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School : Vance Middle School

District : Bristol City School District

State : Tennessee

Level : P-12

District Enrollment : 1,001-10,000 students

Community Type : Rural

Related Tags : 1:1 Initiative, personalized learning, professional learning

Bristol Tennessee City Schools: Personalized Educator Learning Provides Foundation for Personalized Student Learning

Bristol Tennessee City Schools has just over 4,000 students enrolled in five elementary schools, a single middle school, one brick-and-mortar high school, and a virtual high school. The district’s free and reduced lunch rate is just over 53%; the rate at some of the four Title I schools is significantly higher. To provide all students with a high-quality, equitable learning experience through personalized learning, in 2014 Bristol City Schools embarked on a digital conversion that has since expanded to provide every child in grades 4-12 with a laptop computer to keep and use throughout the school year.

Vance Middle School, the only middle school in the district, serves 602 students in 7th and 8th grade. Prior to the district’s digital conversation, Vance Middle School was on the Tennessee’s Focus Schools list, a list of the state’s schools with the largest achievement gaps between economically disadvantaged and non-economically disadvantaged students. Realizing that Vance would need to embrace new teaching and strategies to close its achievement gap, the district selected it as the first school to give a laptop to every child.

While faculty members were excited about the opportunity, the school also recognized that they would need assistance transitioning to a 1:1 learning environment and especially adapting to personalized student learning supported by the technology that was being made available to all teachers and students for the first time. While having a voice and choice in assignments, especially collaborative projects, really engages middle school students, student choice can create understandable anxiety in faculty members who are not trained in that style of facilitation. Rather than simply hoping for the best, administrators developed a personalized learning program for them as well based on the personalization principles of each individual being empowered to pursue their own personalized learning goals and being given access to resources that would enable them to achieve their goals.

A cornerstone of the personalized educator program was forming a leadership team of teacher-leaders. The team is charged with systematically guiding and directing the improvement of instruction by offering input, leading professional development pursuits, and serving as in-house support for their colleagues. To be members of the leadership team, teacher-leaders had to be willing to open up their classrooms to visitors and observers and collaborate with each other and teachers in other schools to identify best practices. They also agreed to share their learnings with other teachers at Vance.

In addition to adopting a leadership team mode, Vance invited outside experts to observe lessons and provide feedback to both teachers and administrators, who were learning about personalized learning together. These experts included local university professors and a team from Mooresville Graded School District, in Mooresville, NC, a district that has already successfully implemented a 1:1 program and personalized student learning.

Soon, Vance teacher-leaders were actively seeking professional learning opportunities tailored to their own needs. They were also assisting colleagues and providing a range of learning opportunities for others, at the district level and beyond, including making presentations at state and national conferences. Vance teachers were featured prominently at a district-wide unCamp at the beginning of the year, for example, which combined aspects of an unconference and Edcamp, professional learning opportunities that are participant-driven. On a follow-up survey, many in the district commented that it was one of the best in-services ever.

For its entire faculty, Vance also deployed an online, interactive tool for enabling all teachers in the school to share ideas and lesson plans, and collaborate. The tool hosts video clips of teachers who have mastered specific skills that are available to other teachers who’ve identified improving that skill in their own practice so they see and learn from others. Vance’s principal, Dr. Amy Scott, also modified professional learning community meetings to ensure that content area teachers had opportunities to plan their learning together while also providing them ample administrative and instructional support.

Over time, faculty and administrators at the school have continued to refine ways to personalize professional learning and, according to Dr. Scott, no longer have anxiety about personalizing learning for students. They understand the power of getting individualized feedback and being able to direct their own program of professional growth and discovery. More importantly, the experience has translated to higher student achievement.

As a result of its 1:1 and personalized learning programs, Vance was pleased to exit the state’s Focus Schools list two years early. The school has no plans to return.

Additional Resources

From the U.S. Department of Education:

  • Bristol also adopted openly licensed educational resources to provide all students with a high-quality, equitable learning experience through personalized learning strategies.
  • National Education Technology Plan

Points of Contact

Bristol Tennessee City Schools
Phone: 423-652-9451

Dr. Amy Scott, Principal, Vance Middle School
Phone: 423-652-9449