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Personalized Learning - From start-up to fully scaled

By: Micaela McDade on October 19th, 2022

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Personalized Learning - From start-up to fully scaled

Personalized Learning

Gaps. Learning loss. Interventions. All of those words represent important topics that existed pre-pandemic yet were magnified when students returned to in-person instruction. But in true educator fashion, resilience prevailed. Many districts and campuses found innovative ways to meet students where they were. We saw organizations revisiting their missions and visions to determine if what students now needed matched their organization’s statements. We saw tweets and posts of teachers sharing or seeking help in creating voice and choice in instruction. One key trend - an increase in the commitment to personalize learning. We saw districts investing more time and resources into developing their teams and aligning them on how to personalize learning for their students.


Personalized Learning (PL), like any new initiatives, can feel like a mammoth task with a frenzy of questions such as: “How can I start Personalized Learning? Who will volunteer? How do we get buy-in when everyone is already swamped?” Knowing these, and potentially many more, wonderings exist, there are success stories.  We will highlight the implementation of PL with our partners at Atlanta Public Schools (APS) by showing how 3 key moves helped successfully grow their district’s wave of schools from 14 to over 40 in less than a year.


Key Move 1:Transform Pitfalls into Peaks

Year 1 began with some challenges. We were returning to on-campus instruction and there was a lot of anxiety around that alone. Schools were asked to volunteer to be a part of a Wave 1 pilot. Atlanta Public Schools has 87 learning sites and their strategic implementation plan included all 87 sites by Wave 3.


14 joined Wave 1.   It was a slow start.  Listening, understanding day-to-day challenges,, and adapting the approach to gain buy-in  was the key to transform this slow start into a peak.

We learned that competing priorities, such as being responsible for meeting the guidelines of a grant or an IB certification felt overpowering. We learned that new staffing made management of a new initiative feel exasperating. We learned that even the idea of personalized learning felt like another entree on an already full plate. 

The response was simple. We established practical connections by aligning the annex of personalized learning to the district’s core values. We provided a short list of recommendations that helped leaders navigate “if your team has expressed a need for a particular topic, then this is how personalized learning supports that.”  

It worked. Schools were excited! Learning sites that were reticent not only thanked us, but asked us to return, quickly. We were able to turn those pitfalls into peaks, which resulted in teams feeling equipped, empowered, and emboldened to speak to why PL was the through line for all that they were and are tasked with accomplishing. 

Key Move 2: Provide Michelin Star Service

For the readers who happen to be foodies, you may have eaten at a few Michelin star rated restaurants. Did you know that Michelin ratings had humble beginnings? The tire company was known for high quality tires. They were also known for marketing the best eateries and local attractions to drivers and truckers. Those original Michelin ratings evolved from listings of where to stop, to a ranking system that provides stars to denote some of the highest honors in the culinary world. In order to receive Michelin stars, the restaurant must use quality products, demonstrate mastery of techniques, showcase the personality of the chef in the cuisine, and be consistent. 

The same is true for supporting districts who choose PL and desire to see it happening in every school for every student. When planning for a large scale rollout, we create space and opportunities to help leaders revisit and capitalize on their quality products (such as high quality instructional materials.) When instructional leaders prototype learning models with us and feel safe enough to try them with students, they have an opportunity to master their techniques, just as chefs test, practice and perfect new recipes. When we view personalized learning as a verb, not a noun, we see the personality of the teacher, and the students, come to life. Additionally, Michelin star service requires a commitment to consistency. PL is not a checklist that you complete on Wednesdays, it is the act of providing students voice and choice and opportunities for them to reflect as an on-going practice. 

Key Move 3: Find the Good, and Praise It

It should be noted that yes, the goal of Personalized Learning is to see results, however, those can take time to measure and leaders want to maintain momentum.  Key move #3 - time to recognize the process rather than just the destination. Find the good and praise it!

With our partners in Atlanta Public Schools, we went on a PL expedition. Our purpose was to learn more about the amazing things that already existed. We simply collected baseline data of all the phenomenal things we heard and saw and shared it. The low stakes visit helped us to limit or remove anxiety around implementing PL by finding the good and praising it. 

Having the baseline data has also helped us to be responsive in how we plan our scaled support. Not only are we supporting personalized learning, we are modeling it by adjusting what is needed to inform professional development decisions based on what we’ve seen from teams and heard from teacher and student focus groups. 


To expand PL from pockets of excellence to total buy-in, we acknowledge that PL is not something new to teams. Our strategy is to find ways to turn pitfalls into peaks, we provide responsive support that is top tier, and we focus on wielding the power of what already exists in pockets in order to amplify it. 


Learn more about how our partners at Atlanta Public Schools felt about their PL experience and why districts continue to choose PL and expand, Click here for a message from Atlanta Public Schools. 


What is personalized learning?  Check out Ed Elements article Six Examples of What Personalized Learning looks like to learn more.

About Micaela McDade

Micaela is a lifelong educator, full-time mommy, and part-time home chef. She is excited to weave together her passion for equity and strategic planning in her role as Design Principal.

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