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By Sally Schultz
Sally Schultz is a sixth through eighth-grade science and math teacher at Knox Middle School in Salisbury, North Carolina.

Last fall, I received a unique professional development opportunity: the chance to transform my classroom into a learning space not only for students, but for teachers.

Through the Digital Scholars Initiative, a program the national nonprofit digiLEARN, I not only learned new techniques for incorporating personal learning and technology into my classroom, but I also had the opportunity to share that valuable knowledge and skills with my peers to help them do the same in their own classrooms.

The results of our first year were incredible – for my students, for my fellow teachers, and for me.

The Digital Scholars Initiative creates opportunities for teachers and schools to accelerate innovation and build effective personalized learning models for all students, but especially for students from economically disadvantaged areas. digiLEARN piloted the program at three schools in my southwestern North Carolina district during the 2017-2018 school year. This fall, digiLEARN will expand the Digital Scholars program to Durham Public Schools in Durham, North Carolina and is planning for future expansion in other states.  

Personalized learning helps students become active participants in the creation of their own learning goals and teaches them how to collaborate with others, think critically and solve problems effectively – skills they will need no matter their future career.

But personalized learning only works when teachers, who are on the front lines with students every day, are equipped with the resources and support they need to be innovative in the classroom.

I’ve been fortunate. My school and district leaders understand the value of empowering teachers and encouraging new techniques, so I had previous experience incorporating technology into my classroom.

Even with my previous experience, the Digital Scholars model was invaluable to me and my development as an educator. The program allowed me to collaborate with my colleagues and share the innovative practices I learned, such as ways to personalize instruction for my students through individualized playlists that are tailored to students individual needs, and to encourage teachers to try implementing new practices in their own classrooms. I feel that the Digital Scholars program has been so beneficial in bringing educators together from across my district and has opened up so much collaboration across schools.

The teachers who visited my classroom told me that they were very impressed with how students could articulate what they were learning, why they were learning it, as well as how students took ownership of their learning and tracking their own personal data. During their visits, educators had the opportunity to sit with my students and discuss the learning taking place as well as observe the small group instruction at my table. And afterward, we would have a chance to share resources and collaborate on ways that they could begin implementing pieces of similar instruction into their classrooms. This resulted in a great deal of collaboration, specifically on working together to develop personalized playlists for students in their classrooms.

My students also saw tremendous benefit. In an end-of-year survey, they said they learned more, enjoyed learning more and took more responsibility for their learning when digital tools were used for self-assessment and learning. And throughout the year, I saw my students not only grow academically, but their increase in confidence and effort was more than I could have asked for.

As a teacher who wants to lead from her classroom, I am thankful for the opportunity to connect with other educators and collaborate to help impact more classrooms and students. I can’t wait for year two.

For more on the Digital Scholars Initiative, visit digilearn.org/initiatives.