When asked about pivotal moments in their education, most recall a key person who made a difference in their schools: a parent, an engaged teacher, a coach, or a mentor.
That experience is backed up by research. Studies have found that adult mentors can help prevent drop-out and disengagement, especially for minority students. One study found that the presence of a mentor led to fewer absences, higher expectations for academic performance, and a greater sense of belonging for Latino students. Others have drawn connections between the presence of engaged and concerned adults and academic performance.
For schools, those results present a dilemma, though: Most effective mentoring is informal, outside the purview of a typical school administrator. But encouraging students to seek out adults for support and encouraging adults to support students can be a powerful tool for student development and academic performance.
Now, Fidelis Education believes it has helped build a tool that can help administrators do exactly that without taxing existing systems.
Fidelis has combined a personalized learning model with what it calls a Learning Relationship Management system. That system is intended to help teachers and administrators mentor students, connect them with other mentors, and work with mentors outside of the education system. Fidelis focuses on the three components it says students need to succeed: a sense of purpose, a group of advocates, and a clear path forward.
It allows administrators to capture and channel the crucial interactions students have that might otherwise go unobserved, but it also allows them to foster mentor relationships in an increasingly stressed school environment.
“Unless you are just dealing with 8 students at a time, it’s really hard to ensure personalized learning and mentoring and give the right recommendations for what they’re trying to accomplish without technology,” said Caroline Roma, a former teacher who is now a spokeswoman for the company.
A Facebook for learning
The system, which was originally designed for higher ed, looks a bit like a school-focused Facebook page. Students set up their profile, where they have a designated advisor — typically a homeroom teacher or formal mentor. Students can then invite formal and informal mentors such as parents, teachers, or coaches. They can also add larger groups they’re involved with, ranging from their math study group to their football team.
From there, they decide on a personal purpose. At the start of the year, students sit down with their main mentor and lay out a goal, such as "get into Harvard," "learn programming," or "manage emotions." That goal is displayed on their page so all of their mentors can see and support it.
Then comes the personalized learning. The adviser can assign tasks or recommend learning apps, and communicate with the student and the student’s other mentors. Students receive badges that they can use to demonstrate skills or proficiency. The system is designed to be administrator-friendly, as well, with each tier of supervision nested inside the next. That means advisers can look at all of their students and receive red flag notifications if anything’s going wrong, and principals or program leaders can see all of their instructors at once and track their progress.
In Colorado, a group that is working to help connect elementary, middle, and high school students with learning advocates has adopted Fidelis to ease that work.
“Those that serve an advocate role are looking for an effective way to manage students’ goals, to document the resources they are accessing, and to facilitate relationships with and connections to the people who are supporting and encouraging students through their learning journey,” said Colleen Broderick, who helps oversee the program, dubbed ReSchool Colorado. The project’s partners use it to give students badges for completing leadership curriculum, develop personalized learning pathways, and facilitate personal connections.
Roma says she expects more schools will begin to use it, as it’s designed to be an add-on and can integrates with programs like Blackboard and Moodle that are already in use.
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