Personal Paths to Growth

This past month I observed several real life demonstrations of the positive impact of personalized learning. Each of these happened outside the hallowed walls of traditional education.

1) Leadership and Communications. I am a rabid fan of the University of Michigan football. If you follow it you’ll know that backup quarterback John O’Korn hasn’t been able to rally the team as a collaborative, skilled unit. His many interceptions, snap misses, and fumbles had decimated the Wolverine’s ability to execute. Off the field during the weeks of practice preceding the Rutgers game October 28th, freshman quarterback, Brandon Peters, had been in deep training to garner the leadership skills required to fire up the team’s skills and passion. Peters is a soft spoken, focused, deliberate player. Strong communications were not his forte….until the coaches were relentless in helping him develop what was needed to lead the team. He had to ‘want’ the QB role. He had to learn ‘how’ to lead. And he did and he blossomed. Finally, all agreed he was ready to launch. He entered the game in the second quarter and led to victory with 4 touchdowns. Most of his passes were spot on. He consistently converted on third downs. To say the game dramatically changed is putting it lightly. Peters was leading; he was communicating and his team was responding.

2) In Nashville last week I met a 17 year old lead guitar player who travels the nation with a band of much older country musicians. They are a great, popular band. I asked the young man if he was completing high school. He is – through an online program, Odysseyware. He said he’s loving it since he’s not giving up his ‘on the job/internship’ with the band. He knows it’s his future livelihood – his talent that will drive career decisions. There is no time in his life for bricks and mortar and lock-step high school programming. He doesn’t suffer lack of mentorship. The band is highly supportive of his development – socially and academically. This appears to be a productive life experience for the 17 year old….leading to fulfilling life long dreams.

3) Learning that is Driven. My nephew is no slouch in middle school. He performs at high levels across the board. Often he is ‘bored’ by the irrelevance of some of the learning activities. To compensate he has become a veritable Oracle regarding all things sports. Not only can he recite every team’s/franchise’s/player’s stats and history, he does deep analysis and prognostication based on that data. He spends countless hours seeking this knowledge and understanding that world. The result is that he was reading at a 12th grade level in 4th grade. He has insights about life and people that one would expect from someone much older than 13 years. He is self-taught and able to transfer what he knows in the sports world to the world, his world, in general. He ‘manages’ to patiently wade through the learning tasks in each content area so he can do well on tests and free up his time to do the studying that most interests him.

4) Personal Growth and Career Moves. Coming from a reality where one has a career and holds it ad infinitum or until retirement, it is amazing to watch today’s young work force nimbly change jobs either from personal or employers’ choice. I have followed a young woman, 37, throughout her careers. With degrees in Communications and Sociology she has had many roles and responsibilities in her work life that capitalized on those degrees…some not expected. Her goal has been to be in a position of serving – such as through a non-profit aimed at an honorable mission. In that quest, each of her jobs has led her closer to that realization. She astutely assessed each of her current roles to gauge its plausibility for personal growth and pathway toward the goal. When she realized the position wasn’t aiming in the right direction or she had quit growing, she sought what was next each time landing a role with more responsibility, opportunities for learning and social impact – (and increased salary). Just recently she self-directed a path that led to her landing an Executive Director role in a major NY based corporation. That job had been earmarked for an external candidate with extensive technology background. When the organization learned of the woman’s interest in the position – they listened to her pitch for the job. She had crafted the content of her ask for the position in a way that demonstrated her direct knowledge and skill sets that would greatly benefit the organization. They listened. They gave her the position – again with a 20% salary increase. Her flexibility of style and personal desire to grow, to learn, to expand her capacity landed her the position she sought.

What is important here is how each person found a pathway to grow, to self-develop, to learn, to advance to next levels of knowledge and skill. They had to want that self-direction and accept support and guidance from those willing to help. In my nephew’s case, he simply continues to nurture his own thirst for growth via knowledge and analysis around the world of sports. Then he can scaffold the learning to the traditional expectations.

Leslie Wilson
Chief Executive Officer
One-to-One Institute

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