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Clear Signals… And Other Lessons From a Season of Personalized Learning at Fulton county!

By: Janice Vargo on November 4th, 2015

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Clear Signals… And Other Lessons From a Season of Personalized Learning at Fulton county!

Personalized Learning  |  School Districts

Wow! The Royals won the World Series and baseball fans everyone are still recovering from the dramatic 12-inning game that capped off a wild and wonderful season.  

While the world of personalized learning doesn’t quite draw the same fan base as sports do (someday!), this segment of BYOT is here to report on the wild and wonderful past few months we’ve spent working with Fulton County Schools.

Back in April, when the baseball season was just kicking off and my beloved Washington Nationals had not yet self-destructed, Stephanee Stephens at Fulton County Schools wrote a terrific blog post in Getting Smart on the “MVP moments” that set them up for success so it seems appropriate that we commemorate the season’s end of our nation’s pastime in a similar fashion. While Cubs fever swept through Chicago and A-Rod shocked the world with an amazing comeback, the district and school leaders in Fulton County were blowing us away with their hard work and dedication to creating a personalized learning experience for all students.

A few highlights from this “season” of personalized learning at Fulton County Schools:

1. Successful teams use clear signals. Thoughtful and ambitious instructional models are important, but they will fall short if people don’t understand them. We’ve emphasized with schools in Fulton that they need to think about how to clearly communicate what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how it’s connected to their goals and work that’s already taking place at school.

Fulton County Schools has provided some terrific examples of how to communicate personalized learning to their communities:

  • Centennial High School students produced an awesome video on Why Personalized Learning is important to them
  • The staff at Dolvin Elementary School created a simple infographic that clearly and simply lays out what personalized learning is and is not at their school
  • Hillside Elementary School provided a short two-page flyer to all parents and visitors describing their unique schedule and instructional approach.

2. “Veterans” can lead the pack. Just like an experienced player can help a young rookie navigate the clubhouse and the ups and downs of the season, so too can experienced schools lead the way for others.

As Stephanee describes in her blog post, schools across Fulton County initially self-assessed their readiness to move towards personalized learning. This fall, schools in Group 1 finished designing their instructional models, developing their communications plans, and creating their professional development plans. They are now moving to device selection and will begin to implement their plans. Group 2 schools are close behind and will begin to implement in the spring.

While schools in Group 1 and 2 don’t have a ton of experience under their belt, they are seen as the leaders in the district. Conversations with Group 3 and Group 4 schools indicate there’s an enormous amount of curiosity.  In our meetings with the later groups we frequently hear “What are schools in Groups 1 and 2 doing?” Many Group 1 schools have graciously opened their doors to visitors, or have expressed willingness to talk to other school leaders about their plans.

Along with the extraordinarily capable Fulton district team, the Education Elements team has the privilege of shining a light on the creativity, dedication, and boldness of Group 1 and 2 school leaders. We feel like SportsCenter broadcasters calling the Top 10 plays of the week!

3. Have patience - it’s a long, grueling season. Moving a district of 7,500 teachers, 101 schools, and 96,000 students is a monumental task. For every success story -- “look at the bold plan School XX developed!” -- there are setbacks -- “why is it taking so long to get devices?”

In baseball, the Front Office and the Clubhouse aren’t always in sync. The most successful baseball teams acknowledge these frustrations and work through them. They understand that it’s a long season and they don’t let the crisis du jour distract them from their long-term plans.

Likewise, tensions can arise when district and school teams perceive incongruence around timelines, requirements, and support plans. But by staying focused on the vision, making necessary adjustments along the way, and keeping communication open between district and school teams, a school district can work through these moments of confusion.

My money’s on Fulton to remain a winning team over these next few seasons!

Education Elements Personalized Learning District Framework



About Janice Vargo

Janice is an Associate Partner on the Design and Implementation Team at Education Elements. She has supported a diverse group of districts in their personalized learning journey. Prior to Education Elements, Janice was a Senior Consultant for UPD Consulting where she supported state education agencies, K-12 school districts, and nonprofits on a variety of policy and technology projects. She holds a master’s degree in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and a bachelor’s degree in American Studies and Spanish from the University of Notre Dame.

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