Personalized Learning for the ‘Whole Educator’? Chan Zuckerberg Announces New Grants

By Benjamin Herold — February 02, 2018 3 min read
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The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has already said it wants to expand the notion of “personalized learning” to include the “whole child.”

Friday, the group went a step further, announcing a new round of grants that will focus on supporting the “whole educator,” including the “professional, social, and emotional well-being” of teachers.

That’s per a statement posted to Facebook by Jim Shelton, the initiative’s president of education.

“We know that in education there is no substitute for our greatest resource: educators,” Shelton wrote. “Just as we must better support the whole child, we must support the whole educator.”

CZI is the venture-philanthropy arm of pediatrician Priscilla Chan and her husband, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The initiative is funded through the couple’s Facebook stock, worth tens of billions of dollars. Structured as a limited-liability corporation, CZI is free to donate, invest, and lobby, with minimal public disclosure requirements.

The new grants CZI has chosen to publicize include:

  • $3 million over two years for Woodrow Wilson Academy for Teaching and Learning: The aim is help personalize learning for people studying to be teachers, according to an announcement on CZI’s Facebook account. The academy, based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, aims to “reinvent” teacher preparation by making it “competency-based,” so that teachers advance to their degrees by demonstrating the skills they will need in the classroom. The initial focus is on candidate in in high-demand fields such as engineering.
  • $1.5 million over two years for California’s Ravenwood Elementary School District: The focus will be on providing teachers with “a variety of professional development resources, such as one-on-one mentorship with seasoned education leaders,” according to the CZI announcement. The grant builds on existing gifts made to Ravenswood and other Bay-area school districts, part of a $120 million commitment made by Startup:Education, the Zuckerberg-and-Chan led nonprofit that was recently folded into CZI. (For background on the couple’s tangled web of philanthropic and investment vehicles, see here.)
  • $1 million over three years to Stephanie Jones of the Harvard Graduate School of Education: Jones will receive funding to “research and develop simple strategies and classroom activities for teachers to easily incorporate social-emotional learning into their classrooms,” according to the announcement. “These resources will enable teachers to select activities that best fit the learning styles, skill levels, interests, and goals of their students.”
  • $75,000 to Matthew Biel of MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. This grant is for a pilot programming to help about 160 incoming public school teachers in Washington, D.C. develop skills for self-care, stress management, and emotional well-being, per the announcement.

Overall, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative seeks to bring engineering skills and new technologies to bear on big social problems.

On the education side, the focus has been on personalized learning, a still-nebulous term generally used to describe attempts to customize the learning experience to each child based on his or her individual strengths, weaknesses, and preferences.

Technology is widely seen as a key enabler of such approaches. And as recently as December, Zuckerberg declared his focus on “building tools to help all teachers everywhere.

Indeed, CZI is most closely associated with its support for Summit Learning, an online personalized-learning platform currently being marketed to schools across the country. Through its venture arm, the organization has also invested in such for-profit companies as AltSchool, Ellevation, and MasteryConnect, all of which are building new technology tools.

Shelton, though, has tried to bring a more expansive vision of personalized learning to CZI’s work. That includes a focus on the “whole child,” including grants for a nonprofit that provides free eye exams to children and a social-policy research center at Harvard.

Now, apparently, there’s also a focus on the “whole educator.”

Photo: James H. Shelton, head of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s education division, at the organization’s offices in Palo Alto, Calif.--Ramin Rahimian for Education Week

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.