Sunday, December 31, 2023

Top Posts of 2023

As we reflect on the past year, it's evident that the realm of education continues to be influenced by an array of disruptive forces, most notably artificial intelligence. Through my writing, I have attempted to capture the essence of contemporary challenges and innovations but also provide practical solutions and thought-provoking insights from the field. From exploring the nuances of a post-COVID world to offering fresh perspectives on traditional teaching methodologies, each post has been a testament to my commitment to advancing educational discourse. My writing style, blending analytical depth within relevant contexts, strives to serve a diverse audience of educators, students, and academic enthusiasts, making ideas understandable and relevant to all educators.

Key posts have delved into the transformative potential of technology in classrooms, the importance of personalized learning in education, building leadership capacity, and the evolving dynamics of teacher-student interactions in a post-pandemic world. My sincere hope is that these articles have not only resonated with readers but have also sparked meaningful discussions and inspired actionable change in educational settings. Through my blog, I've aimed to create a platform that not only informs but also empowers and motivates educators and learners to explore new horizons in education. 

For the past fourteen years, my journey as a blogger in has been an enriching experience, marked by a relentless pursuit of knowledge and a passion for sharing it with the world. Without further ado, I hope you enjoy my top posts of 2023. As I have done the past couple of years, I am including a hyperlink and the related image.  I wish you all a happy and safe holiday season. Here’s to an amazing 2024!

A Framework for Learning Through the Purposeful Use of Technology

10 Ways to Grow as a Pedagogical Leader

Artificial Intelligence for Leaders

5 Clear Ways Digital Benefits Learners

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Connecting the Dots: The Power of Relational Learning in Shaping Tomorrow's Minds

In the ever-evolving personalized landscape, relational learning emerges as a fundamental component. At its core, it underscores the importance of building connections between concepts fostering a deep and interconnected understanding of subjects. However, the significance of relational learning extends beyond the academic realm, as it emphasizes cultivating relationships among students and educators centered on trust.

Relational learning matters because it addresses the shortcomings of traditional memorization-based approaches, something we have emphasized as a critical tenet of personalization. Rather than viewing topics in isolation, this method encourages students to explore the interconnectedness of ideas. Students develop the necessary thinking skills essential for success in academic and real-world scenarios by recognizing and understanding relationships between concepts. Drawing connections between seemingly disparate pieces of information enhances comprehension and retention, providing a foundation for lifelong learning.

Beyond its cognitive benefits, relational learning contributes to creating a positive and collaborative classroom environment. Building relationships among students and between students and teachers is a crucial aspect of this approach. When students feel a sense of connection and trust, they are more likely to engage in meaningful discussions, share ideas, and collaborate on projects. These interpersonal skills are essential for academic success and mirror the professional world's collaborative nature, where effective teamwork is highly valued.

“Without trust, there typically is no relationship. Without relationships, little to no meaningful learning or progress occurs.”

To implement relational learning effectively, educators must prioritize establishing positive relationships within the classroom. Creating a supportive and inclusive environment where students feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and opinions is paramount, which is why learner voice matters. Educators can achieve this by fostering open communication, actively listening to students, and demonstrating genuine interest in their individual journeys. Building relationships also involves recognizing and appreciating the diverse backgrounds, experiences, and learning preferences present in the classroom, fostering an inclusive atmosphere that celebrates uniqueness. Click HERE to learn more about how to build relationships effectively.

In addition to building relationships, successful implementation of relational learning requires thoughtful curriculum design and instructional strategies. Incorporating real-world examples, purposeful play, case studies, and interactive activities highlighting the relationships between concepts can make learning more engaging and relevant for students. Technology can also play a crucial role by providing multimedia resources to explore and understand interconnected ideas.

Assessment methods should align with the principles of relational learning, emphasizing understanding and competency development over rote memorization. Assessments can include tasks that require students to demonstrate their ability to identify and articulate relationships between concepts. This shift in assessment encourages students to develop analytical skills and reinforces the value of relational learning in their academic journey.

While this all seems daunting, there is a framework available that any educator can use to create a shared vision, language, and expectations regarding relational learning as a means to enhance personalization. The Rigor Relevance Framework can be used to develop and analyze questions, tasks, and assessments to ensure an appropriate amount of challenge and purposeful learning application. Below are a series of images that can be used to evaluate and reflect on your practice.

Relational learning is a cornerstone of personalization, promoting cognitive development and establishing meaningful relationships within the classroom. The successful implementation of this approach involves a dual focus on curriculum design and the intentional cultivation of positive relationships. By prioritizing relational learning and building connections within the classroom, educators can create an environment that nurtures holistic understanding, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills essential for success in both academic and real-world settings.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

The Role of Place in Personalization

The physical and virtual environments where learning takes place play a pivotal role in shaping the effectiveness and depth of personalized learning strategies. Consider for a moment the impact of the physical classroom. It is not merely a backdrop but an active participant in the learning journey. The arrangement of desks, the presence of collaborative spaces, and the infusion of technology all contribute to the atmosphere that shapes a student's educational experience. As you delve into personalized learning, the importance of tailoring these spaces to accommodate diverse learning needs becomes increasingly evident.

Research consistently underscores the profound impact of physical and virtual learning environments on educational outcomes. According to a study by Tanner and Lackney (2006), the design of physical spaces significantly influences student engagement and academic performance. Flexible seating arrangements, varied learning zones, and interactive elements have been found to correlate positively with increased student motivation and collaboration (Tanner & Lackney, 2006). Furthermore, research by Hattie (2012) emphasizes the importance of creating a positive classroom climate, asserting that the physical layout plays a crucial role in fostering a conducive atmosphere for learning. The influence of virtual learning environments cannot be ignored either. A Means et al. (2013) meta-analysis highlighted the importance of well-designed online platforms, emphasizing their impact on student achievement and satisfaction. As the digital landscape continues to evolve, understanding and optimizing physical and virtual learning spaces is paramount for educational success (Means et al., 2013; Hattie, 2012; Tanner & Lackney, 2006).

Physical Learning Spaces

The traditional classroom setup, with rows of desks facing forward, may not be the most conducive environment for personalized learning. Flexible seating arrangements, breakout spaces, and interactive learning corners empower students to take control of their learning. Recognizing that each student is unique, physical spaces can be designed to cater to various learning preferences, whether it be quiet individual study, collaborative group work, or hands-on experimentation.

Virtual Learning Environments

In our digital age, the concept of place extends beyond physical boundaries. Virtual learning environments, online platforms, and educational apps contribute to the personalized learning ecosystem. The design of these digital spaces, from user interface to interactive features, can significantly influence the engagement and success of personalized learning initiatives. Thoughtful consideration must be given to user experience and accessibility, ensuring the virtual place complements and enhances the learning process.

Outdoor Areas

The importance of outdoor spaces for learning cannot be overstated, as they offer a transformative and holistic dimension to education. Beyond the traditional confines of classrooms, the outdoors provides a dynamic setting that stimulates curiosity, creativity, and a sense of exploration. Nature becomes a powerful teacher, offering biology, ecology, and environmental science lessons in a living laboratory. Beyond academic subjects, outdoor spaces promote physical activity, contributing to students' overall well-being. The fresh air and natural light create an invigorating atmosphere, fostering focus and reducing stress. Moreover, outdoor environments encourage collaboration, teamwork, and social skills as students engage in activities that often require cooperation and communication. By integrating outdoor spaces into the learning experience, educators enrich the academic curriculum and cultivate a love for the environment and a deeper connection to the world around us.

Below are some specific strategies for crafting effective learning spaces:

  • Individualized Learning Zones: Break down traditional classroom barriers by creating individualized learning zones. Each student can have a designated space that aligns with their preferred learning style, whether a quiet corner for reflection or an interactive area for hands-on exploration.
  • Technology Integration: Leverage technology to bridge the physical and virtual learning spaces. Interactive whiteboards, digital collaboration tools, and online resources can seamlessly integrate into the classroom, providing a dynamic and personalized learning experience.
  • Flexible Furniture: The days of static desks and chairs are behind us. Embrace flexible furniture that can be easily rearranged to accommodate different learning activities. This adaptability promotes a sense of ownership over the learning environment.
  • Makerspaces: When I hired Laura Fleming in 2012, I asked her to transform the library into a place where kids not only wanted to read but could also serve as a catalyst for personalization. She did all that and more by creating a makerspace that became revered by our students and educators across the globe. It was a place for learners to collaborate, hack, invent, share, create, make, and do, which is the epitome of personalization. They were given all the tools needed to get started, but where it went was up to them. Learn more about makerspaces HERE.
  • Student-Centric Design: Involve students in the design process. Solicit their input on the classroom layout, the choice of furniture, and technology integration. A student-centric approach ensures that the learning space truly resonates with its inhabitants.

As you embark on the personalized learning journey, consider the impact of place. The physical, outdoor, and virtual environments in which learning unfolds are not passive backdrops but active participants in the educational process. By strategically crafting these spaces to align with the diverse needs of learners, we can amplify the effectiveness of personalized learning initiatives. The power of place extends beyond the confines of walls and screens; it is a dynamic force shaping the essence of how we learn and grow.

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. Routledge.

Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., & Baki, M. (2013). The effectiveness of online and blended learning: A meta-analysis of the empirical literature. Teachers College Record, 115(3), 1-47.

Tanner, C. K., & Lackney, J. A. (2006). Approaches to learning space design. Planning for Higher Education, 34(3), 35-50.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Improvement is a Never-Ending Process

Looking for ways to improve should be an expectation, not something that is optional. Whether at the individual or system level, the fact remains that there is always room for growth. So why is this the case? Pursuing improvement is a never-ending process because the landscape of knowledge, technology, and human understanding is in a perpetual state of evolution. As we advance in one area, new challenges and opportunities emerge, necessitating continuous adaptation and enhancement. The dynamism of the world, driven by scientific discoveries, technological innovations, and cultural shifts, ensures that there is always room for improvement. Each achievement unlocks doors to new possibilities, inviting a cycle of refinement and progress. Moreover, the interconnected nature of global systems means that advancements in one field often have cascading effects on others, creating a ripple effect that fuels the ongoing need for improvement.

Furthermore, the human capacity for growth and learning is boundless. Individuals and societies possess an innate drive to overcome limitations and seek better ways of doing things. This intrinsic motivation propels the never-ending quest for improvement in various aspects of life, including personal development, business practices, and societal structures. The recognition that there is no absolute pinnacle of achievement fosters a mindset of continuous improvement, encouraging a commitment to learning, innovation, and the pursuit of excellence. In this dynamic environment, embracing change and consistently striving for improvement becomes not just a goal but a fundamental aspect of the human experience. I shared the following in Disruptive Thinking:

Chase growth, not perfection.

The above quote embodies so many of the schools and districts that I have been fortunate to work with over the years, including Wells Elementary (TX), Corinth School District (MS), Davis Schools (UT), Randolph Howell Elementary (TN), Juab School District (UT), and many more. While you can read specifics by clicking on the hyperlinks above, the one common thread has been a collective belief held by all educators that improvement was and always will be a natural component of teaching, learning, and leadership.

My work with Quest Academy Junior High School (UT) validates why change succeeds or fails. It all comes down to a realization that even small shifts to practice are not only doable but necessary in a disruptive world. Principal Nicki Slaugh and her staff are committed to evaluating and reflecting on their pedagogy to provide their students with the most effective learning experiences. In her words, they never settle for average. They engage in professional learning every Friday, as it is built into their schedule. You also see teachers during prep periods, lunch, and after school constantly involved in learning conversations. To top it off, at the end of the school year, Nicki leads a retreat that establishes the focus going forward. 

During my first coaching visit at the school two years ago, I questioned how I could help get them to the next level as I saw firsthand the best scalable implementation of competency-based learning in the country. To put it bluntly, I was in awe. Nicki, being the visionary she is, knew exactly where there were opportunities to grow based on the Utah PCBL Framework and insights from one of my presentations she attended. From there, we worked out goals and success criteria aligned to voice, choice, rigor, relevance, co-teaching models, and inclusion. As we near the end of the partnership, more and more evidence is being collected and analyzed to show improvement in each identified area.  

In the case of Quest, success is a collective effort, as every staff member sees the value in refining their craft. They crave feedback and aspire to be the best iterations of themselves for students and each other. When it is all said and done, I have learned so much from them and I hope the feeling is mutual. Coaching is not a one-way flow of information, ideas, concepts, and feedback. It is an organic process that enriches the learning of all involved.  

The pursuit of improvement is a perpetual journey, a dynamic expedition that resonates with dedication and resilience. For educators, the path of progress is not a destination but a continuous evolution, an unwavering commitment to refining their craft and enhancing the learning experience for every student. Embracing the notion that improvement knows no bounds, educators become architects of innovation, constantly seeking new strategies, adapting to evolving methodologies, and inspiring a culture of lifelong learning. In this relentless pursuit, they discover that the true magic lies not in reaching a pinnacle but in the transformative journey of growth itself—a journey that shapes not only the minds of their students but also the indomitable spirit of the educators themselves.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Breaking Barriers: Removing the Stigma of Intervention

In an ideal world, every student would have access to an education tailored to their unique needs and abilities. Hence the need to personalize learning. However, special education students often face more significant challenges that can impede their academic progress. One of the major hurdles they encounter is the stigma associated with intervention, a key component of personalization. This stigma affects the students and perpetuates misconceptions about the purpose and effectiveness of interventions. Understanding the importance of removing the stigma surrounding intervention for special education students and developing practical ways to foster a more inclusive and supportive educational environment is vital.

Understanding the Stigma

The stigma surrounding intervention for special education students stems from a combination of factors, including societal attitudes, lack of awareness, and the fear of being labeled. Many people still hold outdated beliefs about special education, associating it with incompetence or intellectual limitations. This misconception can lead to a reluctance to embrace intervention strategies, even when proven beneficial. I see it as students who learn differently and as such, efforts need to be made to meet specified accommodations, differentiate, and provide personalized interventions so they can succeed. 

Breaking Down Misconceptions

Challenging and dispel common misconceptions about interventions to remove the stigma is crucial. Special education is not a one-size-fits-all approach but rather a personalized method to address individual learning needs. Interventions are not a reflection of a student's intelligence; instead, they are tools to help students overcome challenges and unlock their full potential. Educating parents, teachers, and the community about the true nature and benefits of interventions is a crucial step in breaking down these barriers.

Promoting Inclusivity

Creating an inclusive environment is fundamental to removing the stigma associated with intervention. This involves fostering a culture of acceptance and understanding in schools and communities. Emphasizing the diversity of learning preferences and needs and celebrating the successes of all students can contribute to a more positive perception of interventions. Encouraging open communication and collaboration between teachers, parents, and students creates a support network that helps everyone involved understand the value of intervention as a means to facilitate learning and growth.

Professional Learning

Educators play a pivotal role in shaping students' experiences, and providing them with the necessary tools and knowledge is essential. Pursuing relevant opportunities to learn about diverse learning needs, intervention strategies, and the importance of personalized education can create a more inclusive classroom environment. When educators are well-equipped and confident in implementing interventions, it sends a powerful message that these strategies are a regular and integral part of the educational process. Professional learning that leads to sustained changes to practice is ongoing, job-embedded, and aligned to research.

Fostering a Growth Mindset

Encouraging a growth mindset among students is crucial to removing the stigma associated with interventions. Emphasizing that intelligence and abilities can be developed through dedication and diligent work rather than being fixed traits helps students view interventions as valuable tools for improvement. Educators can create a more positive and accepting atmosphere in which interventions are embraced rather than stigmatized by cultivating a culture that values effort and progress over innate talent.

Removing the stigma of intervention for special education students is a collective effort. As a society, we must recognize students' diverse learning needs and embrace interventions to support their individual growth and success. By working together, we can create an educational landscape that prioritizes the well-being and development of every student, regardless of their unique learning journey.

For more information on specific interventions that are personalized, check out this post

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Charting a Student's Journey: A Guide to Crafting Effective Learning Paths

The journey of learning is a unique and intricate process, with each learner embarking on their own distinctive path towards success. The idea that every individual follows a different route to achieve their goals is deeply rooted in the diverse nature of human cognition, aspirations, and experiences. In this post, I will strive to care out the fundamental reasons why every learner carves out a distinct educational journey, acknowledging the multifaceted elements that contribute to this diversity.

One of the key factors that drive the individuality of learning paths is the inherent uniqueness of each person's cognitive and emotional makeup. Cognitive science has demonstrated that no two minds are alike, and individuals possess distinct learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses. Some learners may excel in visual or kinesthetic learning, while others lean towards auditory or logical approaches. These intrinsic differences in how we process information and tackle challenges lead to the development of personalized learning pathways, as individuals naturally gravitate towards methods that resonate with their cognitive preferences. 

Furthermore, the varying motivations, interests, and aspirations of learners play a pivotal role in shaping their educational journeys. While one student might be passionately driven by a desire to explore the realms of science and engineering, another may find their calling in the world of art and literature. These unique interests and objectives guide individuals toward specific areas of study and influence the choices they make in their learning endeavors. The distinct paths learners follow reflect their personal quests to align their educational experiences with their passions and long-term aspirations.

One of the key reasons why the learning path is critical in personalized learning is its ability to address diverse learning needs and preferences. Research by Vygotsky (1978) highlights the importance of adapting instruction to a student's individual needs, emphasizing the role of scaffolding and guidance. A well-designed learning path can provide various resources and activities that cater to visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and other learning preferences, ensuring that each student can engage with the material in a way that suits them best.

The learning path empowers students to take control of their learning journey. In a study conducted by Means et al. (2009), researchers found that personalized learning, with a focus on allowing students to set their own pace, led to improved academic outcomes. A personalized learning path enables students to progress through the curriculum at a pace that suits their capabilities and preferences, fostering a sense of autonomy and motivation.

What makes them even more valuable is the fact that they allow educators to adapt content to individual needs. Research by Kulik and Kulik (1991) highlights that adapting instruction to individual differences can result in substantial learning gains. By customizing the learning path to each student's strengths and weaknesses, educators can provide targeted resources and activities to enhance understanding and retention.

Varying paths often incorporate continuous assessment and feedback mechanisms, which play a pivotal role in the learning process. Research by Hattie and Timperley (2007) suggests that feedback is one of the most potent influences on learning. Personalized learning paths can provide real-time feedback on students' progress, helping them identify areas for improvement and guiding them toward mastery.

Every student learns at their own pace, and personalized learning paths are designed to accommodate this variation. Research by Bloom (1984) demonstrated the benefits of mastery learning, a concept closely related to personalized learning, in which students must achieve a predetermined level of proficiency before progressing. Learning paths can ensure that students have mastered a topic before moving on, preventing gaps in understanding.

Here are some practical implementation strategies that allow students to follow a path aligned with their learning needs and interests:

Path recognizes the learner as an active participant in their educational journey. It leverages their autonomy, choice, and self-direction to create a personalized and highly engaging learning experience. This approach not only fosters academic success but also equips individuals with essential competencies and a mindset for continued self-directed learning throughout their lives.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Unlocking Personalized Learning with Artificial Intelligence (AI)

In today's fast-paced world, traditional one-size-fits-all educational approaches need to be updated. Students have diverse needs, preferences, and learning paces, making it crucial for schools to adapt to this variability. Enter artificial intelligence (AI), a powerful tool that has the potential to revolutionize education by personalizing learning experiences for every student. Here is how AI can be harnessed to tailor education, ultimately fostering better engagement and knowledge retention learning to ownership.

Adaptive Learning Paths

Learning paths are paramount for students as they provide a structured and personalized roadmap for their educational journey. These paths guide students through their learning activities, ensuring that they receive content and challenges that match their competency levels. By tailoring the learning experience, students are more likely to remain engaged and motivated, which leads to better knowledge retention and a deeper understanding of the concepts. AI's ability to analyze student data, such as their learning history and performance, allows for creating adaptive learning paths. These paths can be fine-tuned based on each student's strengths and weaknesses, ensuring they receive content that challenges them just enough to stimulate learning without causing frustration.

Customized Content

Customizing content in the classroom is essential because it acknowledges the diversity among students and recognizes that a one-size-fits-all approach to education is no longer practical. When we personalize content to align with students' interests, backgrounds, and learning preferences, we create a more engaging and relevant learning experience. Customization fosters more profound connections between the subject matter and students' real-life experiences, making it more relatable and meaningful. It also enhances student motivation and enthusiasm for learning, which, in turn, leads to better comprehension and retention. One of the significant advantages of AI in education is its capacity to curate and deliver content that caters to individual preferences. With AI, teachers can select or create materials that align with students' interests, making the learning experience more engaging and relevant.

Real-time Feedback

Real-time feedback is critical to students as it offers immediate insights into their performance and understanding of the subject matter. Unlike traditional delayed feedback, which can lead to confusion and frustration, real-time feedback allows students to correct mistakes, clarify doubts, and adjust their approach instantly. This timely information helps students stay on track, maintain their motivation, and build a deeper understanding of the material as they progress. It also promotes a growth mindset by encouraging students to view mistakes as opportunities for improvement rather than failures. AI can provide students with instant feedback on their assignments and tests. This feature not only reduces the wait time for feedback but also offers personalized suggestions for improvement, helping students understand and rectify their mistakes effectively.

Learning Preference Adaptation

Student learning preferences matter significantly because they recognize the individuality and uniqueness of each student. People have different cognitive styles, strengths, and ways of processing information. By acknowledging and accommodating these preferences, educators can create a more inclusive and effective learning environment. When students are taught in ways that resonate with their learning preferences, they are more likely to be motivated, retain knowledge more effectively, and develop a deeper interest in the subject matter. AI systems can identify a student's preferred preference, whether it's visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. This knowledge enables the system to deliver content in a format that best suits the individual, optimizing their learning experience.

Time Management Assistance

Time management is a crucial competency for students. It equips them for life in ways that extend far beyond the classroom. Learning to manage time effectively helps students meet deadlines, self-regulate, balance their academic and personal lives, and reduce stress. It fosters discipline, responsibility, and a sense of control over their educational journey. AI-powered tools can help learners manage their time efficiently by providing schedules and reminders tailored to their coursework, helping them stay on top of their assignments, homework, and study goals.

Predictive Analytics

Predictive analytics holds immense importance in improving student learning as it harnesses the power of data to foresee potential challenges and opportunities for each student. By analyzing historical performance, behavior, and engagement data, educators and institutions can identify students who may be at risk of falling behind or those who may excel with additional challenges. AI can predict a student's future performance based on their past achievements and behaviors. This information can be used to offer early intervention for students at risk of falling behind, ensuring that they receive the necessary support to succeed.

Artificial intelligence holds the key to revolutionizing education by personalizing learning experiences. With adaptive learning paths, customized content, real-time feedback, learning preference adaptation, time management assistance, and predictive analytics, AI empowers educators to cater to the unique needs and preferences of each student. As AI technology continues to evolve, it promises a future where education is not just about transferring knowledge but also about fostering individual growth and success. By embracing AI in education, we can build a more inclusive and effective learning environment for all students, unlocking their full potential.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Using Feedback to Drive Professional Learning

During this school year, I have been working with Stryker Local Schools in Ohio. Like all my implementations where the work is job-embedded and ongoing, learning walks are a core component. In September, the leaders and I conducted walks in every classroom over two days. As a result, I provided them with close to 5000 words of feedback. With the suggestions in hand, the leaders were empowered to review what we had seen and my recommendations to determine the focus for an upcoming professional development day I would be facilitating. I was excited for the opportunity to provide feedback to staff through a pedagogical design process. The three-hour sessions were tailored by grade level and developed based on suggestions for growth based on the learning walks that were conducted. 

Feedback is a critical catalyst for professional learning and growth. It serves as a valuable tool for educators, schools, and districts to refine their skills and improve teaching, learning, and leadership. Whether it comes from administrators, peers, consultants, or self-assessment, feedback offers insights that help educators identify areas for improvement and build upon their strengths. In schools, feedback should not be merely a one-time event; it is an ongoing process that fosters continuous learning and development. I have found this to be a critical success indicator in all the projects I am involved with, both past and present.  

One key aspect of utilizing feedback for professional learning is creating a culture that encourages open and honest communication. When individuals feel safe and supported in sharing their observations and receiving feedback, the environment becomes conducive to growth. In the sessions I facilitated with Stryker educators, there were activities every ten minutes at five to twenty-minute intervals focused on specific areas of potential growth. This psychological safety fosters a culture of mutual respect and trust, allowing professionals to focus on their own development rather than worrying about judgment or criticism.

Moreover, feedback provides specific and actionable information for educators to set goals and make targeted improvements. Vague or generalized praise or criticism can be less effective, as it needs more specificity for meaningful change. Constructive feedback should be specific, identifying what went well or wrong and how it can be improved. This level of detail allows individuals to take concrete steps toward enhancing their practice.

Self-assessment is another valuable tool for professional learning, as it encourages individuals to take responsibility for their own development. Hence, I provided numerous opportunities to reflect before and after giving specific suggestions. By self-reflecting, educators can gain a more well-rounded understanding of their strengths and opportunities for growth. Self-assessment helps individuals identify areas where they need improvement and enables them to set personal goals for growth. It is a proactive approach to learning that empowers them to control their development.

The feedback loop is not limited to just the individual; schools and districts also benefit from using feedback to drive professional learning. When organizations gather and analyze feedback curated during learning walks, they can make informed decisions about training, development programs, and process improvements. This data-driven approach ensures that professional learning initiatives align with the needs and aspirations of their workforce, promoting a culture of continuous learning and growth. Currently and over the years, I have been blessed to partner with district and school administrators committed to this process.

Feedback is a powerful tool for driving professional learning. It promotes a culture of openness and trust, provides specific and actionable insights, encourages self-assessment, and empowers both individuals and organizations to enhance their performance. By recognizing feedback as an ongoing process and a means to facilitate growth, educators can harness its potential to improve and evolve in their craft continuously. 

Reach out if you want to learn more about what this process could look like for your school or district through Aspire Change EDU's comprehensive suite of services. 

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Anywhere Learning

Education has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years, and one of the most significant developments is the concept of "anywhere learning." This innovative approach to personalized education leverages technology to give students the flexibility and freedom to learn at their own pace, in their own space. Anywhere learning is proving to be a game-changer, benefiting students in a multitude of ways, primarily because it is entirely learner-centric.

First and foremost, the ability to learn anytime, anywhere, and with anyone benefits students by offering unparalleled flexibility. Traditional classroom-based education often constrains students with fixed schedules and locations. However, with anywhere learning, students have the freedom to choose when and where they engage with their coursework. This flexibility allows them to adapt their learning to their individual needs and lifestyles. Whether a student is a night owl, a morning person, or needs to accommodate a part-time job, anywhere learning enables them to create a personalized learning schedule.

Moreover, it is particularly beneficial for students with diverse learning preferences. Not all students thrive in a traditional classroom setting. Some may require more time to process information, while others may excel in self-directed learning. Anywhere learning provides a wide range of resources and materials, including videos, interactive simulations, and written content, enabling students to choose the format that best suits their learning style. This personalized approach fosters a deeper understanding of the concepts and promotes critical thinking. I shared the following quote in Disruptive Thinking:

Personalized learning represents an array of strategies that ensure all learners get what they need when and where they need it to succeed. 

Additionally, learning anytime and anywhere develops self-discipline and time management competencies, which are crucial for students' future success. Learning in a flexible environment requires students to take ownership of their education and manage their time effectively. They must set goals, prioritize tasks, and establish routines to succeed. These competencies serve them well in their academic pursuits and prepare them for the demands of the modern workforce, where time management is a valuable asset. With a personalized focus, educators can create lessons, tasks, or even courses that empower students to make the most of where and when they learn.

Another significant advantage of anywhere learning is its accessibility. It breaks down geographical barriers and provides education to students who may need access to quality schools or universities. This democratization of education is a powerful force in promoting inclusivity and equal opportunity. Whether a student lives in a remote area, has physical disabilities, or wants to explore a curriculum not offered locally, personalization opens the doors to a world of knowledge and virtual experiences.

Furthermore, anywhere learning fosters a global perspective. Students can engage with peers and educators from diverse backgrounds, enriching their understanding of different cultures and viewpoints. Online discussion forums and collaborative projects facilitate interactions that transcend geographical boundaries. This exposure to diverse perspectives is an invaluable aspect of a well-rounded education, preparing students for a globalized world.

Another critical aspect is the facilitation of continuous learning. In the digital age, knowledge is constantly evolving, and traditional education models may need help to keep pace with these changes. Anywhere learning allows students to access up-to-date information, courses, and resources at their fingertips. This adaptability to the evolving needs of the job market ensures that students remain competitive and adaptable in their careers.

Effective implementation requires careful planning, the right tools, and a supportive environment. Here are some suggestions on integrating anywhere learning options as a pathway to personalization:

  1. Ensure Clarity: Establish clear learning targets by unpacking the standards that will be addressed. What are the learning goals you want to achieve? A well-defined purpose will guide your implementation strategy and help ensure students stay on task.
  2. Select Appropriate Technology: Choose the right technology tools and platforms that align with your educational goals. Ensure they are user-friendly, secure, and offer the features needed for various learning activities, such as video conferencing, discussion boards, and content delivery.
  3. Curriculum Development: Adapt and create educational content suitable for online, hybrid, or remote learning. This might involve reformatting existing materials or creating new resources that engage students in an online environment. Work to maintain quality standards for content and teaching methods. Regularly review and update course materials to keep them relevant and effective.
  4. Assessment Strategies: Design effective assessment methods that work in an online context. Assessments should align with learning objectives and be easily administered and graded through digital means.
  5. Access to Devices and Internet: Verify that students have access to the necessary devices (computers, tablets, etc.) and a reliable internet connection. Consider providing assistance or resources for students who lack access to these essentials. Ensure that student data is protected and that the online environment is secure. Implement robust data privacy and security measures to comply with regulations and safeguard sensitive information.
  6. Interactive Learning Opportunities: Create opportunities for interaction, collaboration, and discussion. Engage students through asynchronous videos, discussion boards, group projects, and other interactive methods to encourage active learning and peer-to-peer interaction.
  7. Feedback Mechanisms: Set up mechanisms for collecting feedback from students and educators. Regular surveys and feedback sessions can help identify issues and areas for improvement.
  8. Monitoring and Evaluation: Continuously monitor for effectiveness. Analyze data on student performance and engagement to make informed adjustments and improvements.
  9. Communication: Establish clear communication channels to keep students, parents, and educators informed about changes, updates, and essential information related to this means of personalization. Communicate with parents and caregivers to involve them in the learning process, especially for younger students. Provide them with information on supporting their children in an online learning environment.
  10. Flexibility and Adaptability: Be ready to adapt and evolve this pedagogical strategy as technology advances and educational needs change. Embrace innovation and explore new opportunities as they arise.

As with any personalized pathway, anywhere learning is a transformative approach to education that benefits students in numerous ways. Its flexibility, adaptability to diverse learning styles, promotion of self-discipline and time management, accessibility, global perspective, and emphasis on continuous learning make it an ideal choice for modern students. Anywhere learning empowers students to take control of their education, enabling them to thrive in a dynamic and interconnected world. As technology advances, the potential for personalization to positively impact the educational landscape and students' lives is boundless.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Inclusion and Co-Teaching in the Personalized Classroom

Inclusion is essential for special education (SPED) because it promotes the social and academic development of students with disabilities, fosters a sense of belonging, and prepares them for life outside of school. It aligns with legal and ethical imperatives, is often cost-effective, and encourages teacher development. Inclusive education also positively impacts school culture, reduces stigma, and advocates for equity and civil rights, ensuring all students have equal opportunities and contribute to a more inclusive society.

Effective inclusion in a special education classroom involves creating a supportive environment where students with disabilities are fully integrated into the general education setting. It entails individualized education plans (IEPs), differentiated instruction, and universal design for learning (UDL) to meet diverse needs. Collaboration among educators, positive behavior support, and peer interactions are crucial. Accessible facilities, ongoing professional development, and family involvement are vital components. Regular assessment, flexibility, and a culture of respect for diversity contribute to successful inclusion, ensuring that all students have the opportunity to thrive.

One of the hallmark accommodations of inclusive classrooms is more adults, whether a certified special education teacher, a teaching assistant (TA), or both. Having more people in the room can be instrumental to student growth when effective co-teaching and personalized practices are in place, especially modified rotational models. The key considerations are for the adults to use available data and evidence to meet the needs of all learners, with a particular focus on those who are classified. 

During a recent coaching visit as part of ongoing work with Quest Academy Junior High School, I witnessed a co-taught experience that was implemented exceptionally well. The 6th-grade math teacher was seen at a large table, where she used adaptive tool data to pull a group of learners for targeted instruction. While she actively taught, the rest of the class was seen working at their own pace, either independently or in small groups. Students were not just completing low-level tasks as part of busy work. They were actively engaged in an adaptive learning program where they followed their own path based on ability. It was awesome to watch them access short instructional videos as needed, solve problems on dry-erase desks, and collaborate with each other when needed. 

While this was impressive in itself, I was intrigued by the actions of the TA. She was seen accessing evidence on her iPad for individual learners based on their IEP. As she reviewed submitted work, students were identified that were either stuck or needed targeted support. Had it not been for principal Nicki Slaugh informing me that she was the TA, I would have just assumed she was a special education teacher. It was refreshing to see how Nicki had reinforced aspects from a presentation I did last year on effective co-teaching and inclusion that resulted in changes to practice. Change typically only occurs with effective leadership.

The marriage of co-teaching and personalization benefits learners who need the most support from the adults in the classroom while allowing those who are already at standard to move ahead at their own pace. Learning needs can be met more effectively when aligned with Response to Intervention (RTI) and modified rotational models

Regardless of the grade level, it is crucial to understand what constitutes real inclusion through pedagogically sound co-teaching models. Please check out the image below and this website for more information.  

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Tips for Creating Must-Do/May-Do Tasks

As readers of my blog know, I am incredibly passionate about pedagogically-sound personalized learning. Who wouldn’t be excited about implementing strategies that support ALL learners getting what they need when and where they need it to succeed? What is even more intriguing is that there is no one best way to personalize, something I wrote extensively about in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms and this recent blog post. While technology is a powerful tool that can be leveraged, it is not a prerequisite. Don’t get sucked into the narrative that students have to be on a device for it to be personalized.

As a presenter and coach, I show the value of various strategies educators can implement. I always point out that what might work for one person or classroom might not necessarily be the best fit for others. The key is to know your students in terms of interests, strengths, and areas for growth. Once a solid foundation has been established through sound Tier 1 instruction, the next course of action is to determine what high-agency practice will be employed. Choice is often one of the most preferred means to personalize. Don’t think you need to create an elaborate board.  A must-do/may-do menu is a great option that I see used more and more during my job-embedded coaching cycle.

Before implementing this personalized strategy, determine how the tasks will align with the standard(s) that are the focal point of the mini-lesson it will follow. Always remember the inherent value of tried-and-true instructional strategies where personalization can be integrated through student voice. The next step is to develop substantive tasks that all students must complete and choices they may engage in afterward.

Below are some general tips for creating a pedagogically sound list of activities that students must complete and then options to choose from, as well as effective implementation ideas.

  • Develop a template and embed it in your learning management system (LMS) for easy access if digital tools are incorporated.
  • Ensure alignment to the mini-lesson (content and concept specific) or areas of need (intervention).
  • Shy away from all tech options.
  • Include a challenging and relevant task(s).
  • Try to avoid overloading with too many activities.
  • Integrate an adaptive tool if available.
  • Display a timer to aid in self-regulation and pacing.
  • If possible, differentiate by having at least two variations.
  • Use data to pull individuals for 1:1 support (Tier 3) when the entire class is working.
  • Make time to monitor in between 1:1 support.
  • End the lesson with a scaffolded closure task (i.e., exit ticket) for learner accountability and teacher feedback.

In the real world, individuals often have choices in how they approach tasks and projects. Must-do/may-do activities mirror this reality and prepare students for decision-making and time-management skills they will need later in life. Their value extends even further. In a diverse classroom, students have different strengths and weaknesses. Must-do/may-do activities provide flexibility for students to choose tasks that align with their abilities. This flexibility can reduce frustration for struggling students and prevent boredom for advanced ones.

As an option to personalize, must-do/may-do tasks are essential in the classroom because they create a more inclusive, engaging, and personalized learning environment. They support students at various competency levels, encourage autonomy, and prepare students for the complexities of the real world, all of which contribute to a more effective and enriching educational experience. Most of all, they can free up teacher time to support those learners who need it the most. 

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Quality Over Quantity

In education, there is never a lack of ideas on how to improve teaching, learning and leadership. Most would agree that they are a dime a dozen. Over the years, I have been writing extensively about efficacy-based pathways that have led to proven results. While innovation is a lofty goal, we must be cognizant of what we are trying to accomplish. Too many balls in the area can have an adverse impact on focus, derailing what we are trying to improve.

Quality over quantity matters when it comes to implementing new ideas because it is more important to have a few well-thought-out and well-executed strategies than to have a large number of thoughts that could be better developed, something that I emphasize in Digital Leadership.  Of course, quantity does play a role in the creative process. The more ideas you generate, the more likely you are to come up with a good one. However, it is essential to strike a balance between quantity and quality. If you focus too much on quantity, you may end up with many ideas that could be better.

Below are ten reasons why quality almost always trumps quantity.

  1. Effectiveness: Implementing a small number of sound ideas is often more effective than attempting to execute a large number of mediocre or poorly thought-out ideas. Quality ideas are more likely to address specific problems or opportunities and deliver meaningful results effectively. When it comes to professional learning, this is critical. 
  2. Resource Allocation: Resources such as time, money, and peoplepower are finite. Focusing on a smaller number of high-quality ideas allows you to allocate these resources more efficiently and ensure they are used where they can have the most significant impact.
  3. Risk Management: High-quality ideas are typically better researched, planned, and tested, which reduces the inherent risks associated with implementing new concepts. Rushing into numerous things at once can result in failure, wasted resources, and potentially harm your district, school, or classroom culture.
  4. Learning and Adaptation: When prioritizing quality, you can invest more time and effort into learning from each idea's implementation. This allows you to gather valuable feedback and insights that can inform future initiatives and increase the likelihood of success over time.
  5. Focus and Clarity: Pursuing too many ideas at once can lead to confusion and dilution of efforts. High-quality ideas are more likely to have a clear vision and purpose, making it easier for your team to stay focused and aligned.
  6. Educator Satisfaction: High-quality ideas are more likely to address your student's or staff's needs and preferences. This leads to higher satisfaction and loyalty, which can translate into long-term success.
  7. Competitive Advantage: Implementing a few high-quality ideas can set you and your school or district apart from others pursuing a quantity-based approach. Quality innovations can become unique elements of the learning culture that set your learners up for success compared to other schools or districts chasing the next shiny thing. 
  8. Sustainable Growth: Quality ideas are more likely to have a long-lasting impact on growth and sustainability. They can lay the foundation for ongoing success and adaptation to a rapidly changing society because of disruptive forces.
  9. Reputation and Branding: Successful implementation of high-quality ideas can enhance your reputation and brand image. In BrandED, we illustrated how It signals to stakeholders that you are committed to delivering excellence and innovation to support all learners. 
  10. Engagement: Focusing on quality can boost staff morale and engagement. Educators are more likely to feel motivated and fulfilled when working on meaningful, well-executed initiatives.

Here are some more tips for implementing new ideas with a focus on quality:

  • Take the time to define the problem or opportunity that you are trying to address. The more specific you can be, the better.
  • Generate a variety of ideas, but be critical of them. Don't just accept every idea that comes to mind. Think about each idea's feasibility, potential impact, and potential risks.
  • Select the best ideas and develop them further. Conduct research, get feedback from others, and ensure your ideas are well thought out.
  • Implement your ideas in a phased approach. This will allow you to learn from your mistakes and make adjustments as needed.
  • Measure the results of your ideas and make adjustments as needed. This will help you ensure that your ideas have the desired impact.

Don’t get caught up in the hoopla that seems to surround the latest pedagogical fads and technology. While it may be tempting to pursue a large number of new ideas, prioritizing quality over quantity is often the wiser approach. High-quality ideas are more likely to deliver the desired results, effectively use resources, and contribute to long-term success and growth.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Making Learning Personal: 5 Steps for Success

Learning is a deeply personal journey and tailoring it to individual needs and preferences is essential for fostering meaningful and effective education. Personalized learning increases engagement and helps learners develop a deeper understanding of the subject matter. It all begins with understanding the learner's interests, something I dive deeply into in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms. What are they passionate about? What do they want to learn more about? Once you know the learner's interests, you can tailor the learning experience to them.

Below are five things to consider, which can help make learning personal and empower students to take ownership of their education.

Establish Clarity

To make learning personal, educators should establish clear learning targets that are both challenging and achievable for students. These should align with the standard(s) being addressed and the student’s current knowledge and skills, ensuring they feel the appropriate cognitive flexibility without becoming overwhelmed. Clarity provides a sense of purpose, direction, and motivation, allowing students to measure their progress and take pride in their accomplishments. When facilitating Tier 1 instruction, look to impart relevance during the opening minutes through a well-designed anticipatory set. At the conclusion, have the students reflect on how they will use what they learned outside the classroom as part of a closure task.

Determine Individual Needs

Data is the best tool educators can use to determine what a learner needs to succeed. There are so many sources to pull from, such as common formative assessments, routine benchmarks, and adaptive tools. You can even leverage data from exit tickets. By identifying both areas for growth and strengths, educators can begin to map out specific personalized pedagogical pathways that focus on customized supports. They can also adapt their teaching methods and materials to cater to the diverse needs of their students.

Emphasize choice and autonomy

Empowering students with choice and autonomy is a fundamental aspect of personalized learning. When students have the freedom to choose topics, tasks, projects, or how to demonstrate understanding, they become more invested in their learning. Educators can provide a range of options within the curriculum, allowing students to pursue their passions and explore their strengths while meeting educational objectives through choice activities, playlists, specific digital tools, dry-erase surfaces, and must-do/may-do options. This fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility for their learning.

Provide Continuous Feedback and Support

Learning that is personal ensures continuous feedback and support to students. Constructive feedback helps learners understand their strengths and areas for improvement, allowing them to adjust their strategies and take initiative in their learning journey. It should be timely, specific, and practical, where educators maintain open lines of communication, offering guidance and resources tailored to each student's needs. Also, fostering a growth mindset, where students understand that learning involves setbacks and challenges, can help them persevere and succeed.

Adapt and Evolve

Making learning personal is an ongoing process that requires adaptability, evolution, and growth. As students grow and change, so should their educational experiences. Educators should be willing to adapt their teaching methods and materials based on feedback and assessment results while connecting relevant trends and issues. Technology can also play a significant role in creating a personal touch, offering adaptive learning platforms and tools that cater to individual progress and needs.

The best classroom management strategy is sound pedagogy. Making learning personal can help establish attentive behavior while creating an environment where students want to work. Here are some practical tips that can be leveraged during every lesson:

  • Integrate a hook at the beginning of class.
  • Use technology to create interactive and engaging learning experiences.
  • Connect learning to the learner's real-world experiences.
  • Encourage learners to reflect on their learning and set goals for themselves.
  • Celebrate the learner's successes.

Personalized learning is a powerful approach to education that recognizes the uniqueness of each student. Educators can create an environment where students are actively engaged and take ownership of their learning by assessing learning preferences, establishing clarity, offering choice and autonomy, providing continuous feedback and support, and adapting to changing needs. Ultimately, personalized learning enhances academic achievement and fosters a love for learning that extends beyond the classroom.