ABOUT KATE BEAN
Kate Bean is a personalized learning pioneer and founder/executive director of Aveson Charter Schools, one of the first public schools focused on personalized mastery learning for grades K-12. Featured in the book, Learning Personalized: The Evolution of the Contemporary Classroom, Aveson hosts numerous public school leaders every year who are interested in offering a personalized mastery learning model to their students. Prior to Aveson, Kate was a teacher, district administrator and an educational consultant through the Comprehensive School Reform Grant program and No Child Left Behind era. It was her experience with NCLB that led her to establish Aveson Charter Schools and introduce a new personalized mastery learning and teaching model to public education. Through her other role as the executive director of the Personalized Mastery Learning Network, she is committed to helping all public schools provide personalized mastery learning for both students and educators.
Would you give a brief introduction about how you started on this work, what you’re focused on, and as you look into the future of education, what you see coming?
I started out as an educator in the classroom, trying to figure out how to meet the needs of all the kids in a traditional setting. I went on to be a consultant to see if I could make changes from the outside as opposed to the inside. But even when I was with a company that wanted to “break the mold”, when “No Child Left Behind” came out, it became even more about maintaining the mold. It became pretty clear to me that I needed to start my own school to show the balance between test score progression and a personalized approach. Kids need to understand what they’re passionate about, who they are, and how they learn. That’s why I set out to start Aveson Charter Schools.
When you think back to when you first started Aveson Charter ten years ago, how has the conversation changed across education?
I think over the last ten years, we have seen the introduction of tech into education, and there are pros and cons to that. I think blended learning has been a key to do personalized learning, but technology cannot replace the teacher.
Can you explain a bit more about how autonomy in the classroom influences teachers’ satisfaction with their jobs?
When you look at autonomy, value, and purpose, those are the three things people need to feel really motivated, and I think that’s true for kids and teachers. When you don’t have value and purpose piece, then you just have randomness. When “No Child Left Behind” came along, it switched. Suddenly, there was no autonomy. At Aveson, we tried to give that autonomy back.
GETTING TO KNOW KATE
Can you share with us about an event that helped to shape the way you look at education as you’ve gone through your journey?
There was this one time when I was a consultant and I was walking through a school. I went into one classroom to observe. I looked at the kids’ faces and saw they were “checked out”. When I was leaving, I thought to myself, I get to leave, but they have to stay in this classroom for another forty minutes. This just can’t be right. That’s when I really thought that I needed to do something about this. There’s got to be a better way to involve kids in their learning. After that, the idea for the school started.
In your role you have the opportunity to spend a lot of time talking to district leaders. From your vantage point as CEO and Founder of Education Elements, what are the ways in which you think you personally are able to best support them?
Many of the district leaders we work with have limited exposure to how fast the rest of the world is changing. We want to help districts understand how the workplace is important and the differences between the generations since we are in a transitional period.
You sit in a unique position, having supported the work of over 100 districts over the past 5 years in a very personal way. I know you have interacted with the leadership at every one of those districts. What changes have you seen in districts and their thinking around personalized learning over the past few years, and what changes do you think we will see over the next few?
A lot of effort went into how personalization is not just about the technology. Certainly it enhances the experience; however, personalization has been expected for a very long time. One of the big shifts we are noticing is that educators are emphasizing the need for personalization in their own lives, as well as a greater understanding that students need not only personalization, but to feel engaged. Educators emphasize the need for personalization in their own lives, so we see a greater understanding that students need levels of personalization as well to be engaged.
PERSONALIZED LEARNING JOURNEY
What is it about personalized learning that you believe will transform teaching and learning?
If we want teaching and learning to change, how we interact between the school district office and school and how we organize the adults that are leading this change has to be different. Personalized learning is not just about how a student learns, but about how the interactions change between district office and schools, and how we organize those adults leading this change.
What is it about being a thought-leader and transforming education the way you have that gives you the greatest level of fulfillment?
It’s just the drive that I have about how each kid needs to be actively involved in their learning. It’s about that growth mindset: it’s difficult but we can do it. If teachers can just find one area to just start to involve kids in their learning, that’s the greatest feeling to start to see that shift happen.
What continues to frustrate you the most when it comes to this work?
It’s definitely the fixed mindset: thinking that we only have one way to measure education and capture that learning, which just isn’t true. I understand people who want the one kind of measure, but until we realize there are multiple ways to understand if a student is learning, I will continue to be frustrated with that.
Can you tell us about one person who has had a strong impact on how you view education?
For me, it’s my daughter, Addison. From the very beginning, watching her develop through preschool years, I knew she was a very different learner. She has ADD, which gives her a creative internal world, and a traditional setting doesn’t always work for that. It made me think about what kind of school could work for any student.
Can you tell us about a time or situation where you’ve observed resistance to this work, and what did you do to overcome this resistance?
In about year five, we were looking at personalized learning and realized we were missing something. As much as we wanted to personalize what kids were learning and how they were learning it, we still struggled with grading equally as other kids. By bringing the word mastery in, it made us look at learning like preparing for opening night of a broadway show: critics don’t come in and grade the practice. They wait until the end to see how you did. It took us a long time and a lot of metaphors like that to get all of us to that point.
SECRETS OF SUCCESS
Can you share one strategy that you would suggest to educators who are looking to approach this work that you think would have the greatest impact?
They just need to listen. Administrators need to listen to teachers and teachers need to listen to kids. The shift into personalized mastery learning brings students into the conversation, and if you’re not listening to them, the shift is over.
What final words would you share with the audience to inspire them to start, continue or accelerate this transformational work?
Build your learning network. When a teacher collaborates with a student, they’re empowering that student to find what they need to learn.
CONNECTING WITH KATE