A potential barrier to personalizing learning for students begins before teachers even enter the classroom: many teacher prep programs are not readying their preservice teachers to provide the kinds of environments that promote student agency and ownership of learning. Stacy Duffield, coordinator of the teacher education program at North Dakota State University, hopes to get ahead of the curve through her involvement with the North Dakota Personalized, Competency-Based Learning initiative.
“We’re partnering with K-12 and the communities we serve to think about how we’re working together to prepare better teachers,” says Duffield. “We’re running on parallel tracks, and we can’t forget to reach out and remember that we’re all in this together.”
Duffield is serving as an educator fellow with the Northern Cass Public School District 97, where she’ll help to champion personalized learning throughout the five-year initiative and work to educate and innovate with individuals throughout the community. She’s no stranger to the district, or to personalized learning – her program has been placing teachers in Northern Cass schools for their field experiences and she’s worked with the district to help develop a “gold standard” for what a preservice teacher needs to enter the classroom ready to personalize learning.
For Duffield, personalized learning is about equipping her preservice teachers with a variety of instructional strategies and a deep understanding of what it means to be student-centered, and what student-centered practices actually look like.
“It’s one thing to read about personalized learning or hear about it, but when you see it, that’s when you really figure it out,” says Duffield. “How do we make sure our preservice teachers get to see these kinds of environments? How are we going to fit student-centered practices into the curriculum we already have?”
Duffield also recognizes the impact that personalized learning has not only to energize and engage students, but to daily remind teachers why they entered the field. The rise of high-stakes testing and “teacher-proof curriculum” that has some educators reading from a script is disheartening for Duffield and for her students.
“If everyone’s doing the same thing and there are departmentalized lesson plans with every student taking the test on the same day, teachers can get disillusioned,” says Duffield. “They can see that there are students who aren’t learning, who need more time, but their hands are tied by the fact that they have to give the test tomorrow – they can’t even take an extra day. I see a real opportunity with personalized learning to allow teachers to be creative, to really allow teachers to be teachers.”
Teacher preparation programs can and will play a critical role in ensuring North Dakota’s students graduate “choice-ready.” For Duffield, embracing the state’s move toward personalized learning is not only important in staying current and maintaining the trust in the university’s program, but also “the right thing to do.”
“We’re here because we want to prepare really good teachers. Anyone who’s spent time in the classroom understands that while we’re doing our very best, there are students for whom it isn’t working,” says Duffield. “We need something that works for everyone, and if we can do that, why wouldn’t we?”