Ryan Piper has been teaching 8th grade math at Gilmore Middle School in Racine, Wisconsin for 15 years. He has been a major advocate for personalized learning after experiencing the failures of traditional teaching methods firsthand. His goal is to show other educators that personalized learning can be done successfully in an urban setting. Ryan was recently named the 2016 Wisconsin PTA Outstanding Educator of the Year.
GETTING TO KNOW RYAN
Looking back at your career, what is one thing that a parent, student or peer has said makes you unique as a teacher?
I always feel really good when students come back to tell us nice things that they enjoyed about our teaching. I hear a lot that students liked my teaching style and missed it once they left 8th grade.
When and why did you decide to become a teacher?
I knew I wanted to be teacher when I was in high school. I was not a big fan of history but I had one history teacher who made it enjoyable and that is what I want to do.
What about teaching gives you the greatest fulfillment?
Watching the students realize that the effort they put in will get results.
Please share with us a story of a time when you got to know a student beyond their academic performance where you think you made a significant impact in their life.
With our after school basketball program on Friday’s, we monitor students academics and behaviors and pick a select amount of students to play basketball with us. It is a good way to check up on students progress both academically and behaviorally and really create relationships with them.
PERSONALIZED LEARNING JOURNEY
What is it about the personalized learning pedagogy you believe will have the greatest impact on education as we know it today?
Understanding that learning happens at different speeds. These kids come to us with a vast array of background knowledge and we need to vary that up to make it meaningful.
Can you tell us a story of a time that you persevered through a then-challenging situation which now serves as a great life lesson?
After teaching for over 15 years, this last year taught me the most. Teaching is really about the approach now and stepping away from the traditional setting was challenging at first.
SECRETS TO SUCCESS
If you’ve transitioned from a traditional command and control classroom to a personalized learning classroom, what about that journey was the most difficult?
It has been such an evolution in the classroom. The students have been very committed when we change our plans in the classroom, which shows that this is working.
What one strategy would you suggest teachers in personalized learning environments apply every day that would result in powerful outcomes?
Being able to check what your students understand on a daily basis.
Imagine you are standing in front of a room full of educators – just like you when you started your personalized learning journey. They too have fears, worries and doubts as they struggle to find their footing. What are one to two key things they should focus on to ensure success?
Remind them to stay flexible. Do not be afraid to abort that when something does not work.
Would you please share with our audience your “i am ME.” statements?
i am a mentor.