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:
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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 150 districts, 600 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.
Nearly every state in the United States is reporting a teacher shortage. Various states have taken action to address this shortfall by changing teacher requirements. Utah has loosened teacher qualifications to include candidates with no formal teacher training; Hawaii just called for 1,600 teachers to live and work on the island; and last year, Clark County in Las Vegas, the fifth largest district in the nation, launched a "Call for Heroes" as they scrambled to fill positions. These specific states may have been highlighted in various news articles, but the overarching question that audiences across the United States asked was: why is there such a pressing shortage in the first place?
Over the course of 2016 we published more than 70 blog posts on our weekly blog, sharing ideas from our team, our districts, and thought leaders from across the country. We are amazed and inspired by all the passion, leadership and innovation in the personalized learning space reflected in the Bring Your Own Thoughts (BYOT) blog. While we can’t say enough good things about every blog that’s been shared, here are the top 10 most popular posts from the past year:
In the 1980s, the organizational leadership world was introduced to the concept of the intrapreneur. Simply put, intrapreneurship is a working style that emphasizes innovation and risk-taking – traits we associate with entrepreneurs. The difference is that intrapreneurs use these skills within, and for the benefit of, an established organization. I consider myself a serial intrapreneur because I constantly look for ways to encourage innovation at every company I am in. I’ve seen time and again what giving people ownership can do for results, be it in a private company, public utility, or school district. It’s time for intrapreneurship to surge in K-12 education, and from my experience, here are four surefire ways to ignite innovation in your organization.
Dear Santa, I hope that you noticed how good I was this year! I even learned how to make more friends at school this year! We had these special days at the beginning of the school year where our teacher talked about bullying. My teacher talked to me about why I was mean to the other kids sometimes and I told her I just get mad at them because they are smarter than me. It makes me angry that I can’t get good grades too. Then she told me that we were going to do some things different in her class and that she knew I could get good grades too. Guess what? I DID!!! Oh wait, you already know that because you’re Santa. Guess what else? My teacher also told me she was proud of me because I take such good care of the computer she gave me. At first I didn’t know what to do with it and thought it would be fun to have to play games on and stuff, but she doesn’t let me play video games on it. But that’s ok because I learned how to use it to get better scores. I even get to use it during class!!!
The Syracuse City School District is in the second year of our Personalized Learning (PL) initiative. Schools are at different points of learning about, designing, and implementing school-based models to tailor student experiences to their unique strengths, needs, and interests. The PL work in SCSD is anchored in Education Elements’ Core 4: Integrated Digital Content, Data-Driven Decisions, Targeted Instruction, and Student Ownership & Reflection.
How do teams capture knowledge about ideas and solutions in a way that is readily available throughout your organization? This is a question that challenges leaders everywhere, whether you direct a tech startup or a high school's English department. It is perhaps even more important when you are embarking on something new: rolling out a new initiative, starting to integrate new software and technology, trying out new devices. The last thing you want is for your lessons learned to get lost.
When we work with school districts to embark on a personalized learning journey, we empower students to be self-directed, independent, motivated, and well-versed in articulating and sharing ideas. We encourage students to reflect on their own performance data and collaboratively plan an academic path forward that meets their needs. Yet we don’t build that sort of student agency when it comes to behavior and discipline.
As a child growing up, my family didn’t take the traditional summer vacations. Instead, we had a boat named “Sadie”, which we sailed to different locations on Lake Ontario. During these sailing adventures, we experienced many unforgettable moments. I remember one such occasion during a cross-lake trip to Canada. We were roughly halfway across the lake. There had been no sight of land in any direction for hours, and it would be a few more hours before we would see land again. The winds and sea were fair, and we were cruising along at a relaxing pace. At some point, my sister decided to go below to grab a book she’d been reading. I can still remember the splashing sound it made when her feet hit the carpet in the cabin below. Sadie was taking on water.
Normally, this is the time of year when people write lists about what makes them thankful. In the wake of the election I have seen less of those and more lists about what is making people feel scared. And that makes sense -- I’m scared too. I am pretty sure for many of us 2016 will go down as a pretty bad year, full of numerous high-profile shootings, deaths of some pretty awesome people, and a divisive election. Yet there still remain so many things for which I am grateful. In the midst of such tension and fear, it seems like now more than ever it's important to reflect on what I am so deeply thankful for.
I did not fully grasp what was ahead of me when I sent in my application to become part of the third Lexington Education Leadership Award (LELA) Fellowship. Was this another advertising scheme? Did I just win $10,000,000 from Ed McMahon? Being a bit skeptical at first, I did my homework and quickly realized that the Lexington Institute and Education Elements were the real deal. It did not take long for the next realization, which was that instead of wondering what was ahead of me, I should have asked what amazing things were in store for our district.
When you mention being from Atlanta, the first thing most people ask you -- after the prerequisite “But you don’t have an accent!” -- is “Oh, I bet someone in your family worked for Coca-Cola!” Interestingly enough, for both of us, that’s actually true. Both of our fathers worked for Coca-Cola for the majority of their careers. The philosophies and strategies of the Coca-Cola Company played a large role in our upbringing and now shape our work as leaders of personalized learning. We've crafted 5 lessons inspired by Coca-Cola which we hope you will find useful, no matter where you are on your personalized learning journey.
On Friday morning I looked around the Las Vegas airport on my way back from the iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium in San Antonio and realized I looked just as tired as the people who had spent the last several days drinking and gambling. I noted one key difference though: tired as I looked, inside I was excited and full of inspirational ideas while the others in the airport, well, they were just plain tired. For me, the annual iNACOL conference is like a reunion where everyone shares not just hugs and stories but also ideas and introductions. It was a week of new and old friends, of learning from and teaching others. Here are the top five takeaways from one of my favorite annual gatherings:
Virtual schools in the K-12 environment have been a popular topic for discussion for many years. Recently I have noticed an increased level of interest by online charter school leaders, district- or state-run virtual schools, and program leaders in regards to how they can improve their virtual schools. Almost ironically, I also find myself having frequent conversations about virtual school opportunities with brick-and-mortar school leaders. With many school districts adopting blended learning as a major priority
This year marks my 17th in the classroom, and I have had the best first few weeks of my entire teaching career. For your reference, I am in the same classroom, I have the same team teacher, I have the same demographic of students, I am teaching the same classes (mostly 12th grade English), so...what is different? When it comes to what learning looks and feels like in my class, everything is different. Since dipping my toes in the pool of personalized learning
One year ago, my colleague Keara Duggan introduced the concept of a “bingo board” for personalized learning, formally known as our Personalized Learning Implementation Framework. This framework outlines the 25 areas we think are essential for a district to effectively launch, support, sustain, and grow personalized learning. What a difference it made in our work! We’ve found that over and over again, the framework has been so helpful to district leaders at all stages
Do students deserve personalized learning? Working at Education Elements, where we build and support dynamic school systems that meet the needs of every learner, I’m often quick to answer with a resounding, “Yes!” It’s hard not to. The narrative of personalized learning is compelling. Why wouldn’t students be better served when recognized as individuals with unique needs, talents and perspectives? The vision of dynamic classroom environments--with targeted instruction and the organized chaos of self-directed student learning--is inspiring. It’s compelling for
Principals and teachers trying to personalize their students’ learning are charged with radically reimagining the classroom. It’s a tall order that requires educators to take risks, move outside their comfort zones and essentially overhaul much of their jobs. What we’re seeing in the schools we’ve visited for this project makes it clear that this work shouldn’t—and often can’t—be done alone.
It must be hard to be a cognitive scientist. You spend considerable time meticulously conducting research, designing experiments, summarizing findings, and publishing your work, all in the noble pursuit of furthering human understanding of how the mind works. But that's not enough. In fact, that’s the easy part.The hard part: getting millions of teachers (there are 3.4 million in the U.S. alone) to learn about and act on your findings.
How do I stay ahead of the game consistently and constantly? This question is probably the most frequently asked question by those that are operating at their peak in any profession. Though there are many books, a lot of advice and much research conducted about human development and personal growth, very little has been published or discussed on how or what we need to do to sustain peak performance levels.
Time and again we have seen that assumptions or misconceptions can get in the way of progress and success. Personalized learning is no exception; misconceptions about it often lead educators away from strategies and practices that could help students succeed. Sometimes, misconceptions represent more than small gaps in knowledge--they can be ingrained into industry-wide best practices, with disastrous results. For example, for centuries, doctors believed that mothers would die during childbirth due to patient-specific issues such as inflammation, pain, or other factors. However, in 1847, Ignaz Semmelweiz, a Hungarian physician, hypothesized that
As one of today’s most promising models for learning, blended learning is growing rapidly across the country. But what is blended learning, and how can educators use it to improve student outcomes? In a blended learning environment, students learn through a combination of online instruction – with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace – and instruction in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home. There are several different blended models
Earlier this year, Digital Promise and the Center for Teaching Quality co-authored a paper on how micro-credentials help drive teacher learning and leadership. In it, we discuss the challenges teachers face in the classroom to ensure that all students’ learning needs are met. To do so, educators must engage in ongoing professional growth. However, evidence suggests that current professional development does not meet educators’ needs. Enter micro-credentials
In Middletown, we are personalizing education, not standardizing it! In 2004, the Enlarged City School District of Middletown, New York, found itself in a whole lot of academic trouble. We knew that we were not necessarily any different than most other high-minority/high-poverty school districts; our performance numbers of a 54% graduation rate and an even a greater percentage of students who were not proficient in either math or literacy mirrored other similar school districts. Over the next few years things seemed to become more problematic
It seems like everyone’s priority in education is to become a 1:1 district with ubiquitous access to technology and internet connectivity both at school and home. The new E-Rate program will certainly move us in that direction, and the new Every Student Success Act (ESSA) should provide guidance and accountability. But will all this make a difference, and are we using the proper approach to prepare our next generation of learners?
Last week, we released our third annual Impact Report, “The Positive Power of Personalized Learning.” In the report, we share the incredible work and positive outcomes of districts we work with across the nation, from those that are just launching personalized learning to those that are embarking on their fourth year of implementation. Since this is our third year sharing this report, I want to share three key takeaways from what we’re seeing (and celebrating) in the field.
My Education Elements teammates and I recently compared our work with school districts to building a house. We traditionally start our work by building a strong foundation around what personalized learning is and what it can look like for a school district. Similar to finding the perfect home for a family, our first step is clearly defining the vision of personalized learning in the school district. Then, we determine what structures and support need to happen
When we published Disrupting Class in 2008, we had no idea what it would help unleash. As Gisele Huff, executive director of the Jaquelin Hume Foundation, observed recently, the book served as a vehicle to change the dialogue in education from school improvement to transforming schools through innovation. Innovation in our schools is critical so that we can personalize learning for each student’s distinct needs such that
“At RUSD it all starts with a conversation.” When we were asked to present at the Education Elements Personalized Learning Summit in San Francisco this past May, we were honored to have an opportunity to bring others on this amazing journey and to include them in on this conversation of personalized learning at Riverside Unified. Our students live in a world today in which 21st Century skills are crucial to their success and their ability to contribute globally in a positive manner. We recognize that, although the four core elements of learner profile, flexible environments, learning plans and competency based advancement are important to create a culture of personalized learning, students also need
A virtual discussion with questions by Anthony Kim and responses from Scott Johns. [Anthony Kim] Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could walk into a classroom and every student was engaged, motivated, and directing their own learning? If teachers in this classroom were coaching and challenging students individually and dynamically pulling students together to collaborate and to expand their reach in critical thinking and problem-solving? I know it would be tough. The truth is that, even as adults who have received multiple higher-education degrees, managing our own learning is complex and challenging with distractions and competing priorities. So what is the path to preparing our students to be self-directed learners?
“Look out - it works!” Two of the teachers in our workshop at the Education Elements Personalized Learning Summit had just gotten their wheel-launcher to work, and they were bubbling with excitement. When I saw the little wooden wheel fly across the room, I went over to check it out (trying to keep out of the line of fire). Their invention, made from a small electric motor, some laser-cut wooden parts, and rubber bands, was certainly an effective wheel flinging machine! It was also completely different from any other wheel launcher I had ever seen.
It’s hard to believe that a new school year is already here! Going back to school is an exciting time for everyone. Students are eager to get new school supplies; parents can get back to their normal routines; and teachers have new rosters, clean classrooms and fresh ideas. It also means that Back-to-School Night is just around corner! Back-to-School Night is a prime opportunity for teachers and parents to begin building relationships and set up engagement opportunities such as
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 (PBL) and personalized learning (PL). I am very passionate about these two pillars of instruction, and I'm doubly passionate about their intersection.
"Preaching to the choir (or the converted - for secular appeal)!” This phrase sums up the amazing experience of sharing our district’s story amongst a room full of skillful professionals working on the same mission in education. It was exhilarating to learn as much as we were able to share, if not more, at Education Elements' Personalized Learning Summit in San Francisco.
Michael Fullan describes the necessity of harnessing the power of “new pedagogical innovations with technology,” in his article, “Choosing the Wrong Drivers for Whole System Reform.” He continues by stating that the advances in digital content for educational purposes involve key elements needed for increased student achievement. These include, “engagement; entertainment; ease of access to information and data; group work; humanity; social relevance, and so on. In a word they make education easier and more absorbing. Learning and life become more seamless” (Fullan, May 2011).
In the year 1762, a Genevan philosopher named Jean-Jacques Rousseau presented the world with his vision of education. Despite being burned, banned, and ridiculed, this vision – a book Rousseau titled Emile, or On Education, went on to become a pillar of today’s modern philosophies on teaching and learning. The scope of Emile is vast, and it foretold of many developments that were yet to be realized.
For anyone who attended the Education Elements Personalized Learning Summit this May, you had a chance to attend a workshop focusing on the Core Four. While districts across the country are using the Core Four of personalized learning to focus instructional habits as they make the shift to personalized learning, some of them are doing it with a bit more fidelity and spirit than others. So we wanted to share with you some of the passion that went into the Core Four session at the Summit. Get ready for a blog post with a twist -- and read it with your best Insanity / ESPN voice…
At Education Elements we try to walk the walk of personalized learning. We strive to make our workshops interactive, upbeat, and fun. We create space for spirited large and small group discussion, and we honor time for quiet individual processing and reflection. We believe teachers should be designers of their classrooms. We want school teams to build connections at our workshops. We help districts visualize their personalized learning journey. We encourage singing, dancing, and selfie-brations. You may even find us in costume!
Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer and star of the award-winning broadway show “Hamilton” is a huge advocate for rest and relaxation. In an interview with Huffington Post Miranda says, “It’s no accident that the best idea I’ve ever had in my life - perhaps maybe the best one I’ll ever have in my life - came to me on vacation.” It was at a resort in Mexico
Back in my day, all schools were brick-and-mortar. Back in my grandfather’s day, they were brick-and-mortar with everyone in one classroom, regardless of grade level. Back in my grandfather’s grandfather’s day… well, who knows? The point is: Education is evolving and changing as it responds to the needs of students and the opportunities around us. With virtual schools, classes, and learning opportunities gaining popularity, it’s important to stay up to date on how to help these virtual educational experiences continue to be engaging and effective.
Ah, the joy of grade-level meetings. In my past life as a public school teacher, I attended them every Tuesday morning at 7:45 AM. All the teachers on my team met to learn about new school and district mandates, plan field trips, and vent about challenging students and how to help them. Even with the most well-intentioned teacher planning and running the meetings, rarely did they result in a list of clear actions with clear owners and clear deadlines.
When I started writing Disrupting Class in 2006, I was stunned to learn that our school systems—not just in the United States, but throughout most of the world—were not built to optimize learning. They were built to standardize the way we teach and test and for sorting.
Each and every journey has its own route even if the final destination is the same. As a school district leader, I believe that learning is most effective when tied to the unique needs of every child. My experiences in two separate school districts lead me to think about how the journey to personalized learning may be different each time, while containing similar themes. For me, two big questions matter: How do we create a school system that effectively meets the needs of every child, and then second, how critical is increased local control for districts exploring the future of personalized learning? Let me explain.
Personalized learning came along at the perfect time in my life, like the deus ex machina in an M. Night Shyamalan film. It all started, as these things often do, just when I was ready to slam closed for good my own cosmic “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. Not long ago, I was reflecting on my visit to Marengo Cave and I couldn’t help but think that the experience of those first two kids, hesitantly making their way through that small, scary opening, was not unlike the experience that many of my students bring into my classroom day after day: entering the vast, unknown, terrifying darkness with nothing more than a birthday candle to light the way. And here I am holding a flashlight.
When I gave up control of my classroom, true learning started taking place. Giving up control felt liberating and inspiring. I handed the baton of teaching to my students. I was no longer the focus of the lesson. Student’s voices traveled through our classroom with excitement and engagement. I happily took the role of facilitating and the words of my students amazed me. The more I put on the students the more they produced. They took responsibility for themselves and began collaborating with me to create lessons, and design assessments that would demonstrate mastery of a standard. Students started asking me what they could do either advance their learning or help in the classroom.
The Jaquelin Hume Foundation’s mission is to accelerate the implementation of high quality blended/personalized learning in America’s schools. Seventeen plus years ago when I joined the Foundation as its executive director, the mission was much different. It was geared to promoting school choice in all its forms mainly through grantees who advocated for it at the policy level. I was working in the trenches of the most confrontational aspect of education reform, trying to get laws passed to authorize vouchers, charter schools, tax-credits scholarships and education savings accounts. This occupied the first nine years of my career and led to mounting frustration with the incremental and glacially slow progress the reform movement was making. All the while, it was obvious to me that urgent measures had to be taken to radically transform the educational opportunities America’s children had as they entered the 21st century. Then in 2005, I had an epiphany. I had the opportunity to meet Clayton Christensen, the Harvard Business School professor who coined the term “disruptive innovation,” at the Education Commission of the States’ annual conference where he gave a keynote address. Professor Christensen was planning to apply the disruptive lens to social issues and education was his first priority. As he spoke, it became clear to me that the only way to have an impact on the K-12 education industry (a $650 billion business at last count) was to introduce the use of technology to improve its product and increase its productivity. It was unconscionable that the most important workers in America, our teachers, charged with preparing our children for the future were deprived of the many tools that every other worker was routinely adopting. In the next couple of years, I was informally involved with the writing of the book, mainly serving as a sounding board to one of its co-authors, Michael Horn. During that time, I was proselytizing for the introduction of technology as an integral part of the curriculum, a mantra that mostly fell on deaf ears. However, with the publication of “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns,” the conversations changed and the idea began to gain traction. The Hume Foundation was the first funder of Innosight Institute’s Education Practice, the think tank established by Clayton Christensen as well as Michael Horn to promulgate disruptive solutions to both education and health care challenges, and I became a founding board member. (Innosight Institute later changed its name to the Clayton Christensen Institute.) From 2009 to 2011, following the book’s publication, the Hume Foundation made grants to Rocketship in the Bay Area and Carpe Diem in Yuma, AZ, two charter schools that were already implementing blended learning, to promote their models. It also helped launch KIPP Empower Academy in Los Angeles whose blended design was Anthony Kim’s first project that led to the formation of Education Elements. At that time, the only schools we could find that were innovating as whole school models were charters. Our investments were small but in the 2011–2012 school year, the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation and the Charter School Growth Fund made combined grants in this space of some $40 million. So we were off and running. Although it was in charter schools that blended learning first took root, it turned out, counterintuitively since they were launched to be innovative, that they were not all that eager to get on the blended learning bandwagon. Because of that and because charter schools were experiencing enormous push-back from the education establishment, they did not seem to be the answer to the proliferation of blended schools and the Foundation decided to turn to the state of Rhode Island whose Education Commissioner, Deborah Gist, was very interested in exploring blended learning. In February 2012, Michael Horn and Anthony Kim working with the Rhode Island Department of Education invited a total of 300 district superintendents and teachers to a day-long meeting to introduce them to the concept of blended learning and to the enormous potential of integrating technology into the curriculum to help students learn and teachers teach. This event was pivotal for the Foundation’s strategic plan because it demonstrated that it was possible to partner with traditional public school districts and it led us to make similar seed investments in Washington, D.C. and Oakland, CA. The trustees regarded these as necessary proof-points to demonstrate that blended learning could be implemented and also improved the performance of students. All the while, our main emphasis was in the public policy area where we funded national organizations advocating for the necessary legislative and regulatory changes to create the environment in which blended learning could thrive. Prominent among those were the Alliance for Excellent Education, the Clayton Christensen Institute, the Foundation for Excellence in Education and iNACOL. In 2013, the Foundation made a major $5 million investment to start up The Learning Accelerator, a non-profit created to insure that the ecosystem was robust enough and effective enough to power the implementation of high quality blended learning at the classroom level. With the support of The Learning Accelerator, Education Super Highway launched the federally funded EdConnect initiative to bring adequate broadband to America’s classrooms, a fundamental requirement for technology empowered blended learning. The Hume Foundation continues to be laser focused on our mission. With the passage of the ESSA and the proliferation of competency-based learning models replacing the traditional seat-time ones, there is an exciting window of opportunity to line up the various elements that will make transforming our education system possible. Personalized learning is an idea whose time has come. The Foundation was an early supporter of Education Reimagined and I participated as one of 28 strange bedfellows in the production of its vision document. That document has become the North Star for the transformation of a 100-year old educational system which no longer serves America’s children. Among the other signatories of document are the two leaders of the NEA and AFT, evidence that there is a consensus for an entirely different approach to the learning experience. Along the same vein, L. Todd Rose, a faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education where he teaches educational neuroscience, has just authored “The End of Average” where he explains the scientific, moral and philosophical underpinnings of personalized learning. This is a seminal book that challenges the core of the American education system and, together with all the good work that those of you in the trenches are doing every day, that will revolutionize the way our children learn.
As I was thinking about big mindset shifts, these advertisements caught my eye. The first one says “more scientists and educators smoke Kent”. The point here is that educated and smart people smoke this brand. The other advertisement says that there is “scientific evidence” that people who smoke Chesterfields saw “no adverse effects on the nose, throat and sinuses”. Yes, scientific evidence that this brand is safe.
The room was suddenly, almost eerily, silent. Dananjaya Hettiarachchi stood on the stage at our 2nd Annual Personalized Learning Summit and we all watched him, mesmerized. We held our breaths for a few seconds while our fingers slowed down their constant tweeting. And then, like the world champion public speaker he is, he made us burst out into laughter. I leaned forward, excited to hear more. Finally, after months of planning, this was happening. We had gathered some of the best and brightest personalized learning leaders all in the same room. The PL Summit was off to a roaring start.
“Spray & Pray,” “Sit & Get,” and “Drive-by”: these are some names commonly used by educators to describe professional development lasting less than forty hours. Generally, a school system will bring in a BIG NAME who has the “wow” factor and has good ideas but knows little-to-nothing about the climate in which he or she is speaking. Following the big performance, teachers have the “finally, we’re done” experience and meander back to their classrooms, where little--if anything--changes. In short, the high costs of the programs have little to no impact on developing teaching and learning.
It’s May in San Francisco - the fog is rolling in and the raincoats are back in the closet - and that means it’s time for our annual Personalized Learning Summit. Here at Education Elements, we’re working hard to make the Personalized Learning Summit a personalized experience for every single person who attends. If you’re joining us for the Summit this year, we think you’ll have an amazing experience. There will be enlightening keynote talks. More than 20 interactive and engaging workshops will let district leaders learn from and with their peers. Then there’s the party. And the list goes on. I’ve been lucky enough to be part of the planning work for the Summit and have seen some of the incredible things we’re planning. And along the way I’ve been compiling my list of the top ten reasons I am excited about attending the Personalized Learning Summit:
Victoria Fricke's Video Diary This March, I decided to participate in the Shadow a Student Challenge. The gist of the challenge is simple: enter the world of education through the eyes of a student in hopes of building empathy for students. When I saw the email explaining that the challenge was a month away, I quickly approached my department chair and principal with a proposal in hand stating why I wanted to participate. Lucky me, they said yes!
Don’t worry too much - this is not about cloning! Actually it’s about totally the opposite - it’s about how personalized learning approaches are unique and how what personalized learning looks like depends on what the district is like….it depends on their own DNA. Two weeks ago, I got the opportunity to visit MSD Warren Township, in Indiana, during the Launch Academy for their second personalized learning cohort, lead by the Design and Implementation (D&I team) from Education Elements. It was an eye-opening experience.
Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! Being a teacher isn’t easy. The hours are long, the work is challenging, and sometimes the job can feel thankless. But teachers have an amazing impact, and if anybody deserves appreciation for the work they do, it’s teachers. At Education Elements, we have the privilege of working with exceptional teachers who strive to personalize learning for every student. Teachers inspire us all year round, but next week is a special opportunity for us to show how we feel. Tuesday, May 3rd is national Teacher Appreciation Day... but we prefer to take our cues from the NEA and the national PTA by celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week!
Writing—whether a persuasive essay, lab report, constructed response or research paper—is a consistent element of most performance tasks used by teachers to measure their students’ knowledge, understanding of concepts, and skills. The reasons are many, but perhaps the most important is that the very act of writing, which requires students to make sense of information and ideas and to express that understanding coherently, is itself a critical skill. And yet, despite its importance, there is little consensus among educators at any grade level on what constitutes effective writing, how it should be measured, or even how it should be taught. One step toward solving this conundrum is the consistent use of a general analytic writing rubric.
It’s your goal to make your virtual school program successful. My goal is to help you identify the key factors that can make or break the success of that program. Here in part four of my virtual school blog series, I offer 25 things to consider for your virtual program’s success, grouped under 5 main categories: Strategy, Design, Curriculum, Support and Operations. For each item I’ve asked one key question. Work with your team to answer that question and you’ll be one step closer to a successful virtual school. (P.S. If this looks familiar, you are right. We’ve re-worked our well-received Personalized Learning Implementation Framework to focus on the needs of virtual schools. After all, why should the brick-and-mortar schools have all the fun?)
Selecting the right digital content for your blended or personalized learning initiative can be a daunting task. With literally hundreds of digital tools available, how can school and district leaders successfully navigate the digital content landscape? In our presentation last week at ASCD in Atlanta, Jaraun Dennis*, Angela Chubb, and I set out to tackle this question in our presentation titled “How to Pick the Right Digital Content for Your Students.” According to Jaraun, schools and districts often struggle to select digital tools because they treat the selection process “...like a trip to the candy store. Teachers and administrators go to a conference, see rows and rows of shiny new digital tools, and make a purchase simply based on what they see.” Jaraun continues, “Using this approach, districts end up with lots of digital tools that sit on their shelves without being used and the blended or personalized initiative never reaches its full potential.”
My bags are packed and I’m headed to the warm California sunshine for Education Elements Personalized Learning Summit in just over a month. It’s one of the highlights of my spring: the chance to engage with and get inspired by hundreds of personalized learning leaders from across the country! This year we’re back and ready to deliver an event that will give you the latest and greatest resources to help make personalized learning stick no matter where you are in your journey.