Sunday, June 9, 2024

Personalize: Meeting the Needs of ALL Learners

Fate has a funny way of bringing together people with similar views and passions. In March of 2022, I worked with a school system in Provo, Utah. During a roundtable discussion, I was asked to discuss key aspects of personalized learning that are critical to successful implementation.  There were a lot of people in the room who listened to what I had to say and seemed to be hanging on every word.   Little did I know that a secondary principal from a different school system was in attendance who had been blazing her own trail with personalized learning and would later share the journey of her school.  Unbeknownst to me was how intrigued she was by what I shared. 

After facilitating a presentation later that day, the principal introduced herself to me, and we started a lengthy conversation on aspects of personalization.  Shortly after, I was contracted to work with that school in a coaching role.  Over the next two years, I witnessed firsthand competency-based practices that I had never seen implemented so effectively at scale. However, the firecracker of a principal saw an opportunity for her and the school to still grow their personalized practices.  That leader was Nicki Slaugh, my co-author of our book Personalize.   Once I saw personalization through her lens and that of her staff, I immediately knew we needed to collaborate. The rest is now history. 

My chance encounter with Nicki eventually led to the idea of writing this book after my first year of coaching.  Our goal is as simple as it is profound in that personalization is based on ALL students getting what they need when and where they need it to learn.  Packed with practical examples, research-based strategies, and stories, any educator can find the most effective way to personalize learning.  Here is the synopsis:

Not Just One Way

Are you an educator stuck in the traditional teaching or leadership mold, yearning for a spark to reignite your passion? Do you want to use your time better and work smarter, not harder? Personalize is your guide to transforming classrooms into dynamic hubs of exploration and discovery. This book invites you to break free from the "one-size-fits-all" approach and embrace the potential of personalized learning, where all students get what they need, when and where they need it to learn. 

Imagine a classroom where all students’ unique strengths, interests, and opportunities for growth are recognized and nurtured. Where the rigid structures of traditional education give way to flexible, student-centered learning environments. "Personalize" provides the tools and strategies to create such a space, fostering creativity, critical thinking, and a genuine love for learning.

Dive into how personalized learning can revolutionize education through real-world examples, research, practical advice, and inspiring stories. You'll learn how to leverage high-agency strategies (voice, choice, path, pace, place), technology including artificial intelligence (AI), data, and innovative teaching methods to meet each student's individual needs, ensuring that no learner is left behind. The book also emphasizes the importance of building strong relationships and a positive school culture to support these changes.

Personalize is not just a book; it's a movement towards a more inclusive, engaging, and effective culture. Whether you're a teacher, administrator, coach, or librarian, this book will inspire you to make bold moves that challenge the status quo and bring out the best in your students. 

Join the revolution. Embrace the journey of personalization and witness the transformative impact on your students and your educational career. Your path to rekindling the joy of being an educator starts here.

While we hope that the description above piques your attention, there are some features of the book that we would like to call out: 

  • This book is structured so that you can either read from cover to cover or choose a particular chapter that is of specific interest or represents a needed opportunity for growth. We did this because there is no right or best way to personalize. 
  • Each chapter is supported by research, practical strategies, and anecdotal stories for essential context. 
  • At the end of each chapter is a summary section titled “Bold Moves.” These are courageous decisions that break away from traditional methods and push boundaries. They involve calculated risks and innovative solutions to address challenges and empower student growth through personalization. The questions in these sections are meant to inspire bold actions. 
  • A digital appendix fleshes out how to effectively personalize and what it could look like across various grade levels and content areas. Get ready for lots of practical examples.
  • There is a call to action throughout the book, empowering educators to share their successes with personalized learning using the hashtag #personalize across social media networks (Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, LinkedIn). Please tag us; we will constantly add more examples to the appendices. 

Working on this project with Nicki, a true practitioner who has embraced bold moves throughout her journey to personalize learning was such a joy.  We hope this book will inspire, challenge, and motivate you to continue to be the best iteration of yourself of those students you serve.

You can get your copy of Personalize: Meeting the Needs of ALL Learners on Amazon. There is an impressive discount on bulk orders. If interested, email for more information.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Unpacking the Backpack

The social media landscape has changed quite dramatically when I first arrived in the space back in 2009. To put things in perspective, Instagram and TikTok were years away from existing, and Facebook was the dominant tool of choice.  At that time, Twitter was emerging as the preferred space for educators to connect, and blogs were the go-to source for relevant ideas and strategies.  My foray into the digital world began with the little blue bird, and I have never looked back.  Being a connected educator opened my mind and eyes to what was possible and enabled me to move beyond comfort and fear to evolve into a more effective leader. 

After being invited to participate in the one-and-only Google Teacher Academy for Administrators in 2010, I followed up on a goal I had set there to establish a blog. While this was one of the scariest things I ever did professionally, as I never saw myself as a writer, I decided to dive in and share my thoughts and the work in my school.  Needless to say, I have been at it now for fourteen years.  While I don’t blog as consistently as I once did, I still find it my preferred way to reflect and share what is working in effective teaching, learning, and leadership. 

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, change is constant, especially in digital spaces. Tools come and go, but behaviors also change. We are also seeing a shift in how people prefer to consume information, from reading to listening.  From my lens, I see this as a reaction to all the demands on people’s time. Podcasts are “the” thing right now. Everyone seems to have one, and educators have several cued up and ready to go all the time. Listening to a podcast in the car or gym is much easier than reading a blog post.  While I still love to write and will continue to do so, the writing was on the wall. Thus, I decided to begrudgingly enter the space with my own podcast.

Unpacking the Backpack was born in consultation with my daughter. After coming up with a name, I used Canva to create the art. Below, you can see a description of my podcast.

Join us on Unpacking the Backpack, where we delve deep into the ever-changing world of K-12 education. In each episode, we'll unpack the complexities of teaching, learning, and leadership with a practical lens. Listen in as we:

  • Discuss real-world challenges 
  • Explore innovative approaches that are evidence and research-based 
  • Learn from educators and leaders on the frontlines
  • Gain actionable insights and strategies to navigate the ever-evolving landscape 

This is your one-stop shop for practical guidance and a deeper understanding of the incredible world of K-12.

Now, my podcast is going to be different from others. From a time standpoint, I couldn’t rationalize creating every episode from scratch. I also knew that I had a goldmine of content on my blog. Here is where I came up with an idea for how artificial intelligence (AI) might be able to help. This led me to search to see if there was an AI tool that could convert my blogs into podcasts. I was pleasantly surprised when I found that such a tool existed in the form of Leap AI.  Talk about simple.  All I needed to do was supply a link to a blog post, and in less than a minute, a professionally scripted and sounding podcast was created.  It even sounds like my voice. 

In addition to using Leap AI, practitioners will be invited to the podcast to discuss the most pressing issues in education and realistic solutions for implementation.  I am excited about this unorthodox journey into the realm of podcasting by repurposing fourteen years of written content into audio form.  

Look for it on Spotify and where all your favorite podcasts are found. 

Sunday, May 12, 2024

The Never-ending Upgrade: Why Constant Growth is the Key to Success

While I enjoy keynoting and facilitating workshops, it is through a coaching lens that I get to see how teachers and administrators are implementing innovative learning strategies with fidelity. Through their actions, I can collect evidence to show efficacy while curating exemplars I can share in my presentations. No matter where I go, I get the same message from educators on their desire for practical strategies. There is no better example than those implemented in classrooms, schools, and districts. 

“Eric, we know the why. To move our practice, we want to see how it can be done and what it could look like.”

The quote above is something I hear over and over again as I support school systems across the world. It is important to educators because it highlights the importance of moving from theory to practice. While understanding the reasons for change (the why) is important, it is equally important to see how this change can be implemented (how) and what the results might look like (what it could look like), something I elaborate on in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms. Here’s why:

  • Educators need practical guidance: Ideas and strategies are often handed down from above, with little guidance on how to implement them in the classroom. Educators need to be shown how to put these into practice.
  • Sharing effective practices: By sharing examples of what has been implemented successfully, educators can learn from each other and improve their own practice.
  • Building a vision for change: Seeing what innovation could look like can help educators stay motivated and committed to making changes.

Thus, when I am in certain places, I always check in on educators who push the envelope and crave feedback so they can grow. A few weeks back, I was in Stryker Local Schools (OH), where I have been supporting the district this past year. One classroom I always try to visit is that of Larry Freshour, an elementary technology teacher. For starters, he is always craving feedback. I can’t remember a time this past school year when we had a conversation, and he didn’t mention how he was implementing an idea or strategy that he learned during one of the professional development days I facilitated. The other reason is that he thoroughly engages learners using a rotational model, immersing students in thought-provoking tasks.

During a recent visit, he had just finished up with a hook on circuits using a short video from Flocabulary.  When I entered, the class was already completing lightsaber cards in honor of May the 4th, which Star Wars fans are undoubtedly aware of and have this date marked on their calendars. Research has shown how vital relevance is to learning and Larry makes great efforts to impart authentic contexts and application during each lesson. Students were seen throughout the room creating working circuits to ignite the lightsaber. Self-regulation, pacing, and intrinsic motivation were on full display. 

Constant growth is the key to success because our world is always changing. By continuously learning new skills, adapting to new situations, and pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zones, we stay relevant, overcome challenges, and unlock our full potential as educators. This growth mindset fuels progress, keeps us engaged, and allows us to reach new heights consistently, just like Larry.  

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Quantifying Innovative Practices

Lately, I've been giving a lot of thought to effectiveness, and this has been mirrored in my writing and work as a coach. Reflecting on my time as a principal at my previous school, I recall the successful shift towards digitalization and incorporating innovative practices. Our main goal was to demonstrate tangible improvements rather than just discuss them. We merged quantitative and qualitative measures to validate each innovative idea's reasons, processes, and outcomes in detail. The critical element in this equation was skillfully purposefully employing digital resources while ensuring consistency and continuity in all our old and new practices. 

As a principal, I persistently sought methodologies and procedures to gauge the effects of the changes we were enacting. Regrettably, no such solutions were available. As I engage with districts and schools regularly, they frequently inquire about ways to gauge the outcomes and efficacy of their innovative strategies, such as BYOD, 1:1, blended and personalized learning, classroom and school redesign, branding, makerspaces, and professional development. This got me thinking about what might be missing to ensure efficacy. 

As the CEO of Aspire Change EDU, I'm dedicated to research-driven, data-enhanced, and evidence-based services and resources to aid districts, schools, and organizations in transforming teaching, learning, and leadership. Among these resources stands the Innovative Practices Assessment (IPA), which was created to fill a void in moving from ideas and innovative practices to results that improve the learning culture. 

The IPA establishes the framework for educators and administrators, facilitating an innovative lens to underpin individualized professional growth. It initiates by scrutinizing the tactics instituted within each educational institution, at the school or district level, which bolster student learning through technological integration, encompassing dimensions like rigor, pertinence, interpersonal bonds, involvement, and the broader ethos. Subsequently, the procedure advances to comprehending the extant leadership methodologies that effectively usher in technology and groundbreaking approaches. These methods are harmonized with the 7 Pillars of Digital Leadership & Learning. (Student Learning, Learning Spaces and Environment, Professional Growth, Communication, Public Relations, Branding, and Opportunity). 

Through this proven model, schools and districts can identify opportunities to begin their transformation or take their digital and innovation goals to the next level. The IPA combines a self-reflection questionnaire rubric, on-site observations, and extensive data and evidence collection inventories. Rubrics are then leveraged to observe leadership and instructional practices while collecting artifacts to provide evidence of efficacy-based innovative practices. Once collected and analyzed, a detailed summary report outlining areas of success, focus opportunities, and recommended next steps will guide the professional learning journey, supporting the development of a strategic implementation plan.  

Here is a summary of the IPA process:

Step 1: The IPA questionnaire is completed by the district or school. This 18-question rubric asks school leaders to reflect on their perceptions of where their school falls, from needing to start to well-developed. School leadership teams are expected to collect and document aligned evidence for each item during this reflective process. This information will then be reviewed at the initial meeting for reflection and goal-setting to grow and improve. The baseline evidence shared is in the context of determining the fidelity of innovative practices that currently exist and are implemented on a routine basis (including examples of data, lesson plans, unit plans, student work, PLC minutes, rigorous digital performance tasks, walk-through forms, assessments, sample observations/evaluations, portfolios, PD plans, social media accounts, pictures, videos, press releases, media coverage, partnerships, etc.). 

Step 2: On-site observations and interviews with leaders, staff, and students are conducted to validate perceptions and evidence collected for the questionnaire. Targeted classroom observations of student learning aligned with the mission and vision of the school(s) are also conducted. Additional data is collected for analysis in the final report. The idea is to engage school leaders in dialogue about their culture, student learning, and practices, regardless of their transformation. 

Step 3: The data and evidence are tightly aligned to research-based rubrics to provide a detailed view of where a district or school is with its transformation. The data and artifacts are analyzed, leading to a summary report detailing the current state of practice at each school or district. 

Step 4: The IPA report is shared and discussed with the school or district leadership team. Observations about the evidence collected are shared and discussed. During the strategic planning process, discussions focus on areas of strength and improvements to develop a tailored and personalized implementation plan.

Step 5: On-going professional learning is implemented and progress monitoring through the robust questionnaire is documented to determine the efficacy of the transformation efforts using innovative approaches.

The IPA process has been created to support districts and schools looking for ways to measure and articulate the impact of technology and innovation on practice. While data is valuable, it moves beyond this as the only metric for success by actually taking a lens to an array of strategies and practices that combine to create a thriving learning culture.  

The IPA doesn’t just look at innovation. It also provides insight into all elements of school culture and student learning. In addition to being informed by a broad body of research and driven by evidence, the IPA process is also aligned with the following:

Evaluation of our practice is essential to grasp our current position and the impact of alterations. We aspire that the IPA process will aid you in shaping, honing, gauging, and subsequently disseminating remarkable innovative practices that vividly portray the achievement of effectiveness.

Reach out today to have a conversation on how the IPA process can help transform your school, district, organization, or system (