Many older adults recall their school learning experience. Desks lined up in rows, teacher at the front talking to the class, turning pages in the textbook to find an answer and taking the test to see if you would pass.
The expectations for students were clear (get to school, follow the rules, get a passing grade and graduate) and the consequences for non-compliance severe (and worse when you got home).
There was little technology available, teachers were the authority on content and access to options other than the local public school were limited to a correspondence course.
Those of you who can share in this nostalgia would find the schools of today a very foreign experience.
"Personalized learning" is a buzzword in education, a concept of learning that identifies what students need to know, helps them develop a plan for how they will master the content, and in a manner that fits their learning style. Schools have been trending toward this concept in recent years as technology and mobility have created a competitive market in education.
In years past, the teacher in the room had access to information and training that students relied on to learn the content. The teacher was a master of skill and content, leading the pupil. Students learned in a manner and pace dictated by the classroom teacher.
Today, the world is literally at the fingertips of kids with access to knowledge that exceeds human capacity. Need to know how many beats per minute of the average resting heart rate or the height of the Eiffel Tower? Google it. Free learning content floods the web and kids with an interest in learning can gain infinite information with little effort.
The role of the teacher has changed with the growth of technology. No longer a master of knowledge upon whom students necessarily rely, the teacher is now relegated to the role of guiding students through the sea of endless information to develop the ability to filter, assess and construct meaning from the information they gather.
Private schools, charter schools, online schools and colleges have developed attractive options for students that cater to their desire to tailor their education to their own interests, save money in college or complete school in a manner that fits their lifestyle. This competitive influence has pushed public education to adapt from a one-size-fits-all approach, to one that employs technology and innovation to personalize the learning experience of students.
Some school systems allow students to complete courses at their own pace, access school year-round, design learning paths unique to their career interests and partner with employers to develop scholarship programs that blend secondary learning with degree programs that fast track students to career opportunities.
High school is looking less like the place romanticized in yearbooks, full of memories of high school dances and glee club, and more like a junior college designed to transition students to career opportunities or post-secondary education.
This fall PLHS introduced online learning, distance learning, flexible scheduling and new technology not just in response to COVID-19 mandates, but in an effort to take a leap forward on the path of innovation to position ourselves in a place that allows students to access the advantages of a more personalized learning experience while being part of a great learning community.
2019 feels decades old as you watch students engage with school this fall. The challenges and limitations of COVID learning will be present for some time, but out of this experience will come a more efficient system of learning that adapts to students' needs.
Many of us celebrate the great memories shared with high school friends or gloat over our former selves and our recollections of high school glory. But, we can also remember the wasted hours, the uninspiring lectures on abstract subjects, the endless worksheets and bubble tests.
At Pequot Lakes High School, we are focused on highly effective instructional approaches that require students to apply their learning in practical, real-world situations. Fading are the activities focused on compliance and rote memory; instead we focus on practical skills, collaboration, reflective learning, development of processes and mindsets that shape our thinking.
We still cherish the opportunity for great memories experienced within the halls of ol’ PLHS, we are just shifting our academic focus to measurable outcomes for graduates that match the needs of today’s workforce.
School does not look the same, feel the same or function the same as it did one year ago, and it certainly bears no resemblance to school from 30 years ago. However, the goal is the same and those leading children through the learning process are just as skilled in helping students find their potential to a successful path in life.
Aaron Nelson is Pequot Lakes High School principal.