A Middle School English Teacher’s Personalized Learning Journey by Cassandra Charles

When my principal first approached me about making a shift to personalized learning, I was very excited.  Usually, I am in support of anything that will make our students successful. I wondered if the Summit Learning Platform would provide the opportunities that my students needed to push through the barriers that society, unfortunately, has built for them.  After traveling to San Francisco for a quick 3 day visit and listening to all of the testimonials from principals, faculty, and students utilizing this platform, my mindset was truly transformed and I knew this would be a golden opportunity.

Fast forward to the summer of 2016 when our Summit team arrived in San Francisco for our full week of Basecamp training.  The beginning of the week consisted of an overview of the program and how all of the components work together to ensure success.  Taking all of this information in was extremely overwhelming. I needed to step back from what I was hearing and take a few deep breaths. I remember the most challenging moment.  It was in the middle of the week when I was told that everything I was used to doing in my classroom, I wouldn’t be doing anymore.  Just then, I felt like one of those characters in a movie when they suddenly realize something and everything around them fades in the back and all you are left with is the character in the center of the screen with a look of total shock on his or her face.  I broke down crying because I felt as though I was being told that I couldn’t be me in my own classroom.  It wasn’t until another teacher (from Rhode Island) and trainer pulled me aside and told me that she felt the exact same way the year before.  She said, “If anything, the platform lets you be more of yourself because you have the ability to enhance the playlists and projects with things you know will be helpful to the students.  Just wait…you will love it once you get into it.”  That was it; I needed to get in my classroom and make it happen.  At the end of the week, I left San Francisco and Basecamp training with a wealth of knowledge ready to begin the school year.

Thinking back, it took me a good month and a half when all of the elements of personalized learning “clicked” for me.  I remember the day when everything began to flow; just before Thanksgiving.  All my Check for Understandings (CFUs) had been printed and copied for students to use if they needed to.  Each day of the week, my sixth grade students knew when their mentoring session would be and came to the table with things they wanted to discuss.  Project time became class periods where the students, having immersed themselves in the self-directed learning cycle, knew exactly what they needed to do and I became a facilitator of their learning rather than forcing concepts and ideas on to them.  Checkpoints and activities became formative assessments that helped me personalize the students’ learning even more in order to make their educational experience more meaningful.

The Summit Personalized Learning platform has allowed me to become a much more purposeful educator and because of this, students have illustrated all the elements of self-direction and come to school with a purpose for learning.  Even further, this model has also afforded me the opportunity to create special bonds with my colleagues that were really never there before.  During the week of training and throughout this first year of implementation, we have learned so much about each other that it has come to the point that we feel like a family.  Before this, the curriculum I was teaching lent itself to somewhat of a “closed door” policy in which I just taught my subject area.  Now I am truly co-teaching with the Social Studies teacher on my team, and it has been an absolutely wonderful experience.  I would be lying if I said that after everything clicked it has been an easy ride because it has not. However, with the support and embedded coaching of New England Basecamp, each day and each project has allowed me to see the transformation not only in my teaching, but most importantly, in my students.  They are flourishing!

People ask me what my advice would be for any teacher starting this journey, and I would say to accept this opportunity with open arms.  Grab the reins and hold on tight because the first year of implementing the Summit Learning model will be the most exciting, inspiring, and rewarding experience of your educational career.