Preparing all students for success means preparing all teachers to support them and help them grow. So, when the South Carolina Department of Education began offering free professional development in support of personalized learning to any interested district in the state, one of the driving forces behind the decision was equity: investing in educators and ensuring that they all had access to high-quality professional development no matter the size, location or budget of their district. If teachers and district leaders could benefit, the hope was that their students would, too.
“Access to high-quality professional development is subject to economies of scale,” said Stephanie DiStasio, director of the office of personalized learning at the South Carolina Department of Education. “But by working with the state, we’re bringing districts together as a network and helping them learn from one another. We’re not only bringing high-quality resources into the state, but we also begin to bridge the gaps within our state.”
The free professional development offered by the state focuses on scaling personalized learning practices, which align with the state’s desired outcomes for learners and equips educators with the tools they need to meet students where they are. Teachers are heard and supported by their districts and, in turn, can support their students.
“We get so hung up on data, but behind that data, attached to that data, is a name.”
“When I think about personalized learning, I just see the word ‘personal,’” said Bruce Lee, principal of Merriweather Elementary in Edgefield County School District. “We’re looking at the child individually. We get so hung up on data, but behind that data, attached to that data, is a name. Data can tell you a lot about the child, but look at that child and figure out how we can help meet his or her needs. Forget about the data. Look at the child.”
And yet, data was a driving force in bringing personalized learning to South Carolina – state college and career readiness metrics and scores in reading and math demanded the state take risks to support all learners. Personalized learning equips teachers with the tools they need to foster relationships with students that allows them to really know who their students are as learners so they can best meet their needs – and empowers students to know themselves so they can own their learning.
Personalized, Competency-Based Learning for All Kids
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“For the population of students in my district, we have so many students at a variety of levels,” said Joshua Black, principal at Strom Thurmond High School in Edgefield County School District in Johnson, South Carolina. “Personalized learning helps raise everyone up.”
Marianne Beja, a teacher in Edgefield County School District for more than 34 years who now serves as an instructional coach for her district, feels similarly about the potential for personalized learning to meet the needs of every student.
“Your time in the classroom may be limited, but your future is never limited.”
“I am firmly convinced that personalized learning will be an eye opener for the state of South Carolina. I would like students to enjoy coming to school: all of them, not just a fraction. I would like them to feel like there is a place where there’s one adult that cares about them,” said Beja. “I want them to know the future is so very bright. Your time in the classroom may be limited, but your future is never limited.”
Personalized learning encourages educators to create flexible learning environments to help students own their learning and empower teachers to facilitate learning across a spectrum, rather than teaching to the middle. The traditional education model has long challenged teachers to meet the needs of a diverse student population, especially when the resources available to districts vary widely based on location, demographics and other local factors. That’s what makes the state-sponsored opportunities so important.
“We have one district that has 80,000 students and others that have fewer than 1,000,” said Lauren McCauley, lead associate for personalized learning with the South Carolina Department of Education. “Within those smaller, rural districts, students may need additional support. They may be struggling. We’re reaching a population of students that we know really need our support.”
For Lee, that support is critical for the children in his school, and across the state of South Carolina, who stand to benefit from the increased capacity of their educators. Lee feels students need educators to embrace personalized learning to better prepare them for a future that will look very different from today.
“I wish that they could just put this on a billboard in every county in South Carolina, that you need to attend this professional development,” said Lee. “It’s making me a better administrator. Personalized learning is the direction that education is going and we’re doing our students an injustice if we don’t make everyone aware.”