4 Ways Teachers Can Enable a Personalized Learning Environment

Think back to when you were a “green” educator, walking into your first classroom on the first day of school — what did you imagine teaching could or would be?

Too many great teachers bow out of the profession before they have a chance to realize their dreams of helping all students reach their full potential. While no two teacher’s stories are exactly alike, one of the loudest cries of frustration comes from teachers who feel they don’t have the resources or freedom of professional judgment to meet every student’s individual needs.

But what if you did have the resources to meet every student’s needs?

Designed by teachers and for teachers, Summit Learning offers a different way of teaching — one that Summit Learning teachers describe as being close to or exceeding what they imagined teaching could be if they had the resources and support needed to reach all learners.

Jessica DiGiovanna, a 9th grade science teacher at Launch High School in Colorado Springs, Colorado described her experience in a 2017 interview with Summit: “As a teacher, this is the first time that I actually feel effective because I can meet my students on an individual basis. Class was never long enough to reach out to all my students in the past, but now my class is organized in a way that everyone is always getting what they need to make progress.”

Teaching in a personalized learning environment requires teachers to shift from a “control” frame of mind to one in which students are expected to be accountable for their own learning. In return, teachers gain more autonomy in instruction and opportunities to facilitate one-on-one interventions and targeted workshops with groups of students.. And as part of its comprehensive approach, Summit Learning equips all teachers with the tools, resources, and support systems they need to meet each student’s unique interests and needs.

Katie Goddard, a former 9th grade history teacher at Summit Public Schools who recently joined the organization’s Research and Development team, described the role of the Summit Learning teacher as “facilitating an experience so that each individual student can make goal-aligned, meaningful progress.”

“We help students find their voice and learn how to use it,” Goddard says.

All change presents challenges. Adapting to teaching with the Summit Learning approach is easier when teachers embrace four core components:

1. Commit to a Proactive Mindset and Attitude

Reaching all students is possible, but it requires letting go of the familiar.Teaching in a personalized learning environment requires collaboration on a whole-school level, including buy-in from every teacher. A school where all teachers are united in how they facilitate student learning provides a more supportive and consistent learning environment for all students. Teachers are also primary messengers in the classroom; their commitment to a personalized learning approach shines through in their language and actions and can affect student dedication in setting and meeting purposeful goals.

In the next few months, we’ll shine a spotlight on Summit Learning teachers who, with a can-do mindset and persistence, have seen their students take charge of their learning.

2. Lecture Less, Coach More

Helping students develop 21st century cognitive skills and habits of success requires teachers to think more like a coach in the middle of the action and less like a speaker at the podium. Summit Learning teachers help students set personalized goals via the Summit Learning Platform, which gives real-time feedback by showing students’ progress on skills and content.

Summit Learning teachers create structured “workshop” opportunities for students to practice the cognitive skills used in projects, providing students with a safe place to fail and try again. They use individual and student-wide data to provide personalized learning interventions in literacy and math, as well as 1:1 tutoring.

Teachers must shift their role in a personalized learning environment.
In a personalized learning environment, teachers think more like a coach in the middle of the action and less like a speaker at the podium.

3. Serve as a Mentor to Students

An essential and favorite role of the Summit Learning teacher is serving as a dedicated mentor to a group of core students throughout their school experience. All Summit Learning teachers have the unique opportunity to get to know the whole student and to advocate for students’ needs on an individual and group level.

As a trusted mentor, teachers support individual students as they cultivate the essential habits of success — curiosity, self-direction, and civic identity — that help them lead the lives they want to lead. Mentoring also means partnering with parents to establish a strong framework of support for students beyond school walls.

4. Teach and Grow as a Team Player

Learning doesn’t and shouldn’t stop for teachers once they enter the classroom. Self-growth and striving is a lifelong pursuit, which is why all Summit Learning teachers receive at least two weeks of dedicated professional development each year. Summit Learning teachers also participate in weekly curriculum meetings with course-level teams. These teams provide a network of support for overcoming daily challenges and celebrating those learning “Aha!” moments that fuel the drive to teach.

Curious what Summit Learning looks like in action? Watch how teachers at one Chicago school are preparing their students for a lifetime of success with Summit Learning.


About the author

Lauren Faggella
A storyteller and former educator, Lauren Faggella is dedicated to turning the Summit Learning community's stories and ideas into great content that informs and inspires a range of audiences. Prior to joining Summit Public Schools, Lauren was a professional freelance writer and third-grade teacher in Rhode Island. She earned her MEd from the University of Rhode Island and BA in English from Elon University.