A couple of years ago I was hired to be the principal of the 6-12 Collins-Maxwell school in Iowa. The Superintendent, Jason Ellingson and I both had a passion for Personalized Learning and began to create plans on how to develop this system within the Collins-Maxwell school district. It was exciting and a lot of fun. We had a plan that allowed for the system to change over time organically.
After two years at Collins-Maxwell I decided to take a position closer to home that would allow me to spend more time with my wife and kids. I am now the Vice-Principal of Callanan Middle School in Des Moines, Iowa. Since making that move, I have been thinking a lot about how a school district the size of Des Moines could make this same change to Personalized Learning. Some believe that change can’t happen in a district this size without a step-by-step plan that is incremental. Start with A, then go to B, and so on. I would like to challenge that and say it will never happen with a step-by-step plan that is incremental. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have a plan that lays out all the components necessary with the steps needed to make this happen. I’m saying that if we think we are going to create a 3-5 year plan to make this happen and then think that by flipping a switch it’s just going to magically appear before our eyes we are sadly mistaken. And, if this is what people are expecting, the whole plan will fail.
I believe that the only way to change any system over to a Personalized Learning environment is in a more organic manner. I believe that there are things that must be put in place to support the change, and then from there it is about changing the philosophical views of all those in the organization one person at a time and giving them the supports necessary to change their practices. I believe this will also build like a snowball rolling down a hill. Below I will outline some of the things that I believe need to be put in place to make this kind of change happen over time. Keep in mind that these are not necessarily in chronical order. I’m not sure that they necessarily need to happen in any specific order.
- There must be leaders and pockets of teachers (I like to call them Facilitators of Learning or FOL’s), with strong influence who believe that Personalized Learning is the vehicle needed to help every child reach their full potential. These people must share the same vision, mission, and values. They must be creative, risk takers to try new things in their classrooms and share out their successes as well as where they came up a little short so that we may learn from them.
- Trust must be built within the organization to allow for open and honest conversations to occur around changes in philosophical beliefs.
- Conversations must occur about the Vision, Mission, and Values to ensure that everyone is moving towards tighter alignment over time. Conversations must occur about the best vehicle(s) that should be used to support the Vision, Mission, and Values.
- Technology must be purchased at a one-to-one ratio to support both FOL’s and learners.
- FOL’s must receive personalized professional development on how to use technology to support the learners in their classroom.
- FOL’s must be trained in Standards Based/Referenced Learning (SBG/SRG) and how to align and increase the rigor of their Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessments. By using SBG/SRG all learners and FOL’s have a clear focus of what they know and are able to do. They also have a clear focus of what they need to know and be able to do. The majority of the standards in the Core are skills. By focusing on these skills, FOL’s can better personalize for each learner by giving them a voice and choice in how they learn and demonstrate these skills. SBG/SRG helps FOL’s move away from the one size fits all project/assignment mentality and helps to support a more personalized approach with each learner.
- FOL’s must be given and trained how to use a framework within their Collaborative Groups to help focus constructive conversations around the improvement of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessments. Once FOL’s begin discussing and supporting each other in the improvement of their Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessments they will begin to learn from each other’s successes and begin to organically change over time.
It is my belief that if all of these things are put in place a more Personalized Learning environment will begin to take shape organically and gain momentum over time, one classroom at a time. This is a big shift for all learners in the organization and must be given the time and support needed to be successful. At some point, administration will need to consider the thought of releasing some barriers the traditional school places on its learners such as: semester time limits, bell schedules, grade levels, and others. When that will need to happen, I’m not sure. The leaders will know when it is right because the FOL’s and learners will become frustrated by the limitations of the current system.