068: Paul Emerich France – Reclaiming Personalized Learning

How Do You Know You Belong?

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Paul Emerich France is a National Board Certified Teacher and the author of the book, Reclaiming Personalized Learning. Now into his tenth year of teaching, he enjoys connecting with his students and fellow teachers, encouraging all to have courageous conversations about making learning personal for adults and children alike.

Today, we talk about this idea of bringing back personalized learning, finding a sense of belonging, embracing vulnerability, and making your voice heard and your story known to others.

What We Discuss with Paul Emerich France:

  • How he got into teaching and why he has stayed over the years
  • Remembering a good teacher and their effect on you
  • Why he decided to teach elementary kids
  • The challenges he encountered as an openly gay teacher
  • Why reclaim personalized learning and what it’s really all about
  • Helping teachers reconnect with their real purpose
  • Making your voice and story known to others
  • Having a strong back and soft front
  • Paul’s writing and editing process
  • The importance of vulnerability and why content alone is not enough
  • The power of assessment which is a vulnerable choice to make as a teacher

[01:30] Paul’s Background in Education

Paul has been teaching for ten years now. He started working with kids over the summer in college. He was initially a Music Education major and transitioned into Elementary Education. Paul decided to stay since it constantly challenges him and he can’t stop talking about it.

Seeing children completely change the way they conceptualize the world is what keeps him going. Great teachers help you find your passions. Usually, they barely have to do with content. But it’s the persona of the persona.

[06:50] Why He Chose to Be an Elementary Teacher

Paul tries to be the teacher that he needed being a timid and shy student back in elementary school. He thinks this relates to his identity which he didn’t discover until later in life.

Talking about identity and being vulnerable are important conversations to have at a young age.

[09:35] Speaking His Inner Truth

In his book, Paul talks about being an openly gay teacher and the challenges that come with that.

The final section of the book is about Equity – finding a sense of belonging in a school – which he searched for as an openly gay teacher. He eventually landed a job in Chicago that accepted him for who he is.

[14:50] Reclaiming Personalized Learning

Currently, tech companies have claimed learning as something that’s theirs and can make money off. This was something he had seen while working in San Francisco for an education technology company. It was expensive so only a certain portion of the population would have access to it.

When you mix business and education, it becomes a threat to equity in the education system as it starts to become about profits. So they began making decisions, not for the students, but to please investors and expand the usage of tools.

Making learning personal is about building relationships and helping kids learn to be vulnerable. It’s about cultivating self-awareness in kids. Learning is something that teachers (not the computers) provide.

[19:15] Lessons From His Book Writing Journey

Find that courage to be vulnerable. Paul started writing 6 years ago on his blog with the goal of eventually writing a book. He found writing is a vulnerable practice. It’s both beautiful and terrifying. He just constantly tells himself to be vulnerable.

Make your thoughts and your story known to others. He wrote this book in response to his Silicon Valley experience. He went to a conference with Jim Knight, an instructional coach, who encouraged him to write a book after Paul shared his ideas about progressive education to the group. You have to put yourself out there to get your voice heard.

Strong back, soft front. You have to be strong in who you are. You have to own your story. But you also have to have that soft front where you’re open to the things coming towards you, and that includes criticisms.

Stop judging yourself. The outline wasn’t the hard part for him, but the actual chapters themselves. It was always hard for him to start a chapter. It goes back to being vulnerable, not only to people reading it but also to himself. The days he was most successful were those when he told himself to stop judging himself.

[28:00] The Importance of Vulnerability and Humanized Assessment

Content matters but it’s not the be-all-end-all. At the end of the day, it’s about your purpose and being vulnerable.

Ask them why. Assessment is any information we get from kids that help us learn how to teach them better. If you have a kid in your class that’s disengaged from your content or curriculum, your job is to ask why. This is a vulnerable thing to make as a teacher.

Connect with your students. Kids naturally want to connect with their teachers. Unfortunately, they don’t see themselves in the curriculum or that they play a role in this discipline. This is detrimental to learning and finding that method that works for the individual is key!

Episode Resources:

Reclaiming Personalized Learning by Paul Emerich France

The book is also available on Corwin

Check out Paul’s article on Educational Leadership: The Value of Vulnerability

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