The Time Has Come for Truly Personalized Learning — With a Navigator to Make Sure Each Child Succeeds

Writing for The 74, Paul Reville and Geoffrey Canada recently made the case that it is time for truly personalized learning for students. Excerpts of the piece appear below: 

We believe the time has come for every child to have a success plan and a navigator, a caring adult to act as their advocate for years at a time. The concept of navigator has some modest footholds in education. There are guidance counselors who can in theory play such a role but are undermined by unworkable student-counselor ratios. A few schools feature advisories that provide some navigation services. Special education students have Individualized Education Programs. But even so, navigation and success planning are rare in schools. 

In the field of education, navigators, managing a modest caseload, could be deployed to understand and advocate for meeting students’ unique in- and out-of-school needs. Imagine that a navigator has one student who has just suffered the death of a parent, one who is being bullied, and one who is struggling in math. The navigator would provide a plan of action for each student — setting up time with a social worker or therapist, looking into peer mediation, and securing a math tutor, respectively — to fulfill each student’s individual need.

One district that has brought this kind of program to scale is Metro Nashville. The city’s navigator initiative provides an individual advocate for all 80,000 students. More than 6,000 teachers and other school staff are involved. 

To implement a navigator strategy, leaders must create a system that enables a designated adult to reach out to a particular student on a regular basis to see how they’re doing, with an emphasis on making kids feel seen, heard, understood and cared for. 

As navigators prepare plans and learn about categories of student need, schools and communities can aggregate this information to glean insights and set priorities. Building comprehensive cradle-to-career pipelines ensures that all students have not only the schooling, but the supports and opportunities outside of school they need to succeed in education and life. 

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