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Takeaways for School Districts from the Latest Happenings at Harvard

By: Dana Britt on February 27th, 2019

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Takeaways for School Districts from the Latest Happenings at Harvard

School Districts  |  Innovative Leadership

Last August, my Education Elements “familEE” of consultants and district partners supported me on a new journey to the Technology, Innovation, and Education masters program at Harvard University. Through my experience so far, I’d like to share the following lessons and takeaways for K-12 districts.

Personalized learning is revolutionizing higher ed in many of the same ways as K-12.

The first thing I noticed about all four of my classes is that they all have elements of personalization, collaboration, and group work. Instead of being assigned topics to write about, I received choices or was given free rein to choose my own topic. In all four classes, I was required or strongly encouraged to meet weekly outside of class with a group of classmates to test prototypes or discuss readings. All of my courses used technology tools (one new one for me was Perusall, in which the whole class could comment on the reading together).

Takeaway for districts: Don’t shy away from personalized learning because you assume that students will be facing the “sage on the stage” when they reach higher ed.

Many high school teachers have asked me: “Why should we move towards personalized learning if students will face lecture and a one-size-fits-all approach in college?” But many colleges and universities are starting to embrace flipped learning, online tools, and personalization practices. And the majority of student time in college is unstructured and self-directed – which is why we must prioritize teaching students those skills as early as possible.


Design thinking underpins Harvard’s Technology, Innovation, and Education program curriculum.

Scanning through the course catalog, I am offered courses like “Innovation by Design: Projects in Educational Technology,” “Designing for Learning by Creating,” and “Digital Fabrication and Making in Education.” This fall, I took “Innovation by Design” and, using design thinking, I worked with a team to create a digital tool to help 2nd-5th-grade students learn skills of collaboration through a series of digital quests. Human-centered design is at the heart of innovation.

Takeaway for districts: Design thinking is a process that can support in a variety of contexts.

Education Elements works with its partner districts to use design thinking to create blended and personalized learning models that are based on the needs of the most important “users” – students. Once educators learn the design thinking process, they will be able to apply it not only to personalized learning but also to all sorts of new challenges. Some EE districts are hosting “Design Challenges” to invite educators to provide input on the redesign of secondary schools, the curriculum, and the districts’ support of schools.

Related Resource Design Thinking for Personalized Learning: 5 Strategies for Effective Whole School Design


Harvard is prioritizing ways to help new student innovations thrive.

This fall, my class team and I won $600 in a grant competition funded by Harvard. This spring, we’ve applied for a venture incubation program as well as two pitch competitions. We have access to Harvard’s “I-Lab” where we can network, receive mentorship, and use the latest equipment.

Takeaway for districts: Support educators trying new innovations in special ways.

Last spring, Syracuse City School District hosted a classroom redesign competition in which four teachers each won a $5000 classroom “makeover” to support personalized learning. Think outside of the box about how you can make teachers feel supported, whether that’s a grant competition or even just a special parking space or badges to put on their classroom doors. How could you design an “I-Lab” for your educators?

Discussions about diversity and inclusion are foregrounded in important ways.

At the first event I attended in August and at many events thereafter, each speaker opened by identifying his, her, or their gender pronouns. Students included their gender pronouns on their name tags, and signs for all-gender or gender-neutral restrooms were everywhere. There are conscious efforts to include speakers and readings in courses and campus events that represent diverse backgrounds. As we rethink modern school districts in classes, we openly discuss the structural sources of oppression that we must combat.

Takeaway for districts: Continue in your efforts to make your students’ experience culturally responsive and personalized.

Review your curriculum and assessments to ensure they represent diverse voices and experiences. Examine your teacher workforce to ensure students have role models that look like them (multiple new studies point to the particular importance of this for black students). How can you ensure that learning meets each student’s needs, interests, and skills?

Deeper Dive A Case for Culturally Responsive Pedagogy in Classrooms

Honorable mention: Augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) are hot, hot, hot at Harvard!

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Join us at the Personalized Learning Summit 2019 in Atlanta, GA, to learn more about how to support and set up students for success through a variety of offerings including workshops, simulations, and tours of innovative companies that are creating the workplaces of the future.

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About Dana Britt

Dana Britt is an Associate Partner focused on leading innovation in the state of New York. Prior to joining Education Elements in 2015, she worked in the District of Columbia Public Schools for six years, first as a high school English teacher, then in the district office as the manager of educational technology. In that role, she supported the district-level rollout of blended learning across 111 schools and built up a particular expertise in designing district-wide professional development and selecting, purchasing, and adopting new digital content and tools. At Education Elements, Dana has supported schools over 100 schools in 16 states. She has led the implementations of Fulton County Schools (GA), Syracuse City School District (NY), Marion Central School District (NY), and Waterloo Central School District (NY). Dana holds a B.A. in English from Wellesley College and an Ed.M. in Technology, Innovation and Education from Harvard University. When not thinking about personalized learning, Dana enjoys rock climbing and training for her next marathon in Washington, DC.

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