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Tom Benson, School District 197 (MN)

Personalized Learning Superhero

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personalized learning superhero

Name: Tom Benson

Role: Principal of Pilot Knob STEM Magnet School

District: School District 197, West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan (MN); 4,900 students

Years in education: 30

Years district has worked with Education Elements: 2

Work and Impact: Tom is a champion for personalized learning at his school. To inspire his staff, he frequently shares personal testimony about why personalized learning is important to him. He has been praised for running his school’s professional development in a personalized format, hosting Facebook Live book readings on Charlotte’s Web that attract a global audience, and providing personalized learning lessons for students in the school’s “Think Tank,” a collaboration space the school created from an old computer lab in partnership with its PTA.

Why is personalized learning important to you? “I believe that personalized learning motivates, engages, inspires, and empowers students to take charge of their learning. My personal passions are sailing and biking, and they have motivated me to learn about so many different areas that are applicable and important to me. For example, I know about weather, diesel engines, scientific principles, history, and engineering because of my passion for sailing. My passion for biking has motivated me to learn more about health, urban planning, and the environment. As it is, I am taking a year off to go sailing. It will truly be a hands-on personalized learning experience for me and my 12- and 16-year-old sons. Stay tuned!”

What impact have you seen personalized learning make? “We see that our students are more engaged, inspired, and passionate about their learning. Our teachers are more excited and empowered as well. Students are working more in collaborative teams to create, design, and produce projects that are used to make our school a better place to learn and grow.”

Follow Tom on Twitter: @PK1Principal


“Tom is one of the most passionate individuals I have ever met when it comes to making learning relevant for students. If you visit his school on any given day, you are likely to find him in a classroom working with students. Recently, the superintendent stopped by a classroom to find him sitting on the floor with kindergarteners learning about radishes that had been grown in their school garden. Tom has also made outstanding connections with the business community and has guest speakers in on a regular basis, sharing how what students are learning in school relates to the work world. Tom knows the name of every student in his elementary school and makes it a point to know something about each one.” Cari Jo Kiffmeyer, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment

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