Bringing 2021 to a close presents the ideal opportunity to look back on the year’s achievements and learnings, and use these insights to lean purposefully into 2022 with a sense of gratitude and a renewed focus on our goals. This year was particularly enlightening—both for me personally and our organization as a whole—as we officially launched the Learnfully platform and steadily grew our community (one that is full of incredible caregivers, educators, supporters, and learners). As a teacher-slash-mama of four, I routinely practice reflection as a way to feel more grounded and improve how I act and react in different situations. This reflection helps me center myself and strive forward confidently each day, with the knowledge that my progress, while imperfect, is worthwhile to my children and other learners around me. In this article we’ll reflect on our top observations and takeaways of 2021 (our inaugural year) so that we can set our intentions for the next trip around the sun!
The Importance of Slowing Down
We’ve all heard the saying, “You can sleep when you are dead.” As a society, we are taught that hard work and hustle helps us attain success and the resulting satisfaction. I am absolutely guilty of falling into this trap, working long and hard, mindlessly checking boxes without allocating the necessary time for reflection and (when needed) the reprioritization of my efforts. Of the multitude of lessons the pandemic has taught us about our daily lives, one of the most indispensable is certainly the importance of slowing down. Back In 2019—before the unprecedented phenomenon of the last two years—Forbes released an article that highlighted the effect that slowing down can have by increasing productivity and stamina in both work and in life. Additionally, there are innumerable psychological and physiological reasons for slowing down as well. Ness Labs shared that, “By slowing down, you can build three key pillars to rely on in your life and work: intentionality, quality and sustainability.” In fact, you can actively balance your “calm and happy” neurotransmitters (like endorphins and serotonin) in many ways: spending time with loved ones, enjoying the great outdoors, eating healthily, exercising in a way that brings joy—the list goes on and on. By practicing the mentality and exhibiting the behaviors of slowing down when working with our learners, we model it for them, demonstrating the value it has to their own academic, social, and personal lives. They are then equipped to embrace it to strengthen their feelings of self-worth, self-confidence, self-determination, and their overall self-acceptance. This, in turn, helps them be more receptive and responsive to instruction, as they are mindfully present and engaged. So, let’s make a pact to work on slowing down so that we can ensure our actions build ourselves and one another up.
Why Quality over Quantity Matters
Quality over quantity is a long-proven best practice in the teaching world. Educators are encouraged to reward effort over accuracy, instilling purpose and putting significance on a student’s ownership of their work rather than the specific work output itself. In a blog by Minimalism Made Simple, 10 Simple Reasons to Choose Quality over Quantity, they advocate that, “When you focus on quality over quantity, you achieve better results in your life. You’re much happier and accomplished because instead of focusing on numerical value, you focus on substance and depth.” Now, you don’t need to be a minimalist to prioritize qualitative experiences over quantitative ones. Taking the time to think about your priorities will naturally help you, in your roles as caregivers and educators, achieve this goal—and help your learners feel empowered as a result.
The Efficacy of Personalization in Virtual Learning
Remote learning is here to stay, and we now know that personalization is key to ensuring remote learning success. However, due to the difficulties of transitioning to remote learning in a way that facilitated differentiated learning experiences during the onset of COVID-19, many learners (and their families) are hesitant to embark on the path of distance learning again any time soon. Fortunately, the Learnfully approach was built on the principles of individualization across all aspects of learning. Thanks to this, our learners have made great strides toward their full potential, instead of experiencing the learning loss backslide that so many children have been affected by. In a recent study conducted by the University of Manchester, researchers concluded that virtual instruction is just as effective as traditional teaching methods in advancing learners’ progress in building and applying underlying skills. For all of its negatives, the pandemic has provided us with a great learning opportunity by helping us scientifically examine different instructional practices, and determine which ones are effective in an online format. This has accelerated our ability to hone in on what makes the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time.
Timely Progress Monitoring Makes the Difference
Contemporary education practice has empirically proven the value of differentiated, multisensory, evidence-based instruction for neurodivergent learners. When implemented with fidelity, repetition, and consistency, we can be confident that these programs will lead to the improved development and application of the underlying skills targeted. One important aspect of program implementation is the rate at which a learner progresses in the program; learner progress must be closely monitored in order to guide subsequent skills development and goals. In order to expedite progress and, as a result, the feelings of success a learner experiences, specialists must ensure that they measure and communicate progress to the learner’s ecosystem. Learnfully has carefully crafted a progress monitoring system that allows us to leverage data to drive instructional efforts, yielding high levels of learner progress. Our educational specialists write weekly session notes, delineate monthly progress update forms, and conduct one-on-one meetings with a learner’s caregivers (and educators, if needed). We understand the need to track progress regularly and maintain transparency with all members of a learner’s care team. Because of diligent progress monitoring, we are able to maximize instructional time and accelerate learners toward their potential.
A Community That Drives Purpose
We’ve watched as the Learnfully community has grown from a few members in early 2021 to over 1500 in under a year. We hold our community in high esteem and are constantly amazed at the ways they are able to collaborate together. We are also vitally aware that a strong community is imperative to bolster our mission to ignite learning in neurodivergent learners. In their article, The Impact of School, Family, and Community Connections on Student Achievement, publisher Parents International found that learners with involved caregivers and a sense of community, “no matter what their income or background, were more likely to:
- Earn higher grades and test scores, and enroll in higher-level programs.
- Be promoted, pass their classes, and earn credits.
- Attend school regularly.
- Have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school.
- Graduate and go on to postsecondary education.”
Communicating proactively with our community allows us to provide the highest quality instruction, improving education therapy outcomes. A strong sense of community and belongingness helps our learners too. It helps reinforce the lattice of support provided by our community and the learner’s care team, allowing families to lean into their discomfort and help learners discover their authentic selves, feel seen and heard, and activate their potential in and out of the classroom.
Honestly, I could write an individual blog for each of these ideas because I feel so passionately about every single one. Collectively, our top instructional reflections give us a roadmap for 2022 and help us anchor our efforts around what we value most—our learners and the ecosystem that supports them. I hope you’ll try your own reflective process, and I hope it sheds light on what truly matters in your life so that you can move forward with a stronger sense of purpose, recognition, and acceptance for what will help you thrive in the year ahead!