Monday, March 27, 2023

#EDvice: Moving from Impersonal to Personalized

There is a great deal of confusion out there as to what personalization is when it comes to learning in and out of the classroom. When terms that are new materialize, there is a natural inclination to develop a meaning that works for a particular narrative or goal.  A lack of clarity or pedagogical understanding translates to people and organizations making up whatever fits best.  From my lens, this is exactly what has occurred with personalized learning.  Below is my strong opinion on the issue, which I shared in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms:

Putting all kids on a device and having them use an adaptive tool at the same time is NOT personalization. Understanding WHO our students are and helping them ALL succeed with or without tech is at the heart of personalized approaches that ensure equity in the classroom.

The last few words above are the most critical.  Personalized learning encompasses an array of strategies that provide all learners with what they need, when and where they need it to succeed. This flies in the face of all students doing the same thing, the same way, at the same time during the majority of a lesson, especially the instructional component, or a task. I dive a bit deeper into the concept in this piece of #EDvice. 

There is not one right or best way to personalize. However, a significant culture shift is required at all levels, including district, school, and classroom. I shared the following in a past post:

An impersonal approach is all students doing the same thing the same way at the same time. While this can have merit in moderation, excessive use of one-size-fits-all approaches is inequitable. They also tend to focus on the “what .”On the other hand, personalization is where all learners get what they need when and where they need it through equitable experiences. There is also clarity in terms of why they are learning what they are and how it will be used outside of school. 


Personalization can occur through many high-agency approaches such as rotational models, choice activities, playlists, flipped lessons, and virtual courses. It can also be achieved through an array of strategies that have been around, in some form or another, for years, including differentiation, response to intervention (RTI), and the purposeful use of technology in alignment with Tier 1 instruction. 

If we are serious about equity in learning, then the best path forward is to make concerted efforts to develop a shared vision that emphasizes who we serve and work from there. 

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Leading Digitally-Rich Cultures of Learning

A thriving culture views technology as a seamless component that can enhance learning in a multitude of ways. When digital tools are intentionally integrated, students are able to produce tangible evidence of their conceptual comprehension, develop a range of competencies, illustrate the construction of new knowledge, and become self-directed in their learning. Additionally, technology can increase relevance and make the curriculum more contextual. This is only a glimpse of how digital learning can complement current school practices while also demonstrating the value of learning to students. To ensure long-term success, it is essential to establish a culture that embraces digital learning and integrates it into every aspect of the school's operations. Otherwise, isolated instances of success will be the only outcome.

In a recent post, I shared the Purposeful Use of Technology for Learning (PUTL) framework as a means to develop a foundation and inform how technology can be used to support learner-driven experiences and outcomes. Upon reflection, I discovered that a critical aspect was missing and that was leadership. Below you can view the updated image.

Digital leadership is necessary now and in the future. Leaders need to understand the pivotal role that technology plays in learning. I shared the following in Digital Leadership:

Digital leadership is a strategic mindset and set of behaviors that leverage resources to create a meaningful, transparent, and engaging school culture. It considers recent changes such as ubiquitous connectivity, open-source technology, mobile devices, and personalization. It represents a dramatic shift from how schools have been run and structured for over a century. What started as a personal use of technology has become systemic in every facet of leadership. Digital leadership can thus be defined as establishing direction, influencing others, initiating sustainable change through access to information, and establishing relationships to anticipate changes pivotal to school success in the future. It requires a dynamic combination of mindset, behaviors, and skills that are employed to change and/or enhance school culture through the assistance of technology.

Authenticity lies at the core of digital leadership, which involves utilizing digital platforms and tools to build relationships, foster transparency, highlight achievements, openly introspect, and share impactful narratives. By effectively communicating the reasons, methods, and outcomes, leaders can proactively shape a story that is rooted in evidence, aligned with research, and demonstrates effectiveness. Genuine leaders recognize the significance of personal interaction but also strive to innovate and anticipate future needs. This is where the digital element becomes crucial.

To support educators and build capacity, consider applying the tenets of pedagogical leadership, which naturally aligns with components in the PUTL Framework shown above. Leaders can also leverage the Pillars of Digital Leadership to develop and sustain digitally rich cultures of learning. Below you will see visuals for both and links to blog posts offering detailed insight.

To move schools forward in the present time, it is essential to engage in continuous learning and reflection. The world is constantly changing, and with it, jobs and expectations are evolving. If the objective is growth and improvement, then teaching, learning, and leadership must also transform where digital isn’t seen as an add-on but a ubiquitous asset. It is crucial for all leaders, regardless of their title, to explore important questions that can lead to innovative ideas that enhance outcomes for all in a digitally rich culture.

Monday, March 13, 2023

#EDvice: The Power of Stories

Everyone loves a great story. We spend countless hours visualizing how they unfold when reading and watching them come to life through our device of choice.  It comes as no surprise that civilizations across the globe have been curating and sharing them since the beginning of time. From cave paintings, stone carvings, and ancient papyrus paper, the most significant stories of our past have been preserved. In the modern era, the invention of the printing press and advances in technology have proliferated storytelling and allowed virtually everyone to evolve into a storyteller role if they so choose. 

While the means to share has changed, the overall impact has not. The power of well-told stories is undeniable and can transcend time. They CONNECT, INSPIRE, EMPOWER, and UNITE us often when it is most needed. We need stories, as do those who we serve, especially students. In this piece of #EDvice I dive into the various research-based components that great storytellers leverage, whether they know it or not. 

In both Digital Leadership and BrandED I dive into the intricacies to unleash the power of stories.  While research paves the way and shows us how to elicit emotion to engage others, there are also many other critical elements to be aware of when developing a narrative.  Below are two images that provide additional context.

My call to action to all educators is to become the storyteller-in-chief.  This is not a relatively hard thing to do. Social media allows us to take sole control of our public relations and tell our classroom, district, and school stories consistently, accurately, and transparently. Educators are making a difference every day and these success stories resonate with local, national, and even international stakeholders.  Telling stories of student successes and staff accomplishments help to combat and drown out the negative rhetoric that has become rampant in the education profession. 

Your work and that of your students is downright amazing. Be proud and share. 

Sunday, March 5, 2023

When Growth is the Only Path Forward

No pain, no gain has been a common saying for years. Truth be told, getting better is hard work, no matter the context. When faced with adversity, we take one of two paths. The first is seeing the inherent opportunity in a challenge through a growth mindset. Sometimes that means looking beyond traditional metrics of success to find other areas where the needle can be moved. Just because you are already good at something should not hinder progress in other areas. The second option is to develop a sense of reluctance to push forward. Many factors, such as fear and comfort, can lead us in this direction. These can both stymy change efforts or develop an illusion that everything is just “peachy.”

Truth be told, when it comes to education, there is no perfection, no matter where quantitative and qualitative metrics reside. Even if you have the best test scores, graduation rates, innovative practices, and attendance numbers, growth should still be pursued. Authentic leadership is being honest and vulnerable about where you are to help others get to where they need and want to be to succeed. Whether you lead a district, organization, school, or classroom, you should always strive to get better. There is always work to be done and effective educators embrace this wholeheartedly.  

Consider the following questions when it comes to professional growth:
  • Who do we serve?
  • Why are our practices effective or not?
  • How can we improve?
  • What will tell us whether or not we are successful?
  • Where do we go from here?

A standout example of this is Quest Academy Junior High School in Utah. During the spring of 2022, I met Nicki Slaugh, who serves as principal, and many of her staff at a school system where we were all there to facilitate professional learning on Personalized Competency-Based Learning (PCBL). In typical fashion, I moved from ideas and concepts to concrete examples of evidence from my other coaching projects to illustrate practicality and efficacy. In Nicki’s words, she saw many direct connections to what she and her staff were doing at Quest, but more importantly, she saw an opportunity to grow. It was at this point that we planned longitudinal work over the course of the year, which included a book study using Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms

After several workshops, I began coaching cycles in the fall of 2022. What I immediately saw blew my mind as it was some of the best examples of personalization at scale that I have ever seen. In every classroom, I saw evidence of a vibrant culture of learning and competency-based strategies where students followed a unique path and worked at their own pace. Teachers were seen pulling students based on data for targeted support in small groups or individually in math and ELA. Rubrics were everywhere and accessible in Google Classroom. I also saw the consistent use of exit tickets and pathways to provide feedback. My brief summary does not do justice to what these teachers and their leader have accomplished. It is simply amazing. 

After reading the paragraph above, you are probably wondering why I am even supporting Quest. Well, this ties directly to the title of my post. Even though they are clicking on all cylinders in many areas, Nicki and her staff live by the mantra that growth is a never-ending journey. Collectively, we came to the consensus that there were opportunities to grow in the use of high-agency strategies, most notably voice and choice, as well as the development of customized supports schoolwide. Thus, we created a personalized coaching plan to target these focus areas. 

To date, there has been so much progress made. I have included a few pictures below, but to get a better sense of all that is happening at Quest, take a look at THIS PRESENTATION Nicki and I have facilitated for the Utah State Board of Education in person and virtually. You will see what they already had in place, but also growth in the areas of station rotation, flipped lessons, playlists, amplification of voice through technology and dry-erase surfaces, rigor, and relevance. Please note that this is only a small sampling of evidence. 

The culture of learning that Nicki has established at Quest empowers teachers to take risks and actively reflect on their practice. After each coaching session, she takes my feedback and then works with her staff to pull out the most essential parts. Growth is happening because Nicki and her teachers own the process. They change not because they necessarily have to but because they want to in an effort to serve their students better. I have been so impressed that I took my team to Quest to see firsthand what true personalization looks like as we put the finishing touches on our support model for districts and schools across the world. Nicki shared the following:
"To be the 1%, you need to do what 99% are either hesitant or unwilling to do. Our entire school culture is based on always reaching for better. We had already implemented several aspects of PCBL, but upon meeting with Eric, it was clear that we still had room for growth. While listening to Eric present, I felt he was my kindred spirit. It was so exciting for us to meet someone who shared our passion and vision. We had already experienced how valuable feedback was in helping our students grow, so we were excited for the opportunity to receive feedback from an expert in the PCBL field to help take us to the next level. The strategies Eric has given my teachers have been invaluable. He has connected with both my students and staff and has genuinely become part of our team."
My point is as simple as it is proud. Growth can and should be the only path forward, no matter where you are in your practice or as a system. Professional learning should be anything but “cookie cutter” and personalized based on your needs and goals. It should be something you want to engage in, not viewed as another thing to do or a waste of time. If you want to have a conversation about what this could look like in your district, organization, or school, send me an email.