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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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?
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.
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?
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.
The average person will work more than 90,000 hours in a lifetime. For most of us, work fills the majority of our waking hours, and yet Gallup reports that seventy percent of U.S. employees are disengaged at work. The cost of employee disengagement and turnover is enormous, for both individuals and organizations. This is especially true in the field of education. Tremendous effort and resources have been invested in improving K-12 employee engagement and retention, with minimal impact. The majority of district leaders I work with believe teacher retention is the greatest challenge they face.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?”
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.
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:
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.
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.
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?
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
As we continue to progress through the 21st century we are compelled to ask whether current models of schooling are well designed for the world beyond classroom walls. In particular, it’s worth reflecting on 3 essential questions in school model design, a term we use to refer to how schools are organized to deliver instruction to students.
I’ve mentioned to a few people that I’m having my education mid-life crisis. After almost 20 years in education, I’ve seen various initiatives, software solutions, and programs come and go. Hundreds of millions are spent each year trying to move the needle, yet we continue to get similar results. It isn’t without the sweat, blood, and tears of all the educators in the country that work so hard.
When we started the Bring Your Own Thoughts blog our goal was simple: write good stuff to help good people do good things for kids. And so far, it's been working. In 2017, we published blog posts from our team, our districts, and thought leaders from across the country, ranging from examples of personalized learning in real classrooms, to how to think differently about the purpose of curriculum, to how to change the mindset of a district, to why we do what we do (and why we have made some changes to what we do!) and beyond. You can read more about all of the ways we have supported districts this past year in our reflection on 2017 here, and catch up on our best blog posts below. We are continually inspired and encouraged by the leadership and innovation we see from administrators and educators everywhere, and make an ongoing effort to honor and reflect this on the B.Y.O.T. blog. We are grateful for every single piece of content which is created for and shared on the blog, and today, we're sharing the top 10 posts of this year. Let the countdown begin!
As we prepare to transition to 2018, it’s a great time to take a step back, reflect on the year, and express our sincere gratitude. This year has been a meaningful one for Education Elements; we have expanded our reach, developed new offerings, and, most importantly, learned so much from working alongside passionate educators and students. Here are some highlights:
If Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters looked deep into the world of personalized learning, they would quickly note that one of the biggest misconceptions schools and teachers have is that personalization equals technology. I was in high school prior to the advent of Facebook, the iPhone, the Chromebook, and the popularization of blogs (ironic, given the medium of this article), and to this day, my most personalized educational experiences happened as a high school senior. I was a student in an Advanced Placement U.S. Government class, and I would frequently meet my peers and teacher, Mr. Allan, after school at a Starbucks.
School was never hard for me, it just wasn’t engaging enough for us millennials. It felt prehistoric and bland, so I often doodled and wrote poetry. I was an average student until sports became my incentive to achieve academically. This wasn’t due to lack of knowledge, but moreso a lack of interest. However, things changed once I got to college. College was the first time I was in charge of my educational path. It was a time I felt connected to school and empowered as a learner.
Sometimes I wish I were more like my mom. There are many reasons why, but many times it’s because I wish I were a great cook. I used to watch her in the kitchen just glance at a picture of a dish from a cookbook, then create that without ever having to follow the step-by-step recipe that was next to the picture. It was like watching a magic show.
Lately I have been meditating. It is only somewhat by choice – we are doing a company-wide meditation challenge and I am usually up for competitions, especially when they get me out of my comfort zone. Within the course of a few days of the challenge I discovered that just sitting and breathing doesn’t work for me – I have one of those brains that doesn’t turn off. It is not always full of important things, thoughts range from how to support a certain school to what I should get at the grocery store to if it’s going to be hot or cold tomorrow but you get the point, focus can be a challenge. So I started to do themed meditations and have recently been enjoying seven days of focusing on gratitude. Because while December may be the season of giving, November is the season of being grateful.
One of the worst implementation mistakes school leaders make when they buy devices for their classrooms is allowing even one teacher to feel obsolete. Computers do not substitute for good teachers.
Ask any high school teacher or college professor about her biggest impediment in the classroom. The answers you hear will share a common theme. In the age of smart-everythings—from phones, to watches, to tablets, to connected specialty devices—the ubiquitous interloper and often unwelcome guest in any modern classroom has a screen.
It is believed that if you build something, people will come to use it. This is exactly what has transpired with the creation of cross district collaboration for professional development and learning, a venture developed by the Dundee Central School District.
This scenario is all too familiar. Children spend a day at school and then have nothing to report. How is this possible? You can encourage parents to avoid this by asking questions connected to personalized learning. Remind them that in their child’s classroom, teachers and students are working together to include four elements of personalized learning. Share these tips to get the conversation started.
When I was in high school I had a fantastic U.S. history teacher who demanded that we each complete an independent research paper on the 1960’s at the end of the year. I got to choose the topic and knew that I’d have to develop a thesis, and I knew the defense of that thesis would have to be sourced from far more than textbooks - it had me scouring local libraries and whatever I could find on Webcrawler at the time (my friend told me about a site called Google that was pretty good but I thought the name was weird so I didn’t use it for a while).
Each year we receive hundreds of questions along the lines of, “Okay…so what does personalized learning actually look like?” We have a few answers to this question. One is that personalized learning always involves these core four elements - targeted instruction, data-driven decisions, flexible content, and student reflection and ownership. Check out our Core Four white paper for a more detailed description of these elements, as well as classroom examples.
Yes, I said it in my title. Life-changing. Am I exaggerating? Maybe a little. But as a former teacher, I met too many students who “hated (insert any subject here)” because they thought their textbook, worksheet, or homework material was boring, too difficult, or did not make sense to them. I also met too many fellow teachers who thought their curriculum was simply their textbooks (which they often didn’t like), and no more. For these students and teachers, learning and teaching was not a fun experience because their “curriculum” was horrible. Think about turning these people around and instilling joy in them through the right curriculum. Oh the things they will learn and teach! Isn’t that a life-changing possibility?
All districts have strategic plans. For many districts, they are the most expensive document created in a given year. Getting to a final draft usually takes several months or more and requires the time of many staff and community members. There are committees, meetings, surveys, reviews, discussions and multiple rounds of revision.
At Education Elements, we are proud that our team members model the 21st Century skills we encourage in the classrooms we serve. Our consultants think big, seek collaboration, and enjoy solving the unique challenges each of our districts face. As we continue to see the positive impact of our work, school and district leaders commonly ask us one thing about our team - what does Education Elements look for in a hire?
Close your eyes and imagine yourself in an all-purpose room with uncomfortable chairs and a trainer lecturing to a whole-group about the latest small-group teaching strategies. We’ve all been there, right? Stuck in PD sessions with facilitators who don’t practice what they preach.
We hear all the time “You’ve seen districts implement personalized learning all across the country - give it to us straight - how do we compare?” Whether districts are just getting started and dipping a toe into personalized learning, or are reflecting on several successful years of implementation and searching for ways to go deeper, district leaders want to know how their progress compares to national benchmarks. It isn’t enough to look inward; they need data from the outside too.
At Education Elements we are incredibly fortunate to work with so many exceptional, passionate, and extraordinarily talented people, including teachers, coaches, principals, and district leaders. These amazing people are going above and beyond to transform education, and are helping to write the future through the success of their students.
Years ago, Anthony Kim, CEO of Education Elements, remarked to me that “Blended learning accelerates a good culture and makes it great, but it will also accelerate a bad culture and make it terrible.”
On Friday night America’s top TV networks put aside the battle for ratings, when all four aired the XQ Super School Live special to address the question: What needs to change with American high schools? Cameos from an all-star lineup of celebrities, and cover songs from our favorite high school movies were an added bonus to the program’s key message. Four of the 18 (and counting) XQ Super Schools were featured and given the opportunity to share their powerful stories on what happens when we ask the question, “What if?”
This time of year is full of hope. Kids are excited for school and hoping they will get the best teachers and be with their best friends. Teachers are excited and hoping that this year their students will achieve great things and be more engaged than the year before. And leaders are hoping that the hard work that they are putting in against their strategic plans and initiatives will pay off with successful students and satisfied staff.
Imagine you find yourself in an elevator for three minutes with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, who together are giving up to $1 billion in each of the next three years to “advance human potential and promote equality.” You can’t believe your luck! You’ve been dreaming for years about a more personalized, blended model for your school, and now you actually have the chance to pitch the idea to the founders of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. What would you say in the next three minutes before that elevator door slides open?
In 2017, Corcoran High School implemented a new district alternate assessment, also known as a competency test. This test was required for any student who did not score Standards Met or Standards Exceeded on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress. Students who could not pass this assessment would be prohibited from participating in the graduation ceremony.
A few years ago, I stumbled across a wonderful column where the author reflected on all of the teachers who had a profound impact on his life from kindergarten all of the way through graduate school. It reminded me of the impact of Professor Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture,” where faced with months to live, Pausch delivered a memorable lesson for so many Carnegie Mellon students around living your childhood dreams. To this day, I still reflect often on those messages, particularly as a new school year approaches.
Educators and researchers alike love to obsess over what model of blended learning a school should implement. A favorite question I get asked is: “OK, now that you’ve told us about all the blended-learning models, be honest, what’s the best one?”
In the book Oh The Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss describes the excitement and trepidation we all feel before we embark on a new adventure. There are going to be tales of success, failure, and everything in between, but what makes this journey so special is it truly becomes your own.
When our team partners with a school district to tackle its toughest education leadership challenges, relationships are built at all levels of the organization. We may encounter superintendents and cabinet staff first, but we tend to find ourselves learning in many nooks and crannies of an organization over time, listening to content area specialists, IT staff, teachers and school leaders, and even attending parent nights or school board meetings.
I recall one distinct shocking moment as a new teacher. It was when a mentor teacher was onboarding me. She walked me to my classroom, opened a cabinet door rather proudly, showed me two shelves filled with textbooks and supplementary materials (worksheets, assessment guides, etc.) and said, “This is your 6th grade math curriculum.”
Well, it’s a little about Twitter. Twitter provides an amazing social media tool for teacher collaboration. Twitter provides an innovative platform for professional development. Twitter promotes an engaging forum that excites and drives teachers. 3 years ago we were inspired by Jimmy Fallon to launch discussions on Twitter around a hashtag. Our understandings about leading and participating in TwitterChats have evolved into a practice that promotes growth and has become the cornerstone of teacher collaboratin across our district.
Just like online dating or buying a new car, choosing a new digital content provider can often feel overwhelming, complicated, and like a shot in the dark. Thankfully, Education Elements created a 9 step process, and compiled tips and tricks from district leaders across the country in our new curriculum white paper: “Phase Three: Review, Demo, and Select Digital Content and Tools.” You can also get Phase 1 and Phase 2 if you want to catch up first. But here are some highlights from Phase 3:
Yuma Elementary School District ONE began the journey of Personalized Learning over two years ago and we went all in --17 schools and 9000 students all at once. At the start of school, iPads were distributed to all students and 490 teachers -- many staff and students had never even held an iPad prior to the distribution. Not only were devices deployed, but digital programs were ready to go. Teachers were learning how to use the devices, navigate programs and personalize instruction while also getting to know their students and teach them content in a new way. A massive undertaking was underway. Teachers worked hard to understand the digital programs and to use them faithfully to begin the steps of integrating technology and personalizing instruction. This was a new vision for many of our teachers and it required them to rethink their pedagogy of teaching. It wasn’t easy, but from the start it was powerful.
The world of work is changing. As we integrate into a global community, we’re tasked to work together to solve complex problems. Our solutions can be innovative and represent multiple perspectives if we know how to maximize group work. With so many benefits to a collaborative environment, why is it so challenging? Through my work as a classroom teacher and now as an education consultant, I have noticed a few common barriers to collaboration and identified ways that school district leaders and classroom teachers can overcome them.
In 2015 we published the first edition of our Personalized Learning Implementation Framework (aka PL Framework) based on lessons learned from working with schools and districts over the previous five years. At that time I shared how the PL Implementation Framework was inspired by my Grandma Rose’s love of bingo and the idea that, much like on a bingo board, there are many ways to “win” on the PL Framework. Since then, the framework has been used in hundreds of schools and districts around the country, downloaded more than 2,000 times, and leveraged as an invaluable tool to help teams articulate their strengths and areas of need when it comes to designing, launching, and scaling personalized learning.
If you’re like us, as you wind down another hectic school year, you’re imagining yourself on a beach with a few good reads. But what books will make the cut? Education Elements put together a few of our favorites on personalized and blended learning just for you. You’ll start the 2017-18 school year refreshed and full of great ideas to continue to move forward with personalized learning at your school and across your district.
If you’re an educator, my guess is that at some point in your career you’ve been to a workshop focusing on unpacking standards. Unpacking a standard refers to the practice of reviewing what is often a long, clause-ridden statement and breaking it down into component parts to identify what students should know and be able to do.
Aspiring superintendents face a difficult but worthwhile challenge to lead a school district. All school districts, for better or worse, are the subject to immeasurable scrutiny from internal and external stakeholders. More times than not the scrutiny comes in different forms and through various outlets- editorials, social media, TV, etc. It is important for any aspiring superintendent to remain grounded with these circumstances in mind. We all agree that serving as a superintendent is a tremendous honor and privilege. The following “tips” are simply designed to supplement your preparation for the superintendency…
As an increasing number of schools and classrooms shift to personalized learning across the country, educators face many questions. Many of these questions focus on the need to define the purpose of curriculum, digital content, and tools in a personalized learning setting. While educators are certainly familiar with the use of curriculum in a traditional classroom, a shift to personalized learning brings up new questions like:
In the middle of January, with little daylight and plenty of snow, we began the process of bringing together the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District community to learn about personalized learning. With a week of workshops, board sessions and community nights behind us, we realized that over the course of a few days we significantly moved forward work that would impact our 14,000 students for the rest of their lives.
Have you ever stopped and looked around your school, your classroom, and asked yourself: “How did this all happen? Where did it all begin? How did we get to this point? When did the transformation occur?” In year one of being a personalized learning school, I have had many reflective moments like this at Trailside Middle School. I look back on what our classrooms looked like, sounded like, and felt like a few years ago - and the transformation is amazing. Students engage in selecting their pathway for learning, collaborating, questioning, and self-assessing all day long. Teachers have assumed the role of facilitator and students are owners of their learning.
When I reflect on how far we have come since last summer I am impressed by how much hard work everyone has done to begin to make personalized learning a reality. Our district PL council engaged in serious debate over our vision of PL, our roll out plan (cohort vs. all-in), and our areas of priority and focus. Our PL building leadership team collaborated on expectations and commitments, agreed on base model designs for PL in our classrooms, turn-key trained the core four, and started the process of developing a formal support structure for teachers transitioning to PL in their classrooms.
When I’m on the road working with school districts across the country on everything from personalized learning to competency-based education (CBE), I often hear the same question: “Well how do other districts approach these issues?” Thankfully, this year Education Elements partnered with Digital Promise, a national non-profit authorized by Congress, to document and share lessons learned on CBE from school districts across the country. We can now easily answer that question by sharing our new toolkit and saying - “this is what other districts did.”
Epic Lip Sync Battle. I almost feel like I could both start and end this post with just those 4 words and a short description of what it was like to be in a room full of educators singing and dancing their hearts out (some in costume!) on Thursday night of Education Elements' 3rd Annual Personalized Learning Summit. But then I’d miss out on all of the other amazing moments, like Anthony Kim interviewing Kaya Henderson while wearing a sparkly gold jacket, or Ray Owens leading the entire conference in singing Row Row Row Your Boat as a wave, or Brad Montague making many people (not just me, although I was among those wiping my eyes) both cry and laugh. The truth is the whole PL Summit was epic.
It’s been awhile since my last blog post as I try to document many of the great things going on at Central Valley on my twitter account, @CVThunderSuper. A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to live the life of a typical 8th grade student during the school day. I thank the student, Skylar, and the wonderful staff at Jarvis for not only being so patient, but also for inviting me into their world for a day. What follows is my account of March 23, 2017 as best as I can recall. It went by so fast, that some things are a blur.
Albert Einstein’s discovery of E = mc2 is without a doubt one of the world’s most famous equations. When Keith Wilson and Monte Westfall, successful administrators of the Lawrence Virtual School, and I began working on our workshop about equity for Education Elements’ Personalized Learning Summit (May 10-12, 2017), we chose this very equation as the title but added a new twist. For our purposes E = mc2 is transformed to Equity = Meaningful Change for Children.”
Vision-setting can be a painful process. Hours may be spent on one twisting sentence. Long, awkward silences may follow periods of disagreement. Jargon can add up to something that everyone agrees to but no one really understands or finds inspiring. It doesn’t have to be this way. As Education Elements has worked with districts across the country, we’ve found a few simple guidelines can help make the visioning process invigorating and inspiring rather than routine or frustrating.
Four years ago the team at EE had an idea...what if we brought together groups of personalized learning leaders in regional Blended Learning Leadership Academies (BLLA) to help spread innovation and best practices? We hosted these BLLAs for two years across the country, from Chicago to Washington DC and San Francisco. We facilitated collaboration time, hosted choice workshops, shared out highlights from the past year, and hosted silly photo booths.
I was lying to myself and didn’t even realize it. After completing numerous 5K and 10K runs, I was considering taking my running to the next level by training for my first half marathon. I would visit the specialty running store and look longingly at the glass case of GPS smart watches. “If I only had one, I’d run more,” I’d say to myself. “I would have up-to-the-second data and an increased desire to run. Everything would be easier.” I took the plunge and made the purchase. The features were helpful, and for the first few days, I did get excited to take my watch out for a spin. But over time, did it make me run more or was it essential to my running? Not at all.
Ed Elements: Betsy Devos’s confirmation process was one of the toughest anyone can remember. What do you think made people so passionate about her nomination? Michael Horn: The toughest ever certainly for an education secretary. I think there were three things in particular that made people so passionate. First, to understate it, there is obviously a lot of passion around Trump’s election with many who did not support him opposed virulently and reflexively to anyone he would nominate and determined to see at least one of his picks for Cabinet “go down”, so to speak. Second, despite Devos’s long-time involvement in education and a deeper and more mainstream track record than has been portrayed by the mainstream media, no matter how you slice it, her hearing did not go well. It revealed some significant apparent blind spots in her awareness of some of the questions swirling around education and the federal government and Department of Education’s role in particular. It did not seem as though she was prepared well at all by Trump’s transition team.
Over the past several years, our organizations have been deeply involved in the national movement towards blended and personalized learning, both as implementation experts and catalysts for innovation. We have engaged with hundreds of districts between us and have witnessed a broad range of schools working to shift instructional practice to be more student-centered, data-driven, and mastery-based. What is the surprising “secret sauce” of their success? Communications.
The biggest frustration I hear from teachers who are implementing competency-based education (CBE, also known as mastery-based education or learning) is that students' motivation drops considerably when they realize they can retake tests until they get a passing score. It seems, much to the chagrin of the teachers, some students no longer take assessments seriously. How do you ensure your transition to a competency-based classroom results in an emphasis on learning and re-learning rather than testing and retesting?
I was blessed to become a Personalized Learning Lexington Education Leadership Award Fellow (2nd Class) back in December of 2015. Education Elements not only influenced my personal work, but it motivated me to make learning meaningful for my students (all 4,970) in an exceptional way. My work in personalized learning has been inspirational in my district. Every district educational leader will always answer yes to certain questions. So, if you ask leaders if they use data to drive instruction, the answer will be yes. If you ask if leaders embed small group learning into their districts, the answer will be yes. If you ask if leaders utilize digital tools to help students make educational learning gains, the answer will be yes.
What comes to mind when you hear the word, superhero: Batman or Superman? Merriam-Webster defines a superhero as an exceptionally skillful or successful person and that is exactly what West Fork High School is producing in our Personalized Learning Academy (PLA)! When brainstorming ideas to write about, I immediately thought “the real superheroes are the students and skills they gain throughout PLA.” Now don’t get me wrong, I AM a superhero too. Designing and implementing personalized learning (PL) in my classroom is intense and I would love to increase my superpowers by attending the PL Summit. So below, are several reasons why I feel my ability to empower my students is my superhero power!
As a startup, we have a small team and limited resources to work on problems where the solution is not obvious and success is not guaranteed. When working on Touchpoint, our new project management tool which complements our consulting services, every feature we build and every test we run is a precious use of our limited time and resources. This probably sounds pretty familiar to school administrators across the country — lots to do with limited resources to get it done.
There are many project management tools such as Trello and Basecamp that are already out there, and they’re great. However, we found that there was still something missing and that none of the existing solutions really met the needs of our school districts. When implementing personalized learning, districts found that it was hard to keep track of all of the documents, deadlines, and people involved. For a while, we used a combination of Google and emails, but it eventually became unwieldy and we knew we needed to figure out something better. And because we are designers, engineers and problem-solvers our team created our own solution: Touchpoint.
My mother’s first language is Spanish. As the daughter of an immigrant, I grew up living a life nuanced in foreign customs and cultures. Not that these nuances felt foreign to me: it was just “life” in my home. Plus, I had the privilege of living in communities that saw my family as vibrant, exciting and beautiful — not foreign or unwanted. It is because of my mixed background that I have always been intrigued by the different value sets that drive us. As I grew older, I realized that not everyone looks at cultural differences as assets; some view them as a threat. This realization became a driver for me to enter education as a Special Education Teacher.
The end of average is here. Or at least, you'll probably think it's close once you read Todd Rose's The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World that Values Sameness. Rose gave the main keynote at last year's iNACOL conference. Drawing on material from his new book, Rose offered three compelling changes to how we consider individuality (or anti-average thinking) to better solve social and self-problems.
As Education Elements moves into its sixth year supporting schools and districts, its latest impact report builds the case that personalizing learning for students isn’t just a one-hit wonder but a sound strategy for boosting outcomes for all students.
Today we are trying something new. This blog post is being posted here and on the Clayton Christensen Institute website and is a collaboration between our organizations. We consider the Christensen Institute to be great partners in the field, pushing districts forward in great ways, but we don't always agree on everything. Check out our reactions to their post about station rotations below.
A few months ago Education Elements launched an online tool called Touchpoint. Touchpoint was designed for the districts we support. As our design & implementation consultants work with districts to support their personalized learning (PL) initiatives, the tool helps organize the project members, workshop schedules, related resources and action items in one place. If you’ve ever spent more than 5 minutes digging through your inbox and said something like, “What was the title of the email that had the meeting agenda attached?” you can bet your pretty penny that Touchpoint will be a lifesaver for you. All of your project stuff in one place -- heaven!
If you wait until you’re ready for personalized learning, you’ll never get started! Our antiquated, factory-style education system is failing our students. It’s also failing our teachers. We have more and more students each year struggling to find relevance and connections between what they do in school each day and their future hopes and dreams. Every day, hundreds of thousands of students walk into their school buildings hoping that this day will be the day that school connects with them, is relevant to them, will interest them, will challenge them, will engage them, and will allow their voice to be valued and heard. Sadly, the current structures of most educational systems will not allow for these students to see that day come about.
Recently it seems that innovation is a buzzword on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Need happier employees? Innovate! Need bigger profits? Innovate! Need better leadership? Innovate!
It was so exciting for me to visit South Carolina for the first time last month. What was most exciting was that I got to join the Ed Elements team at our partner Horry County Schools (HCS), South Carolina’s third largest district. HCS has 54 schools, 2,700 teachers and more than 40,000 K-12 students.