When making the transition to personalized, competency-based education, there are many things about traditional education that have to be unlearned. It can be overwhelming – but the important thing to remember about meeting the ten district conditions for scaling personalized learning that we outline for a successful implementation is that you don’t have to get everything right right away. It’s a process.
In thinking about my own experiences as Dean of Culture at Lindsay Unified School District in Lindsay, California, I can remember when we wanted to improve our student supports, one of the district conditions for scale. We decided to offer afterschool sessions for those learners who needed additional help, and were naturally frustrated when the students we knew we needed the support didn’t show up. We tried a few other things with equally mediocre results until we finally brought the students into the discussion and asked them what they needed to succeed. It didn’t surprise me to learn that what they wanted was just what we’d been offering – extra support sessions – but we were surprised to learn that because so many of their parents were migrant workers who had to go and work in the fields after school, these students needed to get home to care for siblings. Afterschool sessions were never going to work for them, so we needed to find a way to work extra time into the school day.
If we’d stopped and asked our learners first what they needed, we’d have been able to work together to find the best solution from the start. And because they were the ones voicing what they needed, there was a sense of ownership in the outcome – they asked for the sessions and they felt accountable for being there. Creating a forum for student input became a practice for us going forward, and it built a strong foundation of culture-building that continues to be a hallmark of the Lindsay learning community today. It does take longer to collect stakeholder voices, but it’s a critical step – and ultimately leads to a better product for everyone.
Abbie Forbus is Director of Teaching and Learning for KnowledgeWorks, working with learning communities across the country to coach them in redesigning learning structures toward personalized learning.