimagined classrooms in session, and scaling across the school on the horizon over the next three years, school teams across both Lewis and Stagg have embedded this learner-focus in their school vision, permeating every aspect of the work happening in their buildings. Building on the strong foundation of AUSL coaching and supports, and through support from their LEAP coaches and cohort mates, teams continue to refine and sharpen their visions and practices in the classroom and throughout the school.  Learn more about the bold paths Principal Gonney and Principal Knox have embarked upon through this work below.

Lewis School of Excellence

Lewis School of Excellence’s participation in this work gave rise to their “One Band, One Sound 2.0” strategy to realize a vision based on student voice and choice, innovation, and purposeful practice, and rooted in the theory of action that if students have more ownership and voice in their learning, they will feel more empowered and engaged.

At Lewis, in the North Austin neighborhood, the work began this school year in a pilot across 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms designing and implementing reimagined classrooms.  Starting with look and feel (furniture and space considerations), one-to-one technology and Edtech learning platforms, and new classroom and school practices, Lewis has begun to place students in the driver’s seat of their learning.

Our teachers have already met with students at the start of the year, reviewed NWEA data from last year; but it’s not just academics. They reviewed behavior data and had them set goals around behavior, around homework – around what they are going to bring to the table when it comes to bringing a positive classroom culture and climate. – Principal Aquabah Gonney, Lewis School of Excellence

Classroom practices include entry and exit tickets as well as daily “flexible seating menus” to better first understand the learner’s content retention, enabling teachers to then better differentiate what type and channel of learning the student wants and needs that day. At the school level, the team is focused on implementing additional opportunities to surface the learners’ voice, such as establishing a Student Government, a Peer-to-Peer Ambassador program, and personalized learning in the Arts, where time is created in students’ schedules to regularly work on a long-term art project for the semester/year.  

Finally, in addition to the ongoing work with LEAP, to make sure everyone at the school (not just those in the pilot) is exposed to this learner-focused work and that students build the skills to effectively participate in it, Lewis has advanced their social-emotional programming through the lens of the LEAP framework as well.

What we’ve realized is that you can have the best system in place, but if kids are not able to work effectively on their own…to self-regulate…we’re not going to get very far. [This SEL programming] explicitly teaches our kids how to [participate in these new personalized learning classroom practices]. – Principal Aquabah Gonney, Lewis School of Excellence

Learn more about Lewis School of Excellence’s work and impact in “How Schools Work” by Arne Duncan, Former U.S. Secretary of Education and Current Managing Partner at the Emerson Collective.

Stagg School of Excellence

Prior to the LEAP partnership, Stagg School of Excellence had already begun to work to increase student voice and learner-centeredness across the school. To bring to life this work through the LEAP lens, Stagg began a pilot across a set of single ELA classrooms per grade (3-8).

This journey is like peering into the learner with a magnifying glass – what makes the learner tick, their hobbies, interests. [And then] connecting this to the right tools and strategies to learn. – Principal Miyoshi Knox, Stagg School of Excellence

In each of these classrooms, similar to Lewis, you are able to see transformed practices across the school building, with student-teacher goal-setting guiding the learning plans and options of each student as they engage in the content through different platforms, from whole group instruction, to small group instruction, to group work, to personalized Edtech pathways.

Using goal-setting with students, [teachers can now say], here are the four assignments that need to be completed by Friday.  You can decide the pace and the order in which they get done. – Principal Miyoshi Knox, Stagg School of Excellence

Additionally, Principal Knox has also decided to integrate social-emotional learning planning with the LEAP work, manifesting in such activities as feeling cards which each student selects to reflect their state of mind and inform their teacher and peers as they embark on the learning for the day.

Looking forward, as the pilot scales across Stagg, Principal Knox hopes to realize a culture where teachers and students are collaborators in the learning, and where it is second nature for students to identify their goals and learning needs and teachers facilitate the learning accordingly.  

Reimagining Student Learning

The journey to reimagine the student learning experience is long and challenging, but in today’s environment, where student needs, both academic and social-emotional, are so varied and the demands of the world are constantly changing, it is our duty to meet students where they are rather than forcing them to change for how school has traditionally been done. We are excited in our role as both leader and learner in shaping and realizing the promise of learner-centered learning for the AUSL Network alongside leaders like Principals Gonney and Knox in Chicago, and sharing that experience with schools and districts across the country through our Advisory Services work.