This article first appeared as sponsored content in EdWeek’s November print edition.
Teaching is my second career—I’d say it’s more of a calling. I started working in construction sales, and though I was making great money, I knew it wasn’t something I could do for the next 20 years. I was 30 years old when I made my career change, and now teach seventh grade English language arts. What I love most are the relationships with the students, and being the person to inspire them and help them believe in themselves.
When I started teaching, I used more traditional teaching methods like recitation and memorization. I often felt I was failing my students who were performing above grade level. When you’ve got seventh-grade students, and some are reading many grade levels behind, while others are reading at the expected grade level, the focus must be on the students most in need. Enrichment opportunities for students achieving significantly above grade level were severely lacking, and I almost felt like I was wasting their time. Since I started using Summit Learning, I feel like this is the first time where it’s not just about meeting the status-quo, but also supporting students at their individual instruction level.
For educators who are unfamiliar with Summit Learning, it’s a personalized approach to teaching and learning— created by Summit Public Schools—that empowers teachers to customize instruction to meet the needs of each student. Work in the classroom is supported by a software platform that gives students access to a range of learning resources, helping them study in ways that best suit them. As a result, they’re never held back and can achieve their fullest potential. For those who struggle, they can learn in more than one way until they master something. Every student is challenged.
Summit Learning has three components: one-to-one mentoring, projects, and self-directed learning. Through my school’s participation, I receive ongoing professional development and coaching, along with access to a customizable curriculum that helps me bring high-quality learning opportunities into the classroom.
For me, the benefits include:
- Having a variety of relevant resources to meet each student right where they are. I am able to customize every lesson, and so I no longer have some students confused while others are bored. I’m able to assign work based on unique ability levels.
- Access to the Summit Learning Platform allows me to review student work in real-time and use the information to steer them back via checkpoints, rather than receive final assignments that are wide of the mark. With the reflection component, students can shine and get help right when they need it—either from me or from each other, and those who master content can move on to the next skill.
- Using my subject expertise to help students understand how what they’re learning applies to the world around them, I don’t just teach content—I help them apply skills through project-based learning.
My mentoring time with students allows me to see their strengths and weaknesses holistically, and work with them on goal-setting and confidence. It’s deeply gratifying to be able to coach students on work habits of success that will help them become college and career ready. I spend a lot of time building relationships with my students, as well as creating a community within our classroom. That visibility for each and every student allows me to make instructional decisions that ensure I’m meeting all students’ needs, not just a few. It’s not just teacher-student relationships, but peer-to-peer as well.
Last year, I had a student with underdeveloped work habits and confidence, and he (incorrectly) blamed his performance on a lack of ability. The mentor group helped him a lot. His classmates in the group cheered him on and collaborated with him to suggest changes in his approach that might help him get the outcome he wanted. In the end, his work paid off, and it was great to see him enjoy the pride of turning things around.
With Summit Learning, I’m able to make sure all of my students are being challenged and are getting what they need to advance. Students come to us with huge gaps in their ability levels, and we’re able to help close those gaps with Summit, as well as keeping the top-performing students challenged and engaged. The Summit Learning Program has changed me for the better as a teacher, and made me even more effective for all my students.
For teachers who have tried time and again to differentiate instruction and wish they had a more effective method, or better tools and resources to support you in doing so, I’d urge you to learn more about Summit Learning. The Summit approach is opening so many opportunities for an individualized learning path to meet each students’ needs. For me, this is the way a classroom should be.
Read about other teachers’ classroom experiences, as well as teaching strategies and lessons learned for what works, in Teacher Voices.