As teachers we know that learning is largely relational, students need to feel welcome, safe and to a certain degree a willingness to be vulnerable and acknowledge what they don't already know. Developing such an atmosphere can take time and as teachers we all know that time can often be a luxury. However, as we all sat in a circle and each teacher spoke to an artifact that they brought that defined them as an individual, a teacher or in some cases both,I was struck by how the stories ranged from deeply personal to very humorous, but they all provided insight into who that person was. This exercise took time (close to an hour) and you could sense at the start of the activity a great deal of apprehension as they wanted to get on with planning their task or building on their ideas. At the end of this hour though, I found the group to be more connected, more committed to each other's success and a willingness to share ideas with one another.
I couldn't help but think of how often I had sacrificed depth for coverage in my teaching and that it is by stepping back, taking the time to get to know our students that we personalize learning. Personalizing learning is not done by an app or a program, but through the connections we make with each and every one of our students, there are no shortcuts and the work is not always easy work, but the exercise at the summer institute with a group of teachers giving up three days of their summer vacation taught me that it is work worth doing.