With more schools embracing technology to tailor learning to the needs of each student, the Future Ready Schools initiative is ensuring that the 9 million kids in rural public school districts aren’t left behind on the trend.
After conducting research, FRS adapted its guide to help schools implement personalized learning approaches specifically for rural schools.
“I’ve seen firsthand the many challenges facing rural schools, from teacher recruitment and tight budgets to a school principal who also drives the school bus,” says Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education that funds FRS — and former governor of West Virginia, in a press release. “But rural schools also have tremendous assets, most notably their tight-knit communities that create trusting relationships among teachers, students and families.”
FRS says leveraging these assets along with seven criteria — from budget to infrastructure — can lead rural schools to success with personalized learning initiatives.
Thanks to their small size and the close bonds they foster, rural schools are set up for personalization success, FRS says.
“With fewer students, teachers have fewer data points to collect and track, easing the transition to providing each student with a unique, tailored curriculum that meets his or her learning needs,” the guide reports. To ensure success in districts with small staffs, FRS says educators should consider an extended timeline for total personalization and make sure that the curriculum aligns with standards and means for support.
One successful example that FRS provides is Deer Isle-Stonington High School in Maine, where a personalized learning program has a marine studies component, which connects to the area’s booming lobster industry and is supported with help from local businesses.
For educators to provide students with a cutting-edge education, their professional development should use the same technology and learning techniques. FRS recommends that educators use online professional development and outreach tools.
In an EdTech post, Technology Director Samuel Mormando of the Garnet Valley School District in Pennsylvania writes that to prepare teachers in all types of districts for new technology and programs, administrators need to give them choice, freedom to explore and blended learning opportunities.
“Like students, adult learners appreciate being given the ability to choose their own learning pathways,” he writes. “Providing choice will allow teachers to incrementally learn the new skills needed to adopt any new technology.”
Implementing a digital learning initiative requires long-term investments in new devices, but ultimately the boost in the efficacy of instruction has been shown to reduce costs.
FRS suggests that districts with limited cash flow explore partnerships with community leaders and pursue state and federal funding to support the initiatives.
For schools with a “homework gap,” where students may not have internet access at home, local libraries and business have been a great help by lending out hotspots and mapping out free Wi-Fi.
In addition to reaching out to the community for monetary help, FRS says schools can follow Deer Isle’s example and develop relationships to create off-campus learning opportunities and realistic curriculums.
For Atlantis Charter School in Fall River, Mass., a partnership with the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology made it possible to offer curriculum that mirrors the college level.
It might be easy for smaller rural schools to collect student data, but the support for data literacy and the tools to analyze the data may be lacking.
Some schools have forged partnerships with city organizations to assist with collection and analysis of data that can improve student outcomes.
Before pursuing a digital initiative, schools must ensure they have a network infrastructure with proper bandwidth and technical support, reports FRS.
Classroom design can be a big factor in student success.
“People think physical space is an innocent bystander. But physical space can reinforce a teacher’s mission, or frustrate it,” says Larry Kearns, a principal of Wheeler Kearns Architects in Chicago.
FRS recommends that schools explore how to make learning spaces more flexible and rely on community partnerships and Wi-Fi expansions — like those on school buses — to make flipped classroom a reality.