Knowing Your Learners

A couple years ago I received a letter from a former student that really hit home. I vaguely remembered this student (yes, I needed to pull out my old class photos just to remember the face) but for some reason he wanted me to know that I had a major impact on his life. This is the gist of what was shared:

“You asked me how I was doing almost EVERY day during a time when I was struggling at home. I wasn’t quite sure how you knew I was struggling, but I was. I was not getting along with my family and life for that matter……”

I was shocked and definitely a little teary eyed. I began to think more and more about my role in this student’s life. I tried to remember why I asked him this daily. Was I really that concerned?  Did I really have an impact like he had written? Did I treat all my students with this same concern? Do our students need us to know what is happening in their life? Was I just trying to get to know him? We have a major impact on our students’ lives. How do we make this impact? We talk to them and really get to know who they are.   

Image result for when they already know it

The book When They Already Know It by Mark Weichel, Blane McCann, and Tami Williams devotes a full chapter focusing on how to get to know the learners in your room.  You may have already heard of this book as it was mentioned as a book club option last week. The book takes a look at how to extend and personalize student learning. As a district we have taken the initial steps of knowing our learners with the use of the learner profile. It is a start for staff to get to know their students like never before.


What does it really mean to know your learner? Weichel, McCann, and Williams define it as “being able to identify, describe, nurture, and respond to their intellectual, social, and emotional characteristics.” When we get to know our learners we get to know what makes them tick, what excites and frustrates them, what makes them succeed, and so much more. The more that educators know about their students the more effective they can be in the classroom which allows them to guide their students and lead them to grow in their learning.

The district’s current vision is on the personalization of learning for our students. The importance of pursuing personalization in our schools cannot be effective unless we absolutely know our learners. We are in the midst of learning about our students through the use of the Learner Profile. This tool allows each student to reflect on different dimensions of who they are as a learner and create clarity on how they can advocate for his/her learning to his/her teacher. What are their interests, needs, frustrations, obstacles, and anything else that makes their learning easier? The Learner Profile allows us a better understanding of each one of our students. Weichel, McCann, and Williams reference some contributing factors in a Student’s Academic Profile that align directly to Kaneland’s Learner Profile.

Contributing Factors in a Student’s Academic Profile:

Strengths It is important that we focus on a student’s strengths and any talents they can utilize during their learning. So many times, specifically data driven meetings, our focus is on their deficits. It’s time we find the good in our students and see where that can take them. We do not have ‘average’ students- we have students that might be average in some areas, but each student has a strength that can raise them higher than others in the learning process.

Curiosities What are your students curious about? Have you ever asked them? Could you possibly share the same curiosities? By knowing what a student is curious about you can open their learning to a whole new world. Curious students tend to want much more than what is on the surface. These curiosities can grow into much bigger learning opportunities, not only for them but you as well. Do you often wonder about that?

Interests Curiosities and interests are very similar. With both you can connect your curriculum and a student’s interest and expand on extended learning. The key in finding out about interests and curiosities is to talk to your students. (See a trend forming?) Find out what drives your students, what they like to do outside of school? Can you connect your learning to their interests? The connection to students’ interests can lead you to a deeper understanding. How do their interests drive their learning?

Learning Styles Do your students require step-by-step instructions? Do they learn more when they are in control of their own learning? Do they only need guidance at the beginning of their learning? Do they work better in small groups? Large groups? Individually?  Are they a leader? Follower? Tailoring each students learning to how they learn best is essential for success. The key element is to find out how each student learns best.

Motivators Do your students need a teacher to praise them 24/7 or only when they need it? Does recognition drive your student? What about offering perks? Is their motivation personal? In many instances praising a student over and over again not only loses its luster, but can also tear a child apart. Other students that don’t receive the constant praising could somehow begin to resent those that receive praise all the time. What are your motivators? Is it possible your students could have the same motivator; or, is that what you think?

Energy Sources We are in a world where we cross paths with both extroverts and introverts on a regular basis. An extrovert will get their energy from others and will also produce energy. They like to be involved and definitely like to lead the charge! Many times they will voice their opinions with the confidence that they are right. Introverts on the other hand get their energy from themselves. They usually like to work alone or in very small groups, with people they know. They are constantly reflecting so they don’t regret their actions. As a teacher it is important to know where your students fall in this area. Making them perform a task that they are not comfortable with can sometimes harm an individual’s learning.

Many of these contributing factors are located in our students’ Learner Profile. Are we accessing this information to better improve our teaching? Are we using it to get the most out of our students? Do we continue to reflect on our own Learner Profile? Are we just using it to fulfill district implementation? It is important that we ask ourselves these questions so that we are giving our students the best learning they need. If you know your students’ profile, you definitely know your student!

A Final Thought

As you can tell, knowing your students has many benefits. Looking back on my own experience, I’m glad I asked that student how he was doing every single day. At the time I was just trying to engage a shy/quiet student in a conversation. I don’t recollect ever sensing his true feelings, but either way I am glad that I can say “I was able to be the lifeline for a student that was in need.” These students are our kids. Yes, we should invest our time in getting to know everything about them that we possibly can. If you don’t feel that you’ve had an impact, give it some time. Someday you will know when you’ve touched the life of someone. Just get to know your learners!



McCann, B., Weichel, M., Williams, T., 2018, When They Already Know It. Bloomington, IN, Solution Tree Press


Pick Your Jersey: Identifying Personality Types

At the end of my last blog post, Get Your Whistle, I mentioned I would be coming back to talk more about personality styles and here it is! But….


Before I head into specific personality styles, I wanted to take a moment to address labels. Just yesterday I was in a meeting and we were talking about a presentation where the speaker mentioned the need to “throw out labels!”  Labels box people in! They limit expectations! They act as excuses! My heart is thinking, “Yes”! I don’t want to limit anyone! Throw them away!

Later that day I headed to a data meeting. During that meeting, each student was discussed and there was the opportunity to identify students’ need.  Here teachers,interventionists, a psychologist, a social worker, and administration talk about the life situations that have come up that may be challenging that student.  Labels are placed on students and I am thinking, “Yes”! These students are going to get the services they need because we are identifying the strengths and challenges in their lives and doing something about it!

Labels. Can they be limiting? Yes. Are they helpful? Yes.

Labels are a necessity in education.  It is important that we can identify the strengths of our students and where they need more support.  We need to know what their home life is like so we can connect and support it in the learning environment.  We need to know if a student is a struggling reader or enriched in math. We need to know so that we can reach them and teach them appropriately.  We need those labels.

On the other hand, do not let those labels limit.  They are there to inform practice not set limitations or act as excuses when goals aren’t met.  Labels help us connect our own prior knowledge and be able to address situations in a more appropriate fashion. It is vital for me to know when I am pushing s student outside of his/her label and to add in that extra support to let them know that I am aware that this is going to be a challenge for him/her but I think he/she can do it. Labels are not excuses.


Personality Types

Jane Kise, in Differentiated Coaching: A Framework for Helping Educators CHANGE, asks for the reader to take a moment and sign your name with you dominant hand.  When you finish you are tasked with signing your name in your non-dominant hand. Try it.  

How did it feel to use your non dominant hand?  You could most likely still sign you name, but you most likely found it wasn’t as simple or natural as it was with your dominant hand. People are born with a natural preference for writing with their right or left hand.  You may practice and strengthen the ability to use the other hand, but naturally you prefer one hand over the other. Keep this activity in mind as you look at personality types.

Let’s go back to the core of this blog post.  Last month I wrote about the four coaching styles and went through a quick rundown of who may fit into each coaching style.  I discussed the need for teachers to step into the coaching role for their students as we move deeper into the world of personalized learning.  Today’s post is getting into more detail and giving you a better opportunity to label your students personality type as well as your own.

Look through the descriptions below to help guide yourself to identifying which personality type you may be and to start to identify what students in your room may have a natural preference for.  These are all from Differentiated Coaching: A Framework for Helping Educators CHANGE by Jane Kise.  I highly recommend reading the book for a more in depth look at the types and to utilize a professional type preference tool such as TypeCoach, MBTI, PPI, PTI, JTI, or GPTP (avoid anything free).

If you take the initial associated with each trait you will have the overall personality type. (Use for reference below)

Can you categorize some of your students? Can you identify what they may naturally prefer? What about for yourself? Remember, you want to coach your students in a way that fits their individual styles. This may be far from your style.  Being aware of what works for you is important to know for your own growth, but is also significant to note that is the way you most naturally approach coaching your students.

So now what?  What do you do with these labels?  How do these fit into coaching styles? Take a look at the chart below.  Kise’s created this chart to identify how each types likes to be coached.  Select one of the students in your class. See if you can use the chart above to estimate what his/her personality type is.  How do they need to be coached?

*Chart 7.5 found on p. 126 of Differentiated Coaching: a Framework for Helping Educators Change

Can you use this information to connect with a student you have been struggling to coach?  Can you use knowledge of your own personality type to inform a coworker about a way that you feel you could collaborate better? Can you change the way you approach working with a team member by looking and identifying what work best for their personality and finding a way to work with that? Acknowledging our own personalities, identifying the personalities of those around us, and being able to verbalize these needs/wants creates a situation where collaboration can occur. No personality is right and no personality is wrong, they all just need something a little different and knowing that is the first step to getting everyone involved to where they want to be.


Kise, Jane A. G. Differentiated Coaching: a Framework for Helping Educators Change. 2nd ed., Corwin, 2017.


How Does Reading Shape You as a Person?

I just love this essential question.  It defines for me how I have developed as a reader.  In my earlier years of education, I may not have even understood this question or even have been able to consider a response.  Today, reading really does shape me as a person. Many of us have explored how empathizing with characters molds us into being better people.  We are able to vicariously experience situations that allow us to see new perspectives. On the flip side, with informational text, research empowers us with knowledge.  Knowledge helps us make better decisions, plan appropriate steps of action in order to optimize time and resources, or avoid some potential mistakes.

While I have grown tremendously from reading, I don’t do all of the my learning from reading by myself.  Just as discourse is important in the classroom for student growth, it is important outside of the classroom for our own development. It is with a group of critical friends that I am able to come up with some of my best ideas. The word critical can have a negative connotation, however, here it is aligned with the definition that involves analysis: seeking merit and faults.  A critical friends group is a group of educators who gather to carefully inspect, discuss and evaluate current practices in an effort to make improvements.   This group of teachers can be of varied levels or assignments, but share a common interest in education.  The bonus is that these members are not only colleagues, but friends as well.

When I am with this group of educators, we talk, laugh, and wonder as we share heartfelt celebrations and concerns.  Currently, we are delving into a shared read: From Striving to Thriving: How to Grow Confident Capable Readers by Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward.  It is in our discussion of this resource that this essential question was born. How Does Reading Shape You as a Person? Pondering this question is one that I could revisit regularly and continue to develop my answer.  If I were in a classroom today, this is a  question that would be an ongoing focus for my classroom all year long.

Currently, we work as  grade level teams, a building team, and a district team.  It is at times difficult to carve out time for ourselves and our own learning.  Maybe a critical friends group could be a way to connect on a personal and professional level with some colleagues.   We encourage you to reach out to other educators to create or enhance your professional network. It just may happen, however, that you have a potential group of critical friends right in front of you.  

If you are a Kaneland teacher interested in learning with those who support your educational beliefs, consider a book study together.  Listed here are a few sets of books that may be a perfect choice for you to get started. If you are interested, reply in the comments section of this blog post as to what title you and your group of four or less would like to read.  Also, kindly tell us how many copies you would like based on the numbers provided.  There is only one set of each title, and this is a first come, first served opportunity.  Please pay attention to what has already been claimed. In your comment, please identify the names of your group and the title you are requesting.  Your group will receive a confirmation email.  Happy reading!

When They Already Know it: How to Extend and Personalize Student Learning in a PLC at Work by Mark Weichel, Blane McCann, and Tami Williams

Students Taking Charge in K-5 Classrooms by Nancy Sulla

Building Executive Function: The Missing Link to Student Achievement by Nancy Sulla