School Talk

Guest Post: Boys of Color Need Personalized Learning

By David McGuire

Imagine if school was centered and designed around the needs of all students? It is a fairly simple question that seems to have a very simple answer; the answer is personalized learning.

What is personalized learning? The beauty is there is not a concrete definition. Personalized learning will look different in every school setting. The idea behind personalized learning is to allow students to control their learning. The students dictate where and how instruction is given. Schools cannot create or buy personalized learning. Instead schools invest to train their teachers on how to create personalized learning in the classroom.

I reflect back to last school year when I was a principal of a middle school. While being a principal of rigorous academic school whose mission is to help students, regardless of their prior academic performance, to achievement academically at a high level, I quickly realized there is no one size fits all. You may have a curriculum, but it is important to provide avenues that allow students to take control. My school was an all-boys school and boys at that age do not have school on their minds. One of the most heartbreaking things I experienced as an educator was to see young men, specifically young men of color, feel defeated by school.

What my boys did not understand is they were not defeated. They just hit a road bump on their journey in education; however, somewhere along the way, they saw road bumps as failures. They had not experienced success in school. This lack of not feeling successful led them to feel defeated. This happens a lot in schools especially in schools who serve boys of color because they are expected to learn the same way and at the same speed as other students. Even as adults, we know we don’t learn the same as other adults. We need it personalized it in a way we understand.  Why don’t we do the same for our students?

As a Black male educator, I believe boys of color need structure and rigorous instruction, but I also firmly believe, in order for these boys to be successful, schools must provide them with an education that is individualized and tailored to their needs and interests. Personalized learning in schools will allow schools to offer what many boys of color need in order to be successful and not feel defeated.  A personalized education approach is a “by any means necessary” learning approach. Teachers must adopt this and not allow boys of color to fall through the cracks.

This year, I plan to push the personalized learning approach. Moving out of the principal role of an individual school to a role that supports six schools, I will support and train teachers on the importance of learning who their students are. I must create a space where teachers can empower these boys to tap into and find ways of learning what works best for them. I must give these boys of color the freedom to choose how they learn and what they learn because this will motivate them to feel accomplished and help them achieve more.

As an educator, scholar, and advocate, I must demand for boys of color to be engaged, supported, and part of the learning community. Schools must spur intellectual curiosity in them and have a curriculum that aligns to their interests. If it is not, then it is important for teachers to allow students to align the curriculum to their own interests. I will not give up on this and will continue to push this movement of personalized learning in schools for boys of color, by any means necessary.

Mr. McGuire is an administrator with Tindley Accelerated Schools, a Teach Plus Policy Fellow alum, and a current doctoral candidate at Indiana State University. Driven by the lack of having an African American male teachers in his classrooms growing up, David helped launched the Educate ME Foundation, which is geared towards increasing the number of African American male teachers in the classroom. A born and raised Hoosier, he is dedicated to improving educational outcomes for all students in Indianapolis. He describes his educational beliefs as a reformer grounded in the best practices of traditional public schools, where strong leaders mentored him. David graduated from Central State University with a degree in English and also holds advanced degrees from Indiana Wesleyan University and Marian University.

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