Personalized Learning. Two words that at the same time inspire hearts and minds, and leave our pragmatic minds wandering. If you are anything like the educators and leaders in the schools and districts we at iTeach support, you are already a ‘believer’ in the promise of a learning experience that is personalized. You might even have your own working definition for what it looks like in your instance, and that definition may well be informed by the good work of organizations like Education Elements, iNACOL, Learning Accelerator, and other thought leaders. For us, here in Georgia, we were all so caught up in igniting the spark of this new paradigm, that we created some confusion, or at least some incongruence across the state. Some early-adopting districts spending money on redesign and consultation, create and communicate their own vision with their own language, leaving smaller or less-resourced districts unable to shoulder the financial burden of such work to pick at the bone and create Frankenstein models of their own.
As an education consulting organization we work with hundreds of schools and districts to improve the way teaching, learning, work, and collaboration happen. In projects with clients, we rarely ask leaders to try something we haven’t tried ourselves. In fact, when Anthony Kim and Alexis Gonzales Black published The NEW School Rules: 6 Vital Practices for Thriving and Responsive Schools, many of the lessons included in the book were drawn from our own teams at Education Elements. We are constantly seeking new learnings and ways of improving the way work happens at our company.
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Everyone is an innovator Within the last two decades, the barrier to entry to be innovative has dramatically decreased. Today, people can have multiple careers and innovations within a lifetime. Innovation has become so frequent that it’s part of everyone’s vernacular and a topic in many industries including healthcare, auto manufacturing, and education. Who doesn’t want to be innovative? It’s cool to be considered innovative and disruptive. Clayton Christensen wrote several best selling books on innovation and Clayton and Michael Horn put out a seminal book which in many ways shaped changes we have seen in education, “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns”. This book made innovation cool even in education. Inspired by the practices of responsive organizations in other industries, Alexis Gonzales-Black and I co-wrote the book, "The NEW School Rules: 6 Vital Practices for Thriving and Responsive Schools", to help schools and districts become more innovative and agile.
Ideas come to me at very random times: in a dream, on a walk, or during my commute. I think “Wow, this is it...this is the idea that will land me a TED Talk!” Following these inspirations, I usually text my colleague and warn her: “This is going to be big! We should carve out a whole hour to talk about it.” Within the first five minutes of our conversation, she has completely blown up my idea in all of the best ways. She preserves the spirit of the inspiration while somehow making it better. We then conference in another colleague who amps up our idea by helping us consider new perspectives. He encourages us to share it with our team to accelerate our learning. What we end up moving forward with is always beyond what I alone could have imagined!
As I meet with education leaders across the country, I am often asked questions about the best way to roll-out personalized learning within a district. I always struggle to answer this question since it entirely depends upon the unique needs and circumstances within each community. In some ways, it feels as if someone is asking me, “What’s the very best car I can buy?” Each vehicle option includes trade-offs, and the optimal vehicle will depend on the specific needs of the driver.
Teachers love their jobs. That statement may strike you as untrue, simplistic, or ill-informed, given the current state of the teaching profession, in which many teachers will leave the classroom in the first five years, and teacher retention is a crisis on the horizon for schools, districts, and state boards of education. I stand by it, though. In my fifteen years in education, working in and with schools and teachers, I have had many conversations with teachers about their job satisfaction. On balance, teachers I’ve encountered love their students. They talk about “their” kids with pride, concern, and (sometimes) exasperation. They seek professional development to improve their abilities to reach students, and they sacrifice their personal time (and often money) to ensure their students get what they need to succeed in school.