Personalization: Parents fined for taking kids on holiday during term time

SMUS-Views-Bob

No need to panic; this blog entry is genuinely about personalization and not fines we’re handing out. My title refers to this article: Should parents take their children on holiday during term time? The article, in the Manchester Guardian, a first-rank newspaper, discusses a new law enacted in the UK – I don’t know how broadly – that fines families £65 ($130) for taking their kids out of school to go on holiday. I know little of the background, the story simply came up on one of my newsfeeds. However, clearly there is a problem. Many parents evidently feel it is worth it and just pay the fine.

At SMUS, when a student misses class time for a holiday, we make sure the student catches up on work or writes the exam that was missed. Usually – especially if it is a team commitment or a musical commitment, the student will choose to stay at school and miss a bit of vacation. It works out.  There is provincial legislation that kicks in if a student doesn’t attend enough days at school; in this case, the family misses out on the government grant. I don’t recall that every being invoked for a SMUS student.

In a personalized school, students will be out of school during term time, probably more often than they are out now. I wonder how the law above will manage the direction that schools everywhere will be going?

At SMUS, starting next year, students, parents and student advisors will be sitting down during the year to look at the student’s learning pathway, based on passions, strengths, expected competencies in necessary areas, and it is likely that somewhere along the pathway the student will take some time out of what we now understand to be the calendar for an “immersion experience” – to take a term in Mexico for learning Spanish, or devoting eight weeks to figure skating, or pursuing a passion for competitive chess. The exact details remain to be worked out, but I think you get the general picture. In the next month we will be providing more details about how we are going to begin this process in the 2016-17 school year.

As I have mentioned before, we have a personalization team of four teachers who are exploring the possibilities of personalization, and adapting them to SMUS in ways that make sense. This will be a gradual evolution at SMUS and at all schools. At our schools we intend to be in control of this evolution, not at its mercy.

One of our teachers, Alison Galloway, in the Junior School, is a Personalization Team member. This is her summary of a recent visit to Iolani School in Hawaii:

Personalized learning at Iolani is most evident in the sustainably designed 40,000-square-foot, four-storey facility dedicated to citizenship, applied technology, scientific discovery and digital communication. Through experiential learning opportunities, classes in the Sullivan Center for Innovation and Leadership focus on building 21st-century habits of mind such as persistence, metacognition, and empathy by providing opportunities for students to tackle real world problems, pertinent to the local community.

Dynamic, multi-use spaces that augment and support the curriculum (such as the roof-top garden) are paired with flexible furnishings that encourage conversation and a culture of collaboration. Students and teachers are given voice and choice through opportunities to design their own learning experiences. A core group of teachers tasked with working to move faculty forward, form an initiative called the Education Innovation Labs. Individual teachers can pitch course ideas to this group which allows the school to benefit from the passions of the staff. Students in senior grades can also pursue independent study projects with supplies funded by the school.

The blending of leadership, communication, and citizenship training begins in the lower school makerspace STEM program and is designed to develop graduates who are complex and perceptive thinkers skilled in thinking critically, insightfully and creatively with an ethical and respectful use of technology. Iolani also serves as a community education resource offering summer courses and training for neighbouring students and teachers. Their strategic plan, ‘Iolani School Strategic Plan 2016-2021 “Together as One”, focuses on academics, relationships, balance and place.

Please read my other posts on personalization, last year and this year, by clicking on the “personalized learning” tag below. If you need help doing that, please ask your son or daughter.

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Bob Snowden
Bob Snowden is Head of School at St. Michaels University School.

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