Guest post by Mary Tighe
Personalized learning doesn’t happen in a bubble. Instead, it depends on support from a network of advocates who work tirelessly toward its success.
Mesa Valley District 51 (D51) has reached beyond the school walls to build partnerships to support the work. While D51 has learned to engage its community, the district also turns to other like-minded districts to build a community of practice, state leaders for policy help and outside organizations for support and professional development.
“If we want our kids to be successful, we have to do something different,” said Steve Schultz, now-retired D51 superintendent. “I’m just convinced that you have to have connections and partnerships in order to do this work, because the problems in every community are different.”
By turning to partners, D51 has built a support system to help district staff, teachers, students and community members throughout the personalized learning journey.
Connecting with like-minded districts
District leaders have recently organized purposeful visits to districts and schools in the Denver area. By sharing lessons learned and pooling resources, the districts have started collaborating to help each other succeed.
“We’re encouraged about districts throughout our state,” D51 Director of Performance-Based Learning Rebecca Midles said. “We’re working with districts and networks to pool our resources and work together and support one another. It’s not at all competitive; it’s very collaborative. People are making themselves vulnerable and throwing themselves into the arena to talk about what’s best for kids. It’s really drawn people together instead of apart and it’s an exciting place to be in Colorado.”
Turning to state policymakers
While some states are showing increased support for personalized learning, there are still many policies that pose challenges to district innovation.
Because of these barriers, D51 has found friends in the state capitol.
“It’s also helpful to have partnerships at the state level,” Schultz said. “This is not something you go alone, and we’ve been lucky that state leaders have been encouraging us and, at the same time, looking for ways to reduce barriers for districts that are interested in doing this work.”
Partnering with outside organizations
D51 has partnered with national organizations, like KnowledgeWorks, to provide technical support through professional development, a summer institute for staff, strategic communication advice, and general support for the move to competency-based, or proficiency, education.
“Without having partners like KnowledgeWorks, you just can’t bring it to scale without that kind of support,” Schultz said. “You just need technical support. We had KnowledgeWorks come help us create recommendations for communication. We’re working on upgrading our website, going to community service club meetings and giving presentations to local community groups. We’re continuing to explore different ways of communicating and build on the recommendations KnowledgeWorks provided.”