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B.Y.O.T Bring Your Own Thoughts

K-12 Education Resources

The latest on personalized learning, blended learning, CBE and all things innovation in K-12 education. We answer questions before you think to ask them.

Blog Feature

Leadership  |  School Districts

My Team Has a Habit of Reading Books About Habits

Standing in line at Starbucks ready to order my Venti black coffee, I pull out my phone and tap on Twitter even though I just checked it one minute ago. It’s a bad habit that I have, mindlessly opening the app without thinking, and pulling down the page in hopes that it will refresh with new content. Every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do is drink two glasses of water with fresh lemon juice, organic apple cider vinegar, or a pinch of Himalayan salt. I’ve been doing this for several years, after reading about the benefits of drinking water in the morning to start the day. At first, it was hard. I started with half a glass. Then moved to a full glass. I eventually added apple cider vinegar. And now I’m up to two glasses. These are examples of bad habits and good habits I reinforce every day.

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Blog Feature

Team Habits

How 1% Change Adds Up to a Big Impact for Schools and Districts

I was on a phone call with two principals earlier this week who shared a concern I hear often in working with school districts through large change management initiatives. Three years into their personalized learning journey, there are still at least a few teachers in their building who are resistant to the instructional shifts necessary to make learning personalized for each child. If you are a leader facing a similar situation, here are four key strategies for moving forward.

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Interested in Personalized Learning But Don't Know Where to Start?

Subscribe to the blog to get your free copy of our Personalized Learning Playbook. A Playbook that will help you make the case for personalized learning, and reflect on the important elements to take in consideration.

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Blog Feature

Leadership  |  Professional Development  |  School Districts

Reframing a Paradigm for Professional Development and Learning

How does professional development get labeled in your school or organization? Too often, I hear: boring, unproductive, compliance-driven, not based on my needs or interests.  Research on professional development shows that the “drive-by” workshop model does not meet the needs of teachers. No two people learn the same way, though many leaders do not change the way they provide instruction for professional development. Just like education should be personalized for students, professional learning should be personalized for adults. Effective professional development or learning (semantics to me) needs to improve educators’ professional knowledge, competence, skill, and effectiveness. No matter if you are a teacher, school leader or district leader, below you will find ways you can reframe professional learning in your school or district.

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School Districts  |  Strategic Planning

Designing School Systems of the Future - Today

How do we design the schools of the future, today? Designing innovative structures and systems takes a similarly innovative approach, otherwise, we’d design the same systems we already have all over again. In a series of blog posts, we have described the steps to creating a responsive strategic plan. We’ve taught you how to assemble a superhero team and how to identify and collect data from your stakeholders. Now, what do you actually DO to design a responsive strategic plan that won’t collect dust on your office shelf? Even if you are not going through a strategic plan redesign but are working towards implementing your current plan or designing the rollout of a new initiative within your plan, we want to show you how to plan for change and not perfection.

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Leadership  |  School Districts  |  Teacher Retention

Attract and Retain Teachers with Effective Methods Using Data to Define Needs

Teaching, often considered one of the most noble professions one can pursue, has been a consistent driver of the innovation and ideas that progress society forward. Great leaders, creators, and thinkers have been fostered in some way by a teacher who engaged, mentored, and motivated them to achieve their goals. Yet though the demand for talented, caring educators has never been higher, the pool of applicants continues to dwindle. Teachers are leaving the profession in record numbers with complaints of burnout, and young people are deciding to pursue careers in fields that are perceived to be more lucrative and stable.

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Classrooms  |  Leadership  |  Personalized Learning  |  School Districts

The Power of Responsive Practices in Schools and Districts Across the Country

This summer I had the pleasure of working alongside my Education Elements colleagues to reflect on the incredible work our partner districts have accomplished in the past year. We had the opportunity to interview four districts, survey over 100 district leaders, and analyze thousands of data points. We also got to reflect on our own practices to see how we can improve. 

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Leadership  |  School Districts  |  Team Habits

The NEW Team Habits: Fostering a Culture of Belonging Through Meeting Check-Ins

How are you? What is bringing you to this blog post today? What is top of mind for you as you’re reading this? Would you rather have the ability to fly or read minds?   Did those questions interest or engage you? Are you now mulling over your current feelings or intentions? Or did you stop reading entirely to properly dedicate your attention to choosing between superpowers? Regardless of your actions, the questions I posed required you to pause for a moment, consider your thoughts, and engage with your imagination. These abilities are vital to our roles as educators - we are consistently tasked with keeping calm through perceived chaos, being conscientious of the numerous needs of others, and maintaining a level of creativity to capture the attention of students. Yet in schools and districts across the country, very little time – our most precious resource as educators – is dedicated to the exploration and development of those skills.

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Classrooms  |  School Districts  |  Teacher Retention

Minute to Win It: Practices for Impacting Teacher Retention Through Consistent Celebration

At Education Elements, we believe that sparking learning through creativity, reflection, and play is key to adult learning. So, let’s start here by playing a game. The rules are simple. Read this list of things that real people have done and determine what these actions have in common. Ready? Go! Eat 65 M&Ms with chopsticks Travel 100 meters while seated and hopping on a large bouncy ball  Complete 98 ‘around the world’ soccer ball juggling tricks Clap your hands together 1,103 times (apparently this is a phenomenon known as speed clapping) Run nearly half a mile (if you are Usain Bolt) So, what do all of these impressive and/or bizarre human talents have in common? Each has been completed in 60 seconds or less. Before you reach for the M&Ms and chopsticks, there are important steps that you can take as a leader right now to impact teacher retention in 60 seconds or less. That’s right – in under 1 minute today, you can impact teacher retention at your school. 

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Classrooms  |  Equity  |  Personalized Learning

Why Unpacking Biases is Critical When Personalizing Learning

I had a middle school science teacher once tell me she was surprised that I did well on a test because she assumed I was bad at science. She pointed to one of my classmates and said, “Her, I assume she’ll do well, but you’re just not very good at science.” I remember being deeply hurt by that statement but not understanding why it hurt. Years later, I would try and remember that moment when I found myself making assumptions about which students I expected would do well on my tests. Why was I expecting some students to do well but not others? Past academic performance was one part, but I realized I had biases that were also impacting those assumptions. 

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Blog Feature

Leadership  |  School Districts  |  Strategic Planning

Four Steps to Incorporating and Responding to Stakeholder Feedback in the Strategic Planning Process

So, you’ve completed a round of stakeholder engagement activities. You clarified your ‘why behind engagement’ and have identified a group of stakeholders to target. Maybe you hosted forums, sent out surveys to various stakeholder groups, conducted interviews, and even shadowed students. With the rich data sources at your disposal, you may be wondering – how do I pull trends from my data? How do I elicit feedback and input from my community throughout to ensure I’m making the right data-driven decisions?  How do I honor my community’s perspective and my own insider knowledge as I continue to build my strategic plan? Keep reading for a few suggestions on how to do just that.

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Blog Feature

Leadership  |  School Districts  |  Strategic Planning

Three Steps to Selecting Your Superhero Strategic Planning Team

“One bag of peanut butter M&Ms, please.” It’s the first step I take as I enter a movie theater before selecting the perfect middle-center seat – a ritual I began with my mom as a child. On this day, instead of rushing to the front of the line, I took a moment to look around. There was a buzz in the room as kids and adults of all ages lined up to see the first black superhero. There is no doubt that Black Panther was a major milestone for the United States and the world. Throngs of people viewed the film multiple times, relishing the opportunity to be represented in such an empowering way. A couple of years later I noticed a similar sense of pride at the release of Captain Marvel, a film featuring a female superhero. I knew the Avengers was a well-regarded team but it was clear that these additions were crucial. It’s difficult to imagine a complete team without the most recent additions because of the unique perspectives they bring. It is the first step in a longer commitment to inclusion and empowerment.

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Blog Feature

Leadership  |  Teacher Retention

8 Elements For Improving Teacher Retention

As we work with hundreds of school and district leaders, we often hear that staff recruitment, training, and retention are among the greatest challenges they face. Leaders want to create environments that attract and inspire staff but often don’t know where to start changing their work culture. The Education Elements team is committed to supporting these leaders by sharing concrete practices and practical advice for improving their teacher retention.

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Blog Feature

Leadership  |  School Districts

What Donuts Can Teach Schools and Teams About Lasting Change

“And we both hit our goal weight!”  “That’s amazing! So how did you celebrate?” “We ate an entire box of donuts! And then gained all of it back.”  On an August visit with a group of teachers I’ve been partnering with for over a year, our conversation steered toward the idea of setting goals. In the education world, goals are set all the time, and often displayed or communicated prominently. A teacher may set the goal of 10 consecutive perfect attendance days, 90% of students showing mastery on an upcoming unit exam, or 100% of students growing 1-2 reading levels in a single year. Outside of the education world, too, we set goals all the time. Many of these are health-related – eat more greens, lose weight, drink more water, get more sleep. Some are financial goals – get a raise, save for a vacation, make a million dollars. And still others are achievement-based goals – write a book, buy a house, run a marathon. As the teachers I spoke with this summer shared, they set a goal to lose a set amount of collective pounds, and they did! But there was a huge problem with their apparent success. Two weeks later, they had gained it all back...and then some. They had hit their goal, but had failed to build a habit. 

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Blog Feature

Leadership

10 Reasons We’re Excited to Attend the Responsive Conference

This year, four of us from Education Elements (Megan Katie, Jill, and Keara) will be attending the Responsive Conference, September 13-14 at Zappo’s Headquarters in Las Vegas. We sat down with conference founder Robin Zander to lay out the top ten reasons why we are so excited for this year’s conference.

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Blog Feature

Leadership  |  School Districts  |  Strategic Planning

Stakeholder Engagement and Change: 4 Steps to Effective Engagement During Strategic Planning

At Education Elements, we pride ourselves on being a responsive organization. Like many organizations, we can fall short of true responsiveness, but we are proud of how nimble, engaged, and positive our team is as a result of responsive practices. Our true north lies in seeking feedback to best understand the experiences of our community members. Feedback, in every way it is offered, allows us to make improvements suggested by those who have a stake in the work. Obvious, right? This may be an easy concept to grasp, but the gathering and processing of feedback from all relevant stakeholders can be a complicated, time-consuming, and confusing process – and that’s in a small company with a team aligned around the idea. For schools and districts looking to implement change, whether it be by the introduction of new or additional technology, shifting pedagogical approaches, curriculum adoption, team reorganizations, or strategic planning, stakeholder engagement can be a paralyzingly large task.

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Blog Feature

Personalized Learning

The First 20 Days of Personalized Learning: Laying the Foundation

The back to school season is upon us. While teachers are busy setting up, and students are anxiously awaiting the news of teacher assignments and class schedules and being welcomed into classrooms, Design Principals at Educations Elements are gearing up to support over 140 districts in the 2019-2020 school year with the rollout or continued implementation of Personalized Learning. We are eager to get back into schools and see the innovative ways that teachers are personalizing learning for their new students. Last year we published the First 20 Days of Personalized Learning, an infographic accompanied by a blog post with tips and tricks for implementation week by week within various instructional models. We had many teachers share with us throughout the first twenty days how they used the tool and the impact that it had on instruction and learning all year round.

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Classrooms  |  Personalized Learning

How to Successfully Personalize Learning in Secondary Schools

Last year, a group of educators sat down with engineers from a well-known technology company. The first question the educators asked was what the engineers look for in potential candidates. Adaptability was their immediate response. The way these engineers code today is different than how they coded ten years ago and will be different ten years from now. Discrete knowledge isn’t important because it will soon be outdated. The ability to learn and grow in an ever-changing world is what defines the very best candidates.

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Blog Feature

Leadership  |  School Districts

Leading Change? Start by Talking About What You Value

As any great leader pursuing innovation in education knows, having a clear “why” for pursuing the “what” of change is critical to success. But equally important, often less emphasized, and incredibly hard is the “how” of making and managing that change in a classroom, school, or system.  At The Learning Accelerator (TLA), a national nonprofit that learns alongside educators and system leaders at the forefront of blended and personalized learning, we’re often asked about common change management pathways and learnings about how to do it well. Our team has compiled a series of illustrative case studies of district stories and practices, but we wanted to learn more to help answer these questions. We conducted a deep study with 100 leaders from 60 systems across the country to understand how they are making decisions about how to lead innovation work in their communities. Through interviews and a national survey, we asked them to tell us about the most important decisions they had to make when taking innovations to scale. We published results in both a white paper, Look Both Ways, and series of strategy modules on our Blended and Personalized Learning At Work site.

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Blog Feature

Leadership  |  School Districts

A Superintendent's Quest to Marry Equity and Personalized Learning

Equity and personalized learning share quite a bit of common ground. They each require an ongoing commitment from all stakeholders. Both are built on the premise that each person’s needs are unique, and both recognize that no one set of tools and responses will support everyone. Peter Olson-Skog is drawing these connections concretely through his work as Superintendent at District 197 in West St. Paul. We recently interviewed him to learn more about how he connects equity and personalized learning in his district.

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Blog Feature

Classrooms  |  Personalized Learning

Feedback for Every Teacher to Boost Student Engagement

Take a look inside a high school physics teacher’s classroom. In her fifth year, Ms. Valdez is popular with nearly all of her students. They appreciate her energy and sense of humor. Her ambition is to engender in her students the enthusiasm for and wonder about physics that motivated her to devote her career to teaching the subject. She has told you that she wants to teach her students to think like physicists. Unfortunately, your observation reveals that Ms. Valdez is far from her goal. Students will do the work, but except for a few particularly eager participants, most seem to be soldiering through the course hoping to get good enough grades to get into the college of their choice. With student engagement and communication at the center of Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, you ask yourself, “How can Ms. Valdez take steps to get more of her students truly engaged in physics?”

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Blog Feature

Leadership  |  School Districts

What Exercising 6000 Miles Taught Us About Strategic Planning, Leadership, and Habits

I released my body weight and fell to the ground. My aching shoulders wouldn't let me complete one more rep, but as I looked over at my workout partner, who would have to complete every rep that I did not, I felt a surge of energy and picked myself up once more. In that moment, inspiration struck me. What we do will only give us so much momentum, but a community invested in why we do it will help us accomplish things that previously seemed impossible. This reminded me of the work districts engage in to achieve their own strategic direction: no one person can do it alone. How could we apply this concept to a greater philosophy of change management? It became my mission to find out! Since we are in the business of building strong responsive habits in schools and districts, we practice habit-building through company-wide monthly challenges. In the past, we have challenged ourselves to go plant-based, meditate daily, and practice moments of gratitude. We have learned a lot about how we operate based on the success and participation in each challenge. This seemed like the perfect venue to try a new, ambitious experiment: virtually travel from our headquarters in San Carlos, CA  to our DC office (with a few stops to some remote teammates on the way)! Our goal? Collectively travel a total of 3,070 miles. 

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Blog Feature

Leadership

10 Leadership Development Books to Read Before School's in Session

We are big readers here at Education Elements, with book clubs and recommendations flying back and forth across our team. You can catch us reading on the plane, in the office, listening to books on our walks or runs, and – when we're lucky – by the pool! We like to share our favorites with you when we can, in the hopes that you'll find something inspiring and useful just like we did. It can be hard to decide exactly which books to share since there is no end to amazing ideas and excellent writers – this list is by no means comprehensive or exhaustive. It is, however, a roundup of just some of the books our team has enjoyed on the topics of leadership and various leadership competencies.

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Blog Feature

Leadership  |  School Districts  |  Strategic Planning

The 4 Biggest Questions You Need to Ask Before You Start District Strategic Planning

In The New School Rules, Anthony Kim and Alexis Gonzales-Black write that every district has experience putting together a strategic plan, and most follow the same process.  “We labor over these plans—sometimes over the course of 12 to 24 months—dreaming up the path ahead and detailing the resources we’ll need...Unfortunately, once we’re set to go, we find the situation has changed before we’ve gotten started. Technology programs or platforms may have changed or been discontinued. People have changed—in districts with a high number of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch, teacher turnover can be over 22 percent (Di Carlo, 2015)—and the new team isn’t up to speed. Policies have evolved and buy-in has dropped off.”  And with many strategic plans expected to expire in 2020, and many districts reporting that they did not hit their previous strategic-planning intended outcomes, we recommend you bring in different considerations for your next 5-year strategic plan. 

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Blog Feature

Leadership

The Principals' Journey to Personalized Learning

We are Personalized - This was the number one goal in our new District Strategic Plan. It was not, “We are moving towards personalization”, or “We are learning about personalization”. It was simply WE ARE, and this opened the door to panic and excitement and an immediate call to duty. We quickly turned to the Ed Elements learning cycle for development and direction.  Looking at our implementation from a learning, practicing, reflecting and owning standpoint has not only allowed us to dig deep into the progress of our work, but has encouraged us to pivot when needed. And pivot we have! Our journey has blossomed into an undeniable excitement that we have not seen in our teachers and administrators in years. One Principal even stated, “providing a vision, and working alongside Principals to develop strategies and tactics to support implementation has made me feel like a better instructional leader than at any other time in my career.” 

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Blog Feature

Leadership

Avoid the 49 Degree Rule: 4 Ways to Put People Before Policies

Sometimes, the really thought-provoking stuff just lands in your lap...or in the seat next to you.  On a recent flight, I was lucky enough to sit next to an employee of one of the major airlines, who shared anecdotes about the culture change she experienced after the airline she worked for was acquired by another carrier. The most compelling anecdote she shared: the “49-Degree Rule”. Apparently, the airline she’d originally worked for had been very focused on the notion of employee autonomy and empowerment, but the acquisition came with a host of new rules and policies, including one that said employees were only permitted to wear their jackets at work when the ambient temperature was at or below 49° Fahrenheit. What??!!

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Blog Feature

Leadership

Redefining Professional Development: Educators as Leaders and Learners

It’s mid-May at Baychester Academy, a public elementary school in the Bronx’s District 11. Like all schools across New York City, the school day draws to a close with a ritual exchange: teachers usher students out of classrooms to meet their parents, patiently waiting by the school’s main office. But then something unusual happens: Educators from across the district begin to arrive.

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Blog Feature

Leadership  |  Team Habits

The “It” Factor with Running Team Meetings

Think back to a recent meeting you were in when you pondered why you were a part of the conversation. Or better yet, you thought about the 10 items in your inbox that needed your decision-making power but instead, you were stuck in a meeting where it wasn’t clear what you were making a decision about. We have districts this year that have created the “it” factor for running meetings that tap into everyone’s energy in better ways than ever. While it may seem like these district teams “just have the right people,” they have actually taken on a methodical approach to how to run team meetings. Based on The NEW School Rules, written by Anthony Kim, CEO of Education Elements, we have found over the last eight years that every leader wants to effectively make changes and create environments in team meetings that celebrate growth, excitement, and decision-making. 

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Blog Feature

School Districts

Do You Need an Education Consultant?

“Working with consultants isn’t cheap - how do we know if it’s what we need?” We hear that one a lot as we talk to districts considering whether they should hire a consultant to help them personalize learning in their schools. There’s no right or wrong answer as to whether you should seek support or go it alone, but there are some questions that are worth thinking about as you consider your path.

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Blog Feature

Classrooms

The Future of Classroom Technology Tools

Predicting the future of classroom technology trends empowers teachers and school districts to stay at the forefront of “the next big thing” in education. When you have an idea of which trends are sure to increase in popularity and functionality in the upcoming years, you can make informed decisions about the tools you should invest in and the trends that are likely to lose momentum.

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Blog Feature

Competency-Based Education

Getting Personal About Competency-Based Education

When I tell friends and family about the types of projects I’m working on with Education Elements, I throw around terms like “personalized learning” and “competency-based education” like they’re the titles of new Beyoncé albums. Usually, they smile and nod politely, but sometimes they ask further questions. Recently, I had a conversation with an educator friend who had some confusion around the difference between PL and CBE. So I decided to set the record straight.

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Blog Feature

Classrooms

How Do You Shift the Role of the Teacher as a Leader?

During the last 100 years in the workforce, we needed farmers and factory workers; which is why our classrooms replicated the workforce, designed to have a teacher at the front of the room and desks in rows. Times have changed, and we must make shifts to the role of the teacher in order to prepare today’s students for a different workforce. To succeed, students will need a different set of skills such as creativity, communication, critical thinking, and collaboration. They will also need to be able to adapt to change, be resilient, and to work effectively in a variety of environments – which is why we need to change the traditional role of teacher-as-expert standing and delivering content from the front of the room to a facilitator who designs customized approaches for students.

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Blog Feature

PL Summit

PL Summit 2019: Where We Built Networks to Transform Education

It's been almost exactly 2 weeks since the 5th Annual Personalized Learning Summit came to an end, and our team still misses the biggest and best PL Summit we've had so far. We were left inspired and engaged – and we know many of you are, too – to continue the hard but meaningful work to reshape education in schools and districts.

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Blog Feature

The Lucky Generation: Why So Sad?

Never before has a generation had so much and seemingly wanted for so little. An expanding middle class has provided access to a family budget which young people use to spend 14X more on food (compared to adults); 8X more on books and clothes (up to 79% have purchased online); and twice as much on entertainment. This is a group highly connected, with PEW research noting 95 percent of teens (12 – 17) use the internet, and 81 percent of them use social media sites.

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Blog Feature

Leadership

Casting a Shadow that Creates a Winning District

Behavior counts. How employees and students are treated and whether they feel respected begins at the top. From their first interactions with employees, students, parents, and the community, superintendents cast their “shadow” onto their district. This shadow is a reflection of everything a superintendent does and says – it may be weak or powerful, but it always exists. With this in mind, ask yourself, “Is your shadow one that will invite, include and inspire others to join you?”

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Blog Feature

5 Ingredients that Spark Joy and Productivity at Work

I am a newlywed who has just returned from a glorious 2.5-week vacation for my wedding and honeymoon. The past few months leading up to my big day & honeymoon have been spent on wedding planning (no wedding planner) and moving into a new place as a couple (consolidating two people’s life belongings into a 600-sq ft apartment is not an overnight task), while working at a hyper-growth company called Anaplan (which I am not yet a full year into). So guess what I did right after I put up that “out of office” email: I physically shipped my laptop from Georgia (where I worked remotely before getting married) to California (where I work and live) in order to fully focus on becoming a “Mrs.” — and it was absolutely wonderful.

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Blog Feature

Classrooms  |  School Districts

How School Leaders Can Empower Every Teacher to Be a Leader on Campus

Imagine a school in which every classroom you enter, you’ll find curious, joyful students engaged in meaningful learning, and teachers who are responsive to the needs of all learners. All teachers are instructional and cultural leaders of their own classrooms, and students are safe and cared for in their classrooms. Sounds pretty great, right? Now imagine the same school, with the same high levels of rigor, engagement, and psychological safety, with the added element of teacher leadership that extends beyond the walls of individual classrooms. While this may seem like a subtle change, the potential impact is tremendous. In order to provide an excellent education for all students, we must develop excellent schools, not just strong individual classrooms. And in order to achieve this ambitious and important goal, school leaders must view and support all teachers to serve as true leaders within their school communities.

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Leadership  |  School Districts

Becoming An Innovative Teacher Leader With Innovative Leader Competencies

In 2018, the Wall Street Journal reported that educators were leaving the teaching profession at the highest rate on record. As teacher protests about fair wages and adequate resources are on the climb, districts aim to staunch the flow of the teaching exodus. And while pay and resources are certainly worth prioritizing, a 2018 Gallup poll shared that teachers who left the classroom cited one overwhelming reason as to why: lack of career advancement. If you ask teachers about opportunities to forge a career path in education, most would share that you either stay in the classroom, or you move into administration. Yet, not everyone wants to be a school principal.

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Blog Feature

Personalized Learning

Flexible Content & Tools: Part 4 - An Interview With a Design Expert for Google's Education Tools

Personalized learning represents a shift in how we teach students, a reflection of our changing educational landscape, and an acknowledgement that the world we must prepare our students for is different than the one we grew up in. One of the biggest ways education has already changed is in the content and tools students engage with. This blog series is made up of interviews with education leaders who work with digital content, curricular resources, and instructional tools. It is meant to highlight ideas and perspectives we aren’t normally exposed to. In doing so, this series is meant to spark new ideas, discussions, and ultimately empower teachers and leaders.

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Blog Feature

Classrooms  |  School Districts

Appreciate Teachers Year-Round by Developing a Culture of Innovation

It’s that time of year again. Wildflowers are blooming (at least here in Texas!). The sun is setting later. Winter jackets are being retired. The season is changing around us, just as it is in our schools. Around the country, test prep and standardized testing season are in full swing. End-of-year projects and field trips are approaching – and teacher appreciation week is coming up in the second week in May! As a teacher, it warmed my heart to receive kind words and tokens of appreciation from students, families, and administrators during teacher appreciation week, and I especially valued these thoughtful expressions as my emotional gas tank was running on empty during this stressful time of year. As a school leader, I organized massage chair appointments and sweet treats delivered to classrooms with the goal of making sure our teachers knew how much their work and contributions mattered to our school and community. While these gestures are important, thoughtful, and uplifting, one week of appreciation is simply not enough to propel the kind of lasting culture that truly highlights and amplifies the profound work of our teachers year-round.

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Blog Feature

Personalized Learning

Flexible Content & Tools: Part 3 - An Interview With an Elementary Educator

Personalized learning represents a shift in how we teach students, a reflection of our changing educational landscape, and an acknowledgement that the world we must prepare our students for is different than the one we grew up in. One of the biggest ways education has already changed is in the content and tools students engage with. This blog series is made up of interviews with education leaders who work with digital content, curricular resources, and instructional tools. It is meant to highlight ideas and perspectives we aren’t normally exposed to. In doing so, this series is meant to spark new ideas, discussions, and ultimately empower teachers and leaders.

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Blog Feature

Personalized Learning

Choice Boards, Playlists, Pathways...Oh My!

For many districts and schools, choice boards, playlists, and pathways are used interchangeably to describe instructional designs that provide students with a menu of options to guide and own their learning. Yet we ask educators to use these design practices very differently. We often define other terms, like the different blended learning models, and the different levels of student compliance. How is it that we have not created clear distinctions between choice boards, playlists, and pathways yet? We all want our students to have the best educational experience they can, and that starts with them showing ownership over their learning. But before students can engage with instructional design geared towards putting them in the driver’s seat, we as educators need to calibrate the differences between choice boards, playlists, and pathways to ensure we’re providing teachers with the right supports.

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Blog Feature

Personalized Learning

Flexible Content & Tools: Part 2 - An Interview With an Instructional Coach at KIPP

Personalized learning represents a shift in how we teach students, a reflection of our changing educational landscape, and an acknowledgement that the world we must prepare our students for is different than the one we grew up in. One of the biggest ways education has already changed is in the content and tools students engage with. This blog series is made up of interviews with education leaders who work with digital content, curricular resources, and instructional tools. It is meant to highlight ideas and perspectives we aren’t normally exposed to. In doing so, this series is meant to spark new ideas, discussions, and ultimately empower teachers and leaders.

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Blog Feature

School Districts

4 Things to Understand About Education Consulting

As Education Elements continues to grow, I’ve been privy to the hiring process. I think it would be helpful to explain what exactly Design Principals do...after all, a job description can only tell so much. For those interested in joining our consulting team, this article serves as a brief introduction to the role. For clients, this is a peek into the work we do both on and off-site!

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Blog Feature

Personalized Learning

Flexible Content & Tools: Part 1 - An Interview With Newsela’s Chief Content Officer

Personalized learning represents a shift in how we teach students, a reflection of our changing educational landscape, and an acknowledgement that the world we must prepare our students for is different than the one we grew up in. One of the biggest ways education has already changed is in the content and tools students engage with. This blog series is made up of interviews with education leaders who work with digital content, curricular resources, and instructional tools. It is meant to highlight ideas and perspectives we aren’t normally exposed to. In doing so, this series is meant to spark new ideas, discussions, and ultimately empower teachers and leaders.

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Blog Feature

It’s Not About Gaps, It’s About Educator Debts

I was at a professional learning session about learning design this week when I heard the instructor say something about achievement gaps that stopped me in my mental tracks. The conversation was centered around the constant challenge of growing achievement gaps that school educators face. There is a consistent conversation around how to help students close the gap, what can be done to enhance teaching and learning to assist in the problem, and who’s to blame (usually the student). As the conversation continued, I couldn’t help but pause to process the statement that caused an immediate mind-shift in me…

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School Districts

3 Pillars to Build On When Opening a New School

Planning and opening a new school is an exciting yet daunting task. As a leader of a brand new school, you are involved in every aspect of what the school day will look and feel like, and how it will be remembered. When you begin to design experiences that equip students with the skills to fulfill your school’s mission and vision, consider what your strategic priorities should be to get your goals accomplished. Think about yourself as a 6th grader on the first day of school: what carefully planned academic and non-academic experiences would you need to best prepare you for the rest of middle school? What instructional skills would your teachers need to engage you and your peers in rigorous work throughout the day? What type of environment would allow you to grow and reflect on your progress in a meaningful way?

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Leadership  |  School Districts  |  Teaming

Is Marketing Your School District a Thing? Part 3: Social Media

One of the major issues that schools face is engaging with parents, community, and stakeholders. It is not about educational changes and innovative initiatives, but about the everyday work such as field trips, after-school programs, counseling, volunteering opportunities, sports events, snow days, drop-off and pick-up, fundraisers, and more. Education is an ever-changing and ever-evolving landscape, and communications is no different. The ways in which we communicate have evolved, and many new ways to communicate effectively have emerged and improved over time. The way we access information today is very different from the way we used to just a few years ago: we read our morning news from our smartphones, we look up restaurant menus online, we keep up with our friends through Facebook Live and Instagram Stories, and we seek customer support from companies on Twitter.

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Leadership  |  School Districts

Personalized Learning and the Shift from a Pedagogy of Poverty to a Pedagogy of Plenty

A few months ago I attended ICLE’s Leadership Academy in Atlanta and heard Dr. Tyrone Howard speak. His talk was a powerful one, addressing the differences between equity and equality, the need to support all students, and a call to action to have difficult conversations, call out bias and microaggressions, and make sure that we see our students, understand and empathize with them, and educate every single one of them. One of the things that stood out the most was the idea of the Pedagogy of Poverty vs Pedagogy of Plenty.

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Leadership  |  School Districts

Takeaways for School Districts from the Latest Happenings at Harvard

Last August, my Education Elements “familEE” of consultants and district partners supported me on a new journey to the Technology, Innovation, and Education masters program at Harvard University. Through my experience so far, I’d like to share the following lessons and takeaways for K-12 districts.

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Leadership

Don’t Look Now but the 21st Century is Behind You!

Five years ago, our team partnered with the Economist Group to conduct a study where we asked business and industry leaders around the world, what were the most critical skills they wanted their employees to possess. You could say the results were more validating than surprising. The usual suspects were on the list – problem-solving, teamwork, communication, critical thinking, and digital literacy were among the skills mentioned. When I show the results of the study on a slide, I warn my audience that the most fascinating thing about the list is that it’s not fascinating at all. Everyone in the room knows what's on the list. We have been talking about how students need to develop these skills for so long, we actually call them “21st Century Skills," and we talk about them a lot! If you do an exact term search for “21st Century Skills,” you get about 4,170,000 results.

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Leadership

The Greatest Challenge to School Innovation

When school leaders want to bring innovative practices to classrooms, what's the greatest challenge that stands in their way? Lack of funding? Inadequate in-house expertise? According to the most recent SpeakUp survey, 46% of administrators point to one key factor above most others: teacher motivation.

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Leadership

3 Keys to Creating a More Agile School District

In 2012, Google began studying how workers can transform productivity by examining the perfect team. They scrutinized everything from how often they socialize together, to how regularly they communicate, to their personal backgrounds. Like many organizations, Google believed that putting the best people together would create the highest level of productivity. However, no matter what data they collected, they didn’t see any consistent patterns.

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Classrooms

5 Myths to Bust About Blended Learning, What It Is, and the Benefits It Has for Students

Over the past several years, more and more schools across the U.S. have been implementing blended-learning strategies for their students. What is blended learning? It is a formal education program that must have three components: It must be part online, with students having some control over the time, place, path, or pace of their learning; it must occur, in part, in a brick-and-mortar location away from home; and the modalities along a student’s learning path must be connected to provide an integrated learning experience.

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Leadership  |  School Districts

Our Approach to Strategic Planning in Education

The year 2020 is shaping up to be a record year - Summer Olympics, a World Cup, a presidential election, and in the education world, the year many strategic plans expire. As districts gear up to write their next strategic plan, we have mixed feelings about the process. At best, the process provides an opportunity for district leaders to coalesce around a shared vision. At worst, the process consumes valuable hours and produces a document that does little to change individual behavior.

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Classrooms

Robots Are Not Taking Over Teachers' Jobs

There is a scene from the recent Star Trek movie reboot of a young alien named Spock at school. Spock and his classmates each stand in their own semi-circular pod, surrounded by screens while an automated “teacher” prompts them with questions. This eerie scene is what some fear will be the future of schooling. Students staring at screens, by themselves, while an artificial intelligence program delivers content and assessments. There is no doubt that digital programs, particularly adaptive ones, can be powerful tools in the classroom. However, that is all a digital program will ever be – a tool. A computer program can never replace a teacher. If anything, technology is making the role of teachers even more important and their job more complex.

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Leadership  |  Personalized Learning

7 Reasons You Can't Miss the Personalized Learning Summit 2019!

We're counting down the days to this year's 5th annual Personalized Learning Summit! We're so excited to gather together again this year and share the experiences and innovation we've all been developing since the last PL Summit. If you've never been to the Personalized Learning Summit before - or you're making the case to attend again - here are the top reasons to join us in Atlanta, GA May 14-16 this year!

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Classrooms  |  School Districts

5 Common Coaching Misconceptions

“Coaching" means something different to everyone. Many of us have had both positive and negative experiences with coaches in the past, which influence our definition of and expectations from coaching. Becoming an instructional coach is often seen as a natural next step for classroom educators. Unfortunately,  all of the skills that make one a good teacher may not be everything that makes a person a successful coach. Additionally, there aren’t always enough coaches to support all teachers. This limited capacity leads to some frequent misunderstandings of the role and accountabilities of a coach. We’re here to bust those misconceptions and encourage coaching to thrive.

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Leadership

A New Way to Think About Innovative School and District Leadership

What’s the most meaningful thing a district can do to support innovation in its schools? When my colleagues and I at Education Elements work with schools and districts, our approach to innovation and change involves a framework of 25 key factors, all of which are important. In the past year, though, we’ve been thinking a great deal about one of these – “roles to support teachers” – and the tremendous impact it has on innovation. Specifically, we’ve come to believe that there is a certain kind of innovative leadership, a set of skills and a way of thinking about innovation, that can enable district leaders, instructional coaches, school leaders, and teacher-leaders to have a transformative impact on their schools through the way they support teachers. We believe that one of the single most impactful efforts a district can undertake is to help their district leaders, school leaders, instructional coaches, and teacher-leaders learn to practice this kind of innovative leadership.

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Classrooms  |  Leadership  |  Personalized Learning  |  School Districts

Not So Typical Personalized Learning Predictions for 2019

Every 4-5 years, I try to pick up a new activity and focus on it until I get to a level of intermediate competency. It started with scuba diving in 2003, snowboarding in 2008, swimming in 2013, and this year was surfing. I took a 3-day boot camp with a private instructor where it turns out I had a different instructor each of the 3 days. While the instruction was 1:1 and technically couldn’t be more personalized for me, I was surprised by how much each instructor met or didn’t meet my needs. So I wanted to break it down for you.

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Leadership  |  School Districts

Bridging the Gap in Rural Putnam County, Tennessee Through Personalized Learning

In Putnam County, Tenn., with 23 schools spread across 400 square miles, we share many of the challenges faced by our fellow rural school districts nationwide, including inconsistent attendance, long commutes, and a high "mobility rate" - the rate at which students are moving in and out of the district. Previously, Putnam County teachers had been using more traditional, often low-tech teaching methodologies. But starting eight years ago, we began to make a significant shift toward personalized and virtual learning with the goal of preparing students to be "future-ready," a term we use in Putnam County to encompass both college-and career-ready as a more flexible concept as students often work toward both at once.

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Leadership  |  Personalized Learning  |  School Districts

What We Believe at Education Elements

The end of one year and the beginning of the next is frequently a time of reflection and introspection, writing lists, and making resolutions. In the spirit of the season, I've been reflecting on my time with Education Elements. I’ve been  a part of the Ed Elements team since 2013 - not quite six years - and in that time, I’ve seen quite a lot of change in the work we do and the work schools and districts ask us to do. But, I’ve also been surprised and proud at how much has remained the same in terms of our mission, culture, and how we think about these challenges.

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Classrooms  |  Curriculum  |  Leadership  |  Personalized Learning  |  School Districts

The Top 10 Blog Posts from Education Elements - What We Talked About in 2018

Over the past year, we published 71 posts, and we’ll probably manage to sneak in a couple more before the year is done! Here at the Bring Your Own Thoughts blog, it’s always been our goal to create space for a wide range of perspectives and experiences so that as many educators as possible can find content which is useful and relatable to their own challenges and goals. We’re proud to say that every year, the B.Y.O.T. blog includes diverse voices – from teachers to administrators to coaches and consultants – and this year was no different. With thought leaders from schools, districts, and education organizations across the country, as well as our own team, we talked about everything from PL to equity to curriculum to leadership to organizational practices and beyond, in the form of blog posts and multiple new blog series, podcast episodes, downloadable tools and resources, and comments from our readers! You can learn more about our work over the past year in our reflection on 2018, and today, we’re sharing this year’s most popular posts on the blog.

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PBL  |  Personalized Learning  |  Project Based Learning

Reflections on Personalized Learning and Project-based Learning

Recently, I had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop with our partners at Loudoun County Public Schools and the Buck Institute for Education to do some deep thinking about the connections between project-based learning  and personalized learning. I am very passionate about these two pillars of instruction, and I'm doubly passionate about their intersection.

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Leadership  |  Teacher Retention

Recruit and Retain the Best Teachers by Tapping into Teacher Agency

Are you a district or campus leader who struggles to find highly qualified or highly talented teachers? Do you find yourself losing out to other districts when it comes to attracting the best and brightest? Do you have a plan in place to recruit and retain those fantastic teachers who can not only impact student learning but help build the dynamic and innovative culture you desire in your district or on your campus? The National Center for Education Statistics reports 8% of the nearly 3 million teachers in the U.S. leave the profession each year. Additionally, over 41 percent of all new teachers will leave the profession within 5 years. Most alarming, 45 percent of all teacher attrition occurs in just 25 percent of all public schools: high-poverty, high-minority, urban, and rural. While attrition and staff turnover are common among all industries, the rate is noticeably higher in education than in other highly socially respected professions such as lawyers, engineers, architects, and several medical-related fields. Moreover, repeated staff turnover and teacher attrition can negatively affect a wide range of educational practices, including professional development, class assignments and scheduling, curriculum planning, and collaboration. Combined, these factors create a significant amount of disorder to schoolwide operations and potentially reduce student learning across a campus or district.

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Leadership

Coaching for Innovation: 10 Competencies to Maximize the Impact of a Coach

“I don’t think I would have made it through that year without her.” “His support and confidence in me helped me grow and achieve in ways I never had before.” “She pushed me to change the way I think about my work and my life, and I am a better person for it.” In a recent conversation with a group of district leaders, each individual reflected on key benchmarks in their careers that profoundly impacted their leadership trajectory. While there were many experiences, decisions, and opportunities discussed as moments that helped to shape their path, each individual credited a specific person, specifically a coach, as the most important contributing factor to who they are as leaders today. Based on the reflections each leader shared about a coach they have worked with, it is clear the impact that these coaches had is both powerful and lasting.

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Leadership

What Should We Expect from Each Other?

As a former superintendent and now consultant for a small startup tech company, I have experienced both sides of hiring a third party vendor. I have hired consulting firms and edtech vendors as a superintendent, and as a consultant, I have partnered with schools to employ a technology platform for growth and reflection.

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Leadership

Leading Blended Learning from the Front Row

Many people enjoy sitting in the front row while attending a movie they have not seen before. This is exactly how I would describe the experience of leading Blended Learning from the district-level. As a district administrator, you are expected to sit in the front row; and in many respects, Blended Learning is a movie that most in education have not seen before.

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Leadership

A Journey to Understand and Implement Personalized Learning

Several years ago, I was selected by the Lexington Institute for their initial leadership cohort, which focused on the implementation of personalized learning. It was a tremendous honor and a great learning experience for me. It is where I first met Anthony Kim and became aware of Education Elements. Over the next year, myself and a team of colleagues were involved in a series of phone conversations with districts from around the country and ultimately visited with other Lexington Institute Fellows in Juab, Utah. While the district team I led was well into its journey towards personalized learning for all students, this experience extended our thinking and mastery on the best ways to transform learning.

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Leadership

Innovative School Leaders Part 3: Leading with Intention

“The more senior you are, the more important listening becomes. Once a leader speaks, most people stop listening to one another and start positioning themselves. But when the leader doesn’t speak, then, just like a great choir, people have to listen and respond to one another. That’s how and when distinctive work emerges. Knowing you will be heard creates space for thinking.”  Vicki Abeles, Beyond Measure We have been on a journey that began with personal reflection and then expanded to thinking about the way we work with others and develop teams and communities. In the final installment of our three-part leadership series, we will discuss how to use the Innovative School Leader Competencies to take the reins and drive innovation.

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Leadership

7 Things We're Grateful For at Education Elements

I recently read Chip and Dan Heath’s new book, The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact and was struck by the impact that expressing gratitude and appreciation has on both the receiver of the message, as well as on the giver. According to research, the feel-good benefits of sending or saying a sincere thank you can last up to a month. So as I sit here, outside on a balmy evening on vacation with my family, I recognize how much I have to be grateful for and know that I should write about it more than once a year...for my own benefit as well as for the benefit of others. And as always, my potential list is long but I recognize our average attention span is short and getting shorter, so here it is - just 7 of the many things we are grateful for this season.

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Leadership  |  Teacher Retention

40 Ways to Celebrate Teachers and Impact Teacher Retention

Do you ever have trouble falling asleep because you can’t stop thinking about what you need to accomplish the next day? Maybe you’re one of those people that has your best ideas for solving a problem while washing your hair? Have you found yourself half-listening to a loved one while saying, “Let me just finish one more email…”? What do all of these experiences have in common? They are familiar territory for professionals who never truly stop working during their waking hours, which is especially true of passionate and committed educators.

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PL Summit  |  Personalized Learning  |  School Districts

Your Network: Make it Bigger to Make Your School District Stronger

For many, being an innovator conjures a vision of being the one out in front, alone, and it can certainly feel that way at times. All at once it seems like a big adventure and a scary proposition with uncertain rewards, but known risks. You may have a lot of questions to ask about your path but worry no one else is on it. It feels like something you kind of want to tell everybody about, but also don’t want anybody to know. The teacher who is trying something new may purposely close his door and not talk about it in case it fails. The school leader who is working on new strategies may keep quiet about them in a meeting with others, in case her peers try to dissuade her. The superintendent who wants to make her district radically different may feel like she is the only one trying to do this big thing or if she isn’t the only one, not know how to find others who think like her. So at a time when the support and ideas of others would help the most, we often are the least likely to receive them.

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Leadership  |  Personalized Learning

Talk the Talk: Communications Planning for Innovation in Education - A Webinar

As we work with schools and policy-makers to successfully implement student-centered learning models, we often hear concerns around building community support. Time and again we come back to the idea that communicating to others the why, the how, the what, and the when is key to a successful and sustainable transition to new, innovative learning environments. We also nearly always come back to the challenge that knowing communications is important is one thing, but doing it effectively is another thing entirely.

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Blended Learning  |  Digital Content  |  Personalized Learning

Selecting Digital Content for Your School: A How-To Guide

As a learning organization, we are always improving and iterating  School leaders often ask us: “How do I select the right content for my blended classroom?” To help answer this question, we’ve developed an infographic and guide to "Selecting Curriculum to Support Personalized Learning".

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Personalized Learning

A Day in the Life of a Student in a Personalized, Competency-Based School

This blog post was originally published on the CompetencyWorks website, based on data from former Ed Elements team member Mike Wolking. Mike Wolking, currently completing an Axford Fellowship, sent me a summary of a short investigation he completed in how a student spends their day. He followed a student in a New Zealand secondary school for a day and tracked her activities. As I read through the summary, I thought it might be a helpful way to begin to think about the quality of personalized, competency-based education. This type of data could be useful for reflection and opening up conversations about where there might be opportunities for strengthening instruction, assessment, and learning experiences as well as identifying where operational policies or organizational habits are getting in the way. One would have to also consider the question: How do we think a student should spend their time in order to optimize learning and development?

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Personalized Learning

How Can Personalized Learning Support Educational Equity?

In his book Striving for Equity: District Leadership for Narrowing Opportunity and Achievement Gaps, co-author and former Arlington County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Smith provides the following explanation of educational equity: “You don't have equity in conditions in which all students are receiving the same amount of support, ... You are getting equity if you have a situation in which every student is getting the amount of support to be successful.”

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Personalized Learning

Bringing Vision Into Focus: Georgia’s Journey to a Statewide Vision of Personalized Learning

Personalized Learning. Two words that at the same time inspire hearts and minds, and leave our pragmatic minds wandering.   If you are anything like the educators and leaders in the schools and districts we at iTeach support, you are already a ‘believer’ in the promise of a learning experience that is personalized. You might even have your own working definition for what it looks like in your instance, and that definition may well be informed by the good work of organizations like Education Elements, iNACOL, Learning Accelerator, and other thought leaders. For us, here in Georgia, we were all so caught up in igniting the spark of this new paradigm, that we created some confusion, or at least some incongruence across the state. Some early-adopting districts spending money on redesign and consultation, create and communicate their own vision with their own language, leaving smaller or less-resourced districts unable to shoulder the financial burden of such work to pick at the bone and create Frankenstein models of their own.

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Leadership  |  School Districts

Education Elements’ Responsive Playbook: How We Built a Thriving, Learning Organization

As an education consulting organization we work with hundreds of schools and districts to improve the way teaching, learning, work, and collaboration happen. In projects with clients, we rarely ask leaders to try something we haven’t tried ourselves. In fact, when Anthony Kim and Alexis Gonzales Black published The NEW School Rules: 6 Vital Practices for Thriving and Responsive Schools, many of the lessons included in the book were drawn from our own teams at Education Elements. We are constantly seeking new learnings and ways of improving the way work happens at our company.

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Leadership  |  Personalized Learning  |  School Districts

Tips for Educators: The Innovator in You and the Future of District Organizations

Everyone is an innovator Within the last two decades, the barrier to entry to be innovative has dramatically decreased. Today, people can have multiple careers and innovations within a lifetime. Innovation has become so frequent that it’s part of everyone’s vernacular and a topic in many industries including healthcare, auto manufacturing, and education. Who doesn’t want to be innovative? It’s cool to be considered innovative and disruptive. Clayton Christensen wrote several best selling books on innovation and Clayton and Michael Horn put out a seminal book which in many ways shaped changes we have seen in education, “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns”.  This book made innovation cool even in education. Inspired by the practices of responsive organizations in other industries, Alexis Gonzales-Black and I co-wrote the book, "The NEW School Rules: 6 Vital Practices for Thriving and Responsive Schools", to help schools and districts become more innovative and agile.

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Leadership

Innovative School Leaders Part 2: Involving Others To Create a Culture of Innovation

Ideas come to me at very random times: in a dream, on a walk, or during my commute. I think “Wow, this is it...this is the idea that will land me a TED Talk!” Following these inspirations, I usually text my colleague and warn her: “This is going to be big! We should carve out a whole hour to talk about it.” Within the first five minutes of our conversation, she has completely blown up my idea in all of the best ways. She preserves the spirit of the inspiration while somehow making it better. We then conference in another colleague who amps up our idea by helping us consider new perspectives. He encourages us to share it with our team to accelerate our learning. What we end up moving forward with is always beyond what I alone could have imagined!

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Personalized Learning

Design Parameters for Personalized Learning

As I meet with education leaders across the country, I am often asked questions about the best way to roll-out personalized learning within a district. I always struggle to answer this question since it entirely depends upon the unique needs and circumstances within each community. In some ways, it feels as if someone is asking me, “What’s the very best car I can buy?” Each vehicle option includes trade-offs, and the optimal vehicle will depend on the specific needs of the driver.

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Leadership  |  Teacher Retention

How Clear Communication and Defined Career Pathways Can Boost Teacher Retention

Teachers love their jobs. That statement may strike you as untrue, simplistic, or ill-informed, given the current state of the teaching profession, in which many teachers will leave the classroom in the first five years, and teacher retention is a crisis on the horizon for schools, districts, and state boards of education. I stand by it, though. In my fifteen years in education, working in and with schools and teachers, I have had many conversations with teachers about their job satisfaction. On balance, teachers I’ve encountered love their students. They talk about “their” kids with pride, concern, and (sometimes) exasperation. They seek professional development to improve their abilities to reach students, and they sacrifice their personal time (and often money) to ensure their students get what they need to succeed in school.

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Classrooms  |  Competency-Based Education  |  Curriculum  |  Personalized Learning

The Core 4 Elements of Personalized Learning

In some ways, creating a successful personalized learning classroom is similar to winning a basketball game. To give us direction, my high school basketball coach consistently focused on three key areas, which he called the Big Three:

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Classrooms  |  Leadership  |  Personalized Learning  |  School Districts

The 10 Resources You Need to Head Back to School in 2018

September is in full swing, and it’s the time of year that we start heading back into the classroom - some of us are already in school, and some of us are still counting down our last few precious days of summer vacation. Setting the stage for a new school year is crucial, but it can also be a complex undertaking. So we decided to round up some resources to help you start the school year off right! There’s something here for everyone: whether you’re a teacher, a school leader, a district administrator, or a learning coach; if you’re exploring what personalized learning, competency-based education, or innovation in the classroom; if you are working on developing leadership, professional development, or strengthening communication and collaboration; and whether you need an overarching view of the education journey or help with one piece of the puzzle.

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Classrooms  |  Personalized Learning  |  School Districts

How Might Schools Quantify “Personalized Learning”?

Measuring your personalized learning journey is now easier than ever with the new Kiddom + Education Elements partnership Personalized learning is a buzz phrase we hear often in education. This pedagogical style is inspirational, and may serve students well, but it often lacks direction. Many professional development sessions begin with: “Let’s define personalized learning,” because the term is thrown around so often. At Kiddom, we’ve had the privilege to witness many excellent strides toward personalized learning in different environments, but many haven’t yet seen it in practice. So how does an administrator or community measure the pursuit of this practice without knowing exactly how it looks or where to focus their efforts to improve?

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Leadership  |  Personalized Learning  |  School Districts

Five Stories of Transformation from Our Fifth Annual Report

This week, we released our 2017-2018 Annual Report. The report marks eight years since Education Elements was founded, and our fifth such report. In the report, we highlight the incredible work of our district partners and share how our work is evolving to continue to build and support dynamic school systems that meet the needs of every learner, today and tomorrow.

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Curriculum  |  Personalized Learning

Strange Bedfellows: The Marriage of Personalized Learning and High-Quality Curriculum

Unexpected pairings are a common feature throughout history and culture; Dharma and Greg, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, Frog and Toad, Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg. Opposites attract when they have a shared purpose and their strengths complement one another. They can approach problems with a greater set of ideas and a broader range of perspectives. At first glance, personalized learning and high-quality curriculum may seem like opposing movements. However, they both aim to deepen student learning and approach that task with a variety of strategies that, when paired, are a powerful set of tools.

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Leadership  |  School Districts

Four Actions to Make Your First Year As a Superintendent Count

Let’s just be clear: there is a very short honeymoon period for a new superintendent. From day one, people have expectations of you as the new superintendent. They want you to be exactly the same or completely different than your predecessor. They have their hopes pinned on you bringing new ideas or have their fingers crossed that you won’t. They are wondering how long you will stay and what you will do during your tenure. They both expect you to know everything about the district right away, and yet know that you don’t and are frustrated by it. They have so many things they want to say to you, and yet voice few of them, as if you can read minds.

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Leadership

Evergreen Leadership

Through my career, I have had the opportunity to work with a number of exceptional leaders in the private sector, including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and in the public sector, including Ted Mitchell, Former CEO of Newschools Venture Fund. My father, Leonard, was a dedicated, hardworking city manager and county administrator.

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Leadership

We Call Them Leaders Because They Go First

If Blockbuster was still around today, and you had to take out your life savings and invest in that company or Netflix, which one would you choose? The answer is obvious. But what about five years ago? Ten years ago? Now it would be easy to say that Netflix would be the obvious choice, which would mean you are smarter than the leadership of Blockbuster at the time who turned down an offer to acquire Netflix. The trick with leadership is to understand not only where they are, but the world around them, and what that means for where they have to go.

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Leadership

Transforming the System to Fit the Student

Transformational leadership is about using your actions to elevate others and put them on their path to greatness. - Terina Allen The superintendent holds a lonely, yet transcendent position in public education. The position tends to isolate the leader because of the growing divisions in our society. We all know that every decision we make will make someone unhappy. It also provides the opportunity for a superintendent to make extraordinary progress in how to prepare our students for their future.

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Personalized Learning

How to Make the Most of the First 20 Days of Personalized Learning

As the 2018-2019 school year begins, I can’t help but think back to my years in the classroom and the days and weeks leading up to a new school year. The feeling of getting back in my classroom after recharging during summer break, the excitement of unpacking book boxes, decorating the walls, and way too many trips to Target for those must-have new supplies. The moment that made it feel most real was getting my class list, picturing the faces that would soon fill the empty desks. Try as I might to set up my classroom for those students, it never failed that once I got to know them, I’d redesign the learning environment to better meet their needs. Sometimes that meant adding a seat near me to provide some extra support to a student, and other years it meant shifting from rows to clusters of desks. Regardless, the way I set up my classroom was entirely dependent on the needs, interests, and personalities of the learners inside.

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Leadership  |  Personalized Learning  |  Professional Development  |  Teacher Retention

The New “PD”: How Shifting from Professional to Personalized Development Will Improve Your Workshops

August is an important month for school leaders; it is the last opportunity to reflect, recharge, and realign on your personal and shared goals before the school year officially kicks off. While there is no debate that we all want better student outcomes, many discussions occur during this period regarding the best methods to employ. One of the most important systems to take into account is how your leadership team will structure the professional development (PD) curriculum and options that are presented to your staff this upcoming school year. As educators, we understand the importance of modeling our thinking and actions, and this is no different when it comes to PD. During my time as a school leader, it was important for me to acknowledge that if I was going to demand that our teachers be empathetic and innovative in their implementation of personalized learning, then we as school leaders must provide those same personalized qualities in the development opportunities we offer.

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Leadership

Innovative School Leaders Part 1: How to Become an Innovative School Leader

“Please see me in my office when you get a break.” A message that is not for the faint of heart. It is also a message I received often from my principal when I was teaching. You read that correctly, I was regularly asked to visit the principal’s office. Given my fear of being in trouble, this is not a message I would typically welcome from my boss but she was not a typical lady! Our entire staff received short and direct messages like these and if you can believe it, the strongest feeling it brought up for us was curiosity. Her emails could mean anything from selecting you for a new leadership opportunity, feedback on a lesson she popped in on, or simply a change in your duty assignment. We generally felt confident that Debra believed in us AND held us to high expectations so whatever she wanted to talk about was probably an opportunity to learn and grow.

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School Districts

Is Marketing Your School District a Thing? Part 2: Storytelling

Stories are all around us. Researchers found that personal stories and gossip make up 65% of our conversation. Some stories are as small as 6 words or 280 characters, and others are the length of a book or a movie. Your best stories are told in multiple lengths and forms.

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Personalized Learning

The Core Four Continuum - a New Framework for Personalized Learning Implementation

Since 2010 Education Elements has supported more than 140 districts, 750 schools, and 550,000 students with personalized learning implementations. Through our work with schools and districts across the country, we established the Core Four of Personalized Learning: four key elements that we believe ensure that personalized learning is implemented with high fidelity and success.

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Classrooms  |  Personalized Learning

How Teachers Are at the Core of Personalized Learning - Not Technology

One of the major complaints that I have heard in my community as we have adopted personalized learning relates to the idea that personalized learning means that we are adopting technology and getting rid of teachers. There may be some places that are doing that, but my vision for personalized learning doesn’t include removing teachers – instead, it requires asking even more of teachers. 

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Classrooms  |  Leadership

Educators: Before you Recharge this Summer, Reflect

Our company is known for having a unique organizational culture. We have eliminated the traditional organizational hierarchy of direct managers; we employ a self-organizing team structure; and if you attended this year’s Personalized Learning Summit, you know we also view trivia and dancing to 80’s music as valuable team-building time. Something that is not as widely known is that we also have internal monthly challenges. During the month of November, our CEO challenged us to meditate for five minutes every day. That was the entire challenge. Five, uninterrupted minutes of silence where we took time to pause and reflect. Resources were shared. Apps were downloaded. An accountability chat room was created. On the first day of the challenge, nearly 20 team members meditated. Two weeks in, there were less than 10 people meditating with fidelity. And by day 30, very few had continued the practice.

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Classrooms  |  Competency-Based Education  |  Personalized Learning  |  School Districts

Seven Things Education Elements Does to Support School Districts

One of the most common questions I answer about Education Elements is, “So what do you guys do?” If we have an elevator ride that goes to, say, the top of the world’s tallest building, I can give a fairly satisfying and comprehensive answer.  If, on the other hand, we are just waiting in a short line for a cup of coffee, I tend to say something like, “We help districts solve their biggest challenges,” which, judging by the reaction I often get, is not nearly the level of detail people are looking to hear. So in the age of TL;DR and Buzzfeed lists that always come in odd numbers, I decided to try to put pen to paper and explain what we do in a way that gets more head nods and doesn’t have anyone thinking, “For the love of God will she ever stop talking?” (Don’t worry, you can just read the bold parts)

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Leadership

Elements of Change: The Organization Element

We’re so excited to share another episode of Elements of Change with you, this time highlighting the importance of building responsive, dynamic organizations. We’re all familiar with the traditional hierarchy of a school district, but what if this structure is inadvertently holding back motivated, capable people with great ideas? Alexis Gonzales-Black, co-author of The NEW School Rules: 6 Vital Practices for Thriving and Responsive Schools, describes her experience adopting a distributed management system at Zappos and provides tips for getting started at your own school or district.

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Competency-Based Education  |  Leadership  |  Personalized Learning

6 Summer Reads to Make You a More Responsive Leader

We published The NEW School Rules: 6 Vital Practices for Thriving and Responsive Schools this winter to help leaders make a shift toward being more effective, responsive leaders. Since the book’s release in February we have had dozens of requests for webinars and presentations about The NEW School Rules. Demand has been so great that we’ve developed a leadership course based on the rules. This summer we kick off leadership courses across five districts and four states.

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School Districts

Is Marketing Your School District a Thing? Part 1: Branding

It is important for schools and districts to remember that in our ever-evolving world, they now need to compete for students, administrative and teaching talents, and community perception. Like other competitive organizations, schools need to set themselves apart from other schools in the country.

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Classrooms  |  Leadership  |  Personalized Learning  |  School Districts

Million Dollar Advice: It’s Worth it When You Want To Change Your District

There are even more ways to tell a story than there are to bake a cake. A recent article in Edsurge told a story about million dollar consultants (us) and some of the districts we support in their efforts to transform teaching and learning through personalization (including Charleston County SC and Fulton County GA). It was one version of the story, with one set of facts and data, and we’d like to take this opportunity to re-tell that story in a way we feel more accurately captures the work, and accomplishments, of those districts, as well as others across the country.

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Leadership

Lessons Learned: One Company’s Journey to Becoming a More Responsive Organization

I have led several companies but the workplace and teams today are uniquely more interconnected than they were in past organizations. So three years ago I decided I needed a new approach to how I organized our team and approach at Education Elements, the education consulting company I founded in 2010.

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Leadership

How Districts Can Inform EdTech Companies to Make Better Products

Innovation often requires leading, not following, in technology advancement. I was involved in two important decisions in 2007 while serving as the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction at Maine Township High School District 207 in Illinois. First, needing a new Director of Technology to help us advance technology into an essential role to improve learning, I hired a talented young man named Dr. Hank Thiele.

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Leadership

It’s 2018 – Do You Know Where Your Personalized Learners Are?

Personalized learning, like so much of what we value most in our schools, should be aligned to the particular educational needs of individual learners – that’s what it’s all about. Success depends on the ways schools support teachers: providing them with effective professional development focused on making the plan work; embracing their iterations and experiments as they work to continually improve their practices; and ultimately putting them in the position to succeed in targeting instruction, interventions and enrichment, including with actionable information to support personalizing learning for all students. Personalizing learning in this way, and to scale, has great promise to transform our educational practices and substantially improve outcomes.

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Classrooms

A Case for Culturally Responsive Pedagogy in Classrooms

If recent Halloweens have taught us anything aside from the absurd amount of money spent on candy for one day, it's that those involved in child rearing must address cultural sensitivity. The young white boy who wanted to dress as a Polynesian hero named Maui or the young white girl who wanted to dress as Princess Jasmine are caught in the middle of a debate on what is acceptable. Princesses and heroes that represent all races are important, but what does this discourse look like in the classroom? Left unaddressed, bias can lead to lasting harm. Consider this story shared by parents that I recently overheard at a dinner party.

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Personalized Learning

Learnings from Implementing Personalized Learning in Denver Public Schools

In the three-plus years since introducing Personalized Learning (PL) in individual schools within a large public school system, the Imaginarium, Denver Public Schools’ (DPS) innovation lab, has been studying the conditions that help and hinder the implementation of PL at scale.

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PL Summit  |  Personalized Learning Summit  |  Professional Development

PL Summit 2018: 3 Days of Shaping the Future of Education

It is hard to make something better each year and yet, somehow, as I reflect on the Education Elements Personalized Learning Summit 2018, it feels like we have done it. It’s five days since the Summit ended and I am still energized by the energy and passion of every one of the 750 people who attended. I am still excited about the ideas I heard and looking forward to talking more to the people I met. I am still amazed that we pulled it off.  750 people is a lot of people for a conference that four years ago had less than 150!

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Personalized Learning

Tell More Stories: Learnings from the PL Summit

Stories compel us: Last week Education Elements hosted our 4th national Personalized Learning Summit. The event included more than 750 leaders from schools and districts across the country.  Our opening session featured George Couros, author of The Innovator's Mindset. His sixty-minute keynote was jam-packed with ideas and inspiration, but one idea stood out to me the most: we need to get better at telling stories.

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Leadership  |  Personalized Learning  |  School Districts

Elements of Change Podcast: A New Way to Hear From Education Leaders

The Education Elements team logs thousands of hours on the road through snow storms and hurricanes, mechanical issues, and flight delays. We travel across the country (and around the world) to work with amazing school and district leaders. Because  of our nomadic lifestyle, we get a lot of questions. “How many rewards points do you have?” “How do you stay fit?” And the dreaded, “Do you know what time zone you’re in?”

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Classrooms  |  School Districts

Questions to Ask if You're Worried About Student Data

Last week I heard a district leader say, “In God We Trust - everyone else, bring data.” I chuckled - because we talk out of both sides of our mouth when it comes to data.  In the same breath we demand “data driven instruction” instruction in our classrooms but it’s also clear that we don’t understand (and many times don’t trust) the technology that captures this very data needed to drive instruction. Also last week, Ed Week highlighted this dichotomy in the survey results of school leaders on the use of technology with their students. A majority (57%) believe that ‘digital technologies are an important supplemental resource used to personalize the learning experience based on each student’s strengths, weaknesses, and preferences.’ Yet an even higher percentage of school leaders still have valid concerns with how technology companies collect data and influence what and how we teach students.

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Classrooms  |  Personalized Learning

Making Bold Changes Through Personalized Learning

In Harrisburg we have been implementing personalized learning for a little over 5 years. In our 5 years of implementation we have learned a ton and have started to create a solid roll out plan:

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Classrooms

7 Steps to Improving Student Attendance

According to the US Department of Education, over six million students (14% of the population, or about one in seven students) missed 15 or more days of school in a recent school year. And the results on student achievement and future career opportunities are devastating. What are school districts doing to improve student attendance? In Education Elements’ new infographic, we compiled seven steps to improving school attendance. Here, we will highlight three of those steps.

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Blog Feature

Shaping the Future in Rochester, New Hampshire

I believe that personalized learning is imperative; it is essential that school systems focus on learning for every student. The shift to personalized learning represents a deep change for schools and their leaders. What can a leader do to capitalize on this shift? As a middle school principal who recently led a personalized learning implementation, I know that it requires strong collaborative leadership in your district. Our shift has had both peaks and valleys, but my school continues to move towards embracing learning for all. Here are some suggestions that have worked well for us so far.

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Personalized Learning

Four Landmarks on your District’s Personalized Learning Journey

Imagine you’re exploring a new place. It’s exciting, but unfamiliar and so remote that you’ve lost cell service. How do you get where you’re going? Chances are, you’ll seek out an expert - someone who knows the lay of the land and can give you directions. Once you’ve found the corner gas station and asked for assistance, what will your expert guide tell you?

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Personalized Learning

Leadership in Personalized Learning

“You can’t buy personalized learning…” I read this statement by Richard Culatta recently and it really resonated with me because personalizing learning is about skilled teachers, not students working on computers for a large part of a day. Yes technology can support and enhance the learning, but what it actually comes down to is good teaching practices, implemented by teachers who are prepared to learn, collaborate and reflect, and take risks (and sometimes fail) to improve the learning process for their students. Good teachers are a crucial element of personalized learning.

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Personalized Learning

Personalized Learning: Lessons to Get the Message Right

Interest in personalized learning continues to surge all across the country. However, not everyone understands what personalized learning looks like or the changes it will necessitate, and people are often wary of what they don’t understand. So how we talk about personalized learning can either engage families or push them away.

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School Districts

Innovations in School District Procurement

Three years ago, I received a call from an excited district leader who wanted to chat about student data (of all things)! He dreamt of building a digital “learning ecosystem,” (think instruction/LMS, assessment, IEPs, grading, attendance, transportation, etc.) to serve as the information backbone for his district’s vision to personalize the learning environment for every student. What he didn’t know was how to make that ecosystem a reality.

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Leadership

Standing Up For What We Believe In: Why We Joined #FoundersForChange

The first time I stood up for something I believed in I had to stand on a chair. I was around 7 years old and I wanted to know why there was a Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, and nothing to celebrate other holidays. After writing a letter to which I got a very unsatisfactory answer, my dad bought me one share of Rockefeller stock and took me to the shareholders meeting. When they asked for comments I took the microphone, stood up on a chair, and told them I didn’t think it was fair - there were a lot of holidays to celebrate and they should recognize all of them. While it didn’t change anything (to this day Rockefeller Center only displays a Christmas tree) I remember feeling good about saying something and trying to make a change.

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Blog Feature

5 Ingredients To Create A Culture of Innovation in Your District

As a part of an education consulting team I’m often hired to support schools and districts solve complex challenges-- from redesigning teaching and learning, to building leadership capacity, aligning initiatives, increasing staff retention, and restructuring professional development. In all of this work the underlying, often unspoken, need that most teams want our help with is improving team and organizational culture. They want to know how to make schools and districts more effective, engaged, fun, collaborative, creative, and innovative so that they can make transformative and lasting change.

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Blog Feature

Personalized Learning

Personalized Leadership

Several years ago I observed a highly effective veteran teacher during her annual formal observation. She had incorporated many elements of personalized learning into her classroom practices and her learners were demonstrating evidence that they were capable of being actively involved in their own learning. Unfortunately, this teacher’s years of being in charge of the classroom and the need to control each aspect did not allow her to enjoy the empowerment she had gifted to her learners. Over the past several years, I have continued to urge her to pause, let go, get out of the way and let the learning happen. She continues to challenge herself to let go of the fear of losing control as well as changing deeply embedded past practices as she transforms her classroom to a truly learner centered learning experience.

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Personalized Learning

5 Ways to Build a Trusting Coaching Relationship

Creating a strong relationship between an instructional coach and teacher is not a simple task. In fact, starting off a successful coaching relationship is a lot like blind dating. Two people who don’t know each other get paired up in hopes that a special bond can be formed. You have similar networks of people that believe it will be a good match and both parties experience mixed emotions – excited but nervous. But coaches don’t get to walk away at the end of the night and never see that person again if chemistry isn’t immediately ignited. Like any new relationship, there is a lot of potential, and how the relationship begins makes a huge impact. Luckily, there are some things a coach can do in order to form a positive connection quickly and avoid common relationship bumps! Here are a few tips to make sure the coaching relationship starts strong:

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Leadership

The Power of "Why?"

One of the pitfalls of being new to any situation is the mistake of being quick to rush to judgment.  Entertaining the idea that what you see as a problem has actually been vetted to be the most viable solution by someone who came before you is a skill that requires patience, understanding and respect. When this core tenet is dismissed, and you assume too quickly that you know better,  it often can lead to a downward spiral from which there is no return.

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Leadership

Putting People First - The Path to True Success

At Starbucks we always said, “It’s not about the coffee, it’s about the people.” No matter what type of work you do, putting people first – your team, your customers, your partners, your family – will do more for your long-term personal happiness and professional success than any short-term “wins.”

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Leadership

From Great Ideas to Successful Execution

In education reform, the focus is often on the sexy idea-of-the-day—the vision that lights donors up and causes them to give, that can grab headlines, that can give policymakers a political win. All too often we—thought leaders, foundations, policymakers, and, yes, some educators—forget about the real work that has to happen to put these things into action. The actual operations.

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Personalized Learning

Four Suggestions to Introduce Personalized Learning into Your Organization

As the saying goes, change is hard. This is especially true for leaders introducing personalized learning into their organizations. I often have a front-row seat to the resulting backlash and chaos that stems from leaders as they help their districts make shifts toward personalizing learning for students. Frequently, there are patterns that I see across districts: teachers facing initiative fatigue, questions about why, how, and what, and concerned parents. Although the specific challenges that each district faces may differ, one lesson is clear: how personalized learning is introduced into a community matters.

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Classrooms

The Misconception of Zeros

Fortunately, in New Jersey, the days where teachers and school administrators could raise a hand or paddle in an attempt to correct a student’s behavior are long gone. During the transition away from corporal punishment in our classrooms, I imagine there must have been numerous heated conversations and a belief among some that if we cannot inflict pain, or at least instill an intense fear, students will not behave, follow instruction, or learn.      

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How to Assess Your District's Personalized Learning Implementation

The board wants proof that personalized learning is having a positive impact in your district. Parents are asking for evidence that these new strategies are improving their child’s education. How do you respond? The Education Elements team hears these questions a lot, so we shared our thoughts in the blog post, “Charting Your Personalized Learning Course.” If you haven’t read it yet, go ahead. I’ll wait.

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Personalized Learning

The Composition of Personalized Learning

Aside from my family, Drew Brees, and my work in education, I have another great passion - photography. I fell in love with cameras and editing photos when I first set foot in a darkroom in high school. Up until that point, I would look at a picture and judge its impact based on my own personal interest or something of beauty that I saw in the photo. After nearly two decades of refining my skill set in the field of photography, I’ve learned that the photos that leave the greatest impression on the viewer actually follow very technical photography rules. A talented artist, like a talented teacher, brings much more than technical skills to their craft, but for a teacher just beginning their journey in say, a personalized learning approach to teaching, the technical skills can be instrumental in creating a classroom that leaves an impression on its students. Enter composition.

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Personalized Learning

Sleepless in Seattle: Personalizing Learning In The Pacific Northwest

It is an exciting trend that educational agencies across the United States are launching regional initiatives to create deep, enduring models of personalized learning in an effort to adopt a new vision of public education that addresses our nation’s diversifying student body. One such agency is the Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD) near Seattle, Washington. PSESD is one of nine regional educational agencies serving school districts and state-approved charter and private schools in Washington. This service district is deeply committed to becoming an Anti-Racist Multicultural Organization in order to eliminate the Opportunity Gap (check out their racial equity tool!). One of their core tactics to close this gap is personalized learning.

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Classrooms  |  Personalized Learning

Flexible Seating in Personalized Learning

It was about a year ago that I took the plunge and implemented personalized learning in my classroom. That decision turned out to be one of the best I’ve made in my sixteen years as an educator. Under the guidance of and support from Kelly Freiheit at Education Elements, my traditional third grade classroom has evolved into a personalized learning classroom that has changed the way my students learn.

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Blog Feature

Disrupt Implicit Bias by Personalizing Your District

Personalization is everywhere you turn today - from your online shopping recommendations to your daily coffee order. Some districts have realized the power of personalization and begun to tailor the way they interact with families and students. But the power of personalization for family and student engagement is just beginning to be tapped and requires more than a customized parent portal or individualized lesson plan to truly engage diverse families and students. And in our current state of national affairs, finding ways to deeply connect with students and families is more important than ever.

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Classrooms  |  Personalized Learning

How to Pick the Right Instructional Model for Your Classroom

Selecting the right instructional model to personalize learning is a bit like cooking dinner for my family. It’s an art, not a science. To better understand this analogy, it is important to be familiar with the three base models that teachers have in their proverbial pantry: station rotation, playlists, and flipped lessons. To learn more about each of these in the elementary and secondary settings, check out these infographics: PL models for elementary classrooms & PL models for secondary classrooms.  Let’s first explore where each model is most useful:

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