But then one morning my sweet S brought me one of the most memorable moments of my career. She had struggled since the first weeks of school to attempt even the lowest level of tasks without shutting down and refusing to do anything but give up, cry, and exclaim, "I can't do this! I am dumb. I don't get it and I can't learn it." After working diligently that morning on 10 problems in an algebraic thinking standard, headphones in and whiteboard being filled and erased in a frenzy of math work, she raised her hand to share her score with me. Beaming ear to ear she looked up as she pointed at the screen: "100%". Without thinking twice I pulled her up from the carpet, stood her on the table, and announced her triumph to the class. "Guess what?! S just got a 100!!" I didn't tell them to clap, I had never had a class discussion about what to do when celebrating a classmate, but without hesitation the class burst into cheers and claps and comments of congratulations. S had persevered, shown humility to accept help and leadership all morning from her classmates when she struggled with tech and math alike, and she took risks and showed bravery in attempting something that felt unattainable. Her classmates had lived that struggle alongside her, not just that morning but since the first day of school, and they felt so invested in her success that they knew this was an accomplishment to be proud of. I wish I could capture the energy in the room at that moment - to bottle it up and share with passionate educators and naysayers alike. Why personalized learning? Why technology-enabled classrooms? Why students empowered with so much choice and ownership of learning? That is why - that moment, multiplied by classrooms full of students and day after day of other, similar moments which all lead to independent learners being prepared for their future.
Blended and personalized learning isn't all about the technology. It isn't kids sitting behind computer screens and plugging along without interacting with the kids sitting right next to them. It certainly isn't easy for teachers who have to spend hours crafting impeccable, data-informed lessons and precise classroom routines while being ready to relinquish control to students in a moment's notice to adjust and go down a path they could never have anticipated. At its best it is the complete opposite of these things. It is taking a strong philosophy, pedagogy, classroom culture and enhancing it with technology tools. It is being willing to put students in the driver's seat and embrace the structured chaos and confusion along the way. When my kiddos started 4th grade some were tentative, waiting for the learning to be provided to them and trying to provide the "right" response only when prompted. Now they go after learning, asking the questions and not waiting for permission to go find the answers. There isn't 1 teacher who they go to for help, there are 29, and every voice is valued equally. My students are learning to embrace the struggle and frustration, recognizing that taking risks and continuing to try and try again often provides much greater rewards than staying in the comfortable place where we know we can succeed fairly easily. +Ben Wilkoff often says, "Learning isn't an event, it is something that happens over time", and I think my kids have started to understand this for themselves because we had the tools they needed to take control of their experience. Jumping in with blended and personalized learning hasn't been easy, and it certainly hasn't always been pretty. But through the frequent mess and frustration it has been a privilege to learn alongside these brilliant young people and to watch them experience their own "Eureka!" moments every day. I'm extremely proud of their flexibility, perseverance, and excitement this year and cannot wait to see how they continue to grow and share their learning and expertise with the world.