Out of the Blue: How One Blog Post Can Inspire Others on Their Personalized Learning Journey

David Russo

Science teacher David Russo from Madison Public Schools, Conn. is part of an innovation project to experiment with personalized learning throughout the year with Allison Zmuda.

One morning about midway through the school year I arrived to work and sat down to read the myriad of emails I had received since leaving the previous day. One email caught my eye. The subject line read, “Your piece on personalized learning.”

At first I thought it was SPAM and almost deleted it, but out of curiosity I decided to open the email and this is what it said:

“I read about your work with personalized learning – our district science administrator found your entry regarding it in a search to help us out in our quest. I’m hoping you’d be open to answering a few questions as to your ‘how’ as I’m currently on the same quest, working predominantly with OneNote in a high school Earth Science course.”

She was referring to the first blog post I wrote for Allison on this website (titled What Does a Personalized Science Unit Look Like?). After some detective work I discovered that the author of this email is a teacher at a school in Washington state (for the record I’m in CT)! She wanted to set up a conference call to discuss how I teach my Human Biology class. After swapping schedules, picking a day, and working through some technical difficulties we finally had our conference call. It was wonderful! I shared what I do in my class and answered as many of her questions as I could and she shared what she does with her classes.

We also commiserated about how we feel like islands unto ourselves in our schools because we are the only ones doing anything remotely similar to what we do. I have no doubt that there are many teachers in the world trying new and innovative things in their classrooms and the opportunity to collaborate is extremely valuable, if only to help validate what you are doing in your own classroom. More teachers need to share what they do and more discussions like the kind I had need to happen.

Since starting on my journey through the land of personalized learning I have doubted myself at every turn. I constantly ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” and “Am I doing it right?” and “Are the students getting anything out of it?” and “What is my real goal here?” and “What do other teachers think about what I’m doing?”

Finding a person (albeit on the opposite side of the country) who was actually interested in, and excited to talk about, what I do with my Human Biology class was very validating for me. It demonstrated that I’m not the only one in this space trying to turn the role of “teacher” on its head and it gave me more confidence that what I’m doing is good for kids. I still have doubts and I know that what I do can be drastically improved, but I believe more now than ever that I’m moving in the right direction for me and my students.

The next step in my journey is to win the battle of student procrastination. There are upsides and downsides to every teaching technique, and what I do in my classroom is no exception. The opportunity for students to procrastinate is ever-present in my classroom and the amount I’ve seen is not acceptable. I need to devise some strategies and tactics that will help deal with this problem while still allowing me to be the guide I want to be for my students and not just a clerical worker keeping track of what work each student has completed on a daily basis.

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