Developing Learner Agency: Guest Post by the Team Teaching Sisters, Michaela Loo & Tricia Pettis

By Barbara Bray

Join Barbara Bray in conversations with awesome educators, leaders, and influencers as they talk about their passion and purpose for planting seeds for change. Each podcast has a link to a related blog post with more information and resources.

Moving from Theory to Practice through Proficiencies, Pathways, and Profiles
Four years ago, we attended the Edina Summer Institute where Barbara Bray was sharing her expertise in personalized learning as the keynote speaker. She struck a chord with us on many levels that day but when she said, “Teachers are doing all the work…” our trajectory as teachers immediately changed. After her keynote, we set a goal. We planned to personalize our class one unit at a time, and that is exactly what we did.   
As we embarked on our personalized learning journey, we would never have imagined that a pandemic would have us all teaching and learning from home with very little lead time to prepare for this drastic and urgent shift. What quickly became clear was the optimal position our learners were in from the onset. Our gains in establishing systems and supports around personalized learning as instructional coaches and classroom teachers became levers we accessed to design an immediate response to teaching during a pandemic. Because our learners experienced opportunities to control, engage, and reflect in the learning process, they were able to capitalize on their established agency.   
There are countless definitions of personalized learning. We define personalized learning as three interrelated layers that involve:  

Placing learners at the center where multiple pathways are possible to develop essential skills, and competencies.
Guiding individuals to become agents of their learning through goal setting and reflecting on the learning processes. 
An active method where educators recognize the need for flexibility around pace, content, style, skill, background knowledge, location or some other learning dimension.  

Currently, we are personalized learning coaches and classroom teachers at South View Middle School in Edina, MN. South View Middle School, hosts multiple site visits and professional development training for personalized learning. When we reflect on the momentous growth around personalized learning in our school, we relate it back to two things: updated systems and job-embedded supports. Building systems that back effective and responsive teaching is essential. Establishing ongoing supports that remove barriers for professional growth (i.e. time, resources, strategies) are critical. 
One system we constructed in order to personalize the learning process was designing a school-wide unit guide accessible to any content area. The idea of the unit guide is to create a template with three key components that any teacher can adapt for their courses. The three components are the 3Ps, proficiencies, pathways, and profiles. The unit guide is a simple Google document that is shared with learners via Schoology or Google Classroom. The general template of the unit guide outlines the learning targets and standards (proficiencies), lays out the pacing of content (pathways), and gives learners a place to reflect and track their learning (profiles). Adopting the unit guide ensures each student has their own copy of a resource that provides consistent support for their learning experience. Further, the guide gives learners a foundation for which they can begin navigating and controlling their learning choices. When introducing the unit guide with learners we asked the question, “What is the purpose of this document?” To which they responded, “To track our learning, to know where we are going, to have resources…” 
Once we transitioned to distance learning we were still able to use the unit guide in the same way we did while we were in the classroom together. Learners knew where to find learning targets, set goals, access key resources, seek feedback, and reflect. Learners reported that their unit guides were extremely helpful, especially when many other elements of their school experience were dismantled and unpredictable.