Fostering Personalization Through Leadership - Leading by Example
“Preaching to the choir (or converted - for secular appeal)!” This phrase sums up the amazing experience of sharing our district’s story at conferences amongst a room full of skillful professionals working on the same mission in education. Our message, at each presentation that we have had the opportunity to share our vision, has also been positively received, from our experiences, as the professionals attending these events understand the importance and the urgency to redesign school systems for the 21st Century and beyond.
The implementation of personalized learning across our school district was a move that would require all-hands-on-deck, as in contrast to the experience described above, our audience was an array of staff, parents, students, and community members with varying ideals about school and the need for change. Personalized learning was the best decision for our students, we knew our administrative team had been the essential “driver” to foster the changes needed to “have students be leaders of their own learning.” To promote environments in our schools that encouraged innovation, risk taking, out-of-the-box thinking, and experimenting, we needed to model our expectations through our own actions with our administrative team, which then empowered our teachers and students.
Our administrative team tackled the task by creation of five innovative pilots for our eight schools; opportunities for each building to embark on solutions to personalized learning-identified problems. These solutions would later cross-pollinate and allow our district to scale up personalized learning and map out the work necessary across the next five years in order to completely fulfill our vision. To elicit a common framework for the personalized pilots, we created a website and utilized collaborative tools to foster and archive our transformation.
In our effort to amplify a personalized learning approach for our students we developed several partnerships. A huge stepping stone was being selected as one of ten superintendents in the first Lexington Education Leadership Award Fellowship – this allowed us to partner with Educational Elements, a leading provider in this space, who worked with us over the six-month fellowship to define our district's vision for personalized learning and lay out the steps in our journey. The initial step was the creation of a graphic representation, which provided clarity on the district vision and generated actionable steps to foster personalized learning throughout the entire district.
To empower our entire school community, we held events and shared the documentary Most Likely to Succeed. As a picture is worth 1000 words, this documentary supported our goal of adding to the rationale the “why” schools need to change. A second community event, where we provided a “State of our Schools” and afforded an opportunity for parents, community and staff to dialogue about our district’s areas of strength and areas where improvement was needed.
Since the Fellowship, Education Elements has continued to support our district, furthering our vision for what personalized learning looks and feels like in our schools including how we strategically use digital content. This critical work has pushed our thinking and guided us to set innovative, but realistic, goals that will best prepare our students for a very different future.
As Lincoln stated, “As our case is new, so we must think anew.” While the idea of changing public schooling is not new, strategically planning and implementing a school system based on our students’ future rather than our past, took new thinking. Our administrative team and our partnerships served as the catalyst that drove a change in mindsets in our district. Leading by example was essential in order to foster the new thinking needed for our schools and generated a wave of excitement in our classrooms that we will ride into our children’s future.