Our Journey to Personalized Learning
Why Pursue Personalized Learning?
In October 2017, AdvancEd conducted our five-year district accreditation review. At the conclusion of the review process, we received a couple of recommendations that were spot on and aligned with our district comprehensive needs assessment’s (CNA) overarching needs. Two specific recommendations the review team provided really hit home. First, we needed to strengthen and monitor our professional learning communities in an effort to evaluate, interpret and utilize data for personalized learning and differentiated instruction to increase learning and growth. Secondly, we had to identify and implement professional development strategies that focus on the utilization of digital resources as an integral component of content delivery. With the AdvancED Review Team’s recommendations validating our district and school improvement needs and the focus on student use of technology in classrooms, we believed personalized learning would be an effective improvement strategy to pursue.
We Begin a Personalized Learning Journey
In February 2018, we applied for a Technology Tools for Teachers Grant (T3) through the Georgia’s Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA) to pilot personalized learning within three of our state-identified Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) elementary schools. The grant’s focus on teacher cohorts supported our belief to start slow and build trust among a small group before implementing a full-scale, district-wide initiative. The grant provided funding for student and teacher devices and instructional software, and more importantly, partnered us with Education Elements to establish a vision and implementation strategy.
Both GOSA and Ed Elements walked side by side with our school staff providing instructional and emotional support through this first year of implementation. After the first year of piloting personalized learning in the CSI schools, we saw improvement in student and parent engagement, increased student achievement, and increased scores on our state College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) accountability scores.
Ramping up Personalized Learning, Maybe Not?
Our experience with the T3 grant allowed us to better understand our district’s readiness for rolling out additional 1:1 devices. Originally planned for September 2018, we decided to postpone the 1:1 rollout to middle and high schools until the 2019-2020 school year, when we could develop a professional development and device deployment plan that would incorporate lessons learned from the T3 schools as well Middle Schools involved in a 1:1 pilot. It was the best decision we ever made!
There was much excitement and trepidation with the initial planning and development process, especially as we took on responsibilities that had initially been carried exclusively by Ed Elements and the GOSA teams. With the results of our CNA and AdvancEd findings, testimony from school leaders involved in the T3 grant, and a newly developed strategic plan for roll-out, our school board voted unanimously to move forward with personalized learning in March 2019.
Getting Personal with Personalized Learning
In April 2019, we kicked off our work with the Education Elements methodology by establishing three levels of teams with identified roles and responsibilities. A Personalized Learning Core Team to drive decision-making and provide project oversight, five Cross-Functional Support Teams of district specialists to provide training, support and ongoing coaching to school leaders and teachers implementing PL, and school-based School PL Teams tasked with attending full-day professional development events and training a group of ‘Trailblazer’ teachers at respective sites throughout the 2019-2020 school year.
- Cross-Functional Teams
The most important layer in this work has been the five Cross-Functional Teams. These teams consist of 4-5 district specialists from different departments, each acting as individual school liaisons to build relationships and escalate concerns or needs. Teams have identified leads who meet bi-weekly with the PL Core Team to provide status reports. These Cross-Functional Teams have created a seamless connection between the School PL Teams and district-leadership, while also breaking down long-standing silos between district departments..
Prior to school trainings, both district PL Core Team and CF Teams experienced professional development ‘boot camp’ series that school teams would later attend. Previewing these workshops allowed our teams to gain core knowledge to support schools during their training. Beginning in July 2019, Ed Elements facilitated the Foundations Boot Camp for our middle and high school PL Teams while our CF Teams were able to practice what they learned by leading some parts of the sessions, resembling our district's gradual release model of I do, We do, You do it together and You do it alone. We completed the school PL Team Design Boot Camp the second week in October and finalized plans for the Launch Boot Camp in November. Schools will begin implementing PL during their classroom instruction with a small cohort of teachers this December. Our CF Teams will work with Ed Elements to conduct learning walks over the next three months to build their capacity on the observation tools and feedback. The goal is to look for early wins in an effort to build teacher confidence and to allow for a risk-free learning environment.
Our district believes that all students should be engaged in, excited by, and take ownership of their learning. We know in our theory of action, if we engage and empathize with our stakeholders, provide clarity of vision and behaviors, and encourage risk-taking, this will lead to teachers innovating and students owning their learning. To this point, PL has been exciting and satisfying work for our district and school-based staff. It’s gratifying to see our CF Teams and School PL Teams working in collaborative relationships to support one another. We are excited about the PL professional growth our teachers will experience throughout this project, but we are really looking forward to seeing the student learning growth over time.