Sunday, June 30, 2024

Personalize Your Strategic Plan: Meet the Needs of All Learners Through a Personalized Strategic Vision

The following is a guest post by Dr. Richard Schroeder.

Many sayings show how important it is for an organization to have a strategic plan. 

Without a strategy, a goal is only a wish. 

A map is only useful if you know where you are.

Without a strategic vision in place, a strategic plan is useless. 

All roads lead nowhere if you do not know where you are heading.

Some argue that alignment within their organization is one of the most significant obstacles school and district administrators face. The daily struggle is evident in the school systems across the nation, where a multitude of supports, staff, solutions, and professional development options are implemented without sufficient consideration for their overall fit and impact. Leaders are now more obligated than ever to establish a strategic plan based on an instructional vision that serves as a roadmap for the organization's future.

A strategic plan always aligns with vision and mission.

When developing a strategic strategy, leaders have a plethora of alternatives. Numerous individuals initiate their leadership voyage by "continuing" the plan established by their predecessors. Several districts have agreements with one of the larger consulting firms that implement an "out of the box" planning template that disregards the instructional vision of the leader and the district's unique requirements. Others employ a consulting firm that "dictates" a planning process predicated on the consultant's or company's vision (e.g., an equity-based framework) rather than supporting the district/community based on their requirements.

When conducting strategic planning with a district team, I have consistently pondered the following question: If a personalized approach is optimal for pupils, why should the strategic planning process not be personalized for each district? Ultimately, shouldn't each educational institution accommodate learners' diverse learning requirements and preferences? This is where the power of diverging from methods that concentrate on a single approach is found. In their book Personalize, Eric Sheninger and Nicki Slaugh disclose the following: 

Personalized learning compromises an array of strategies where all students get what they need when and where they need it to learn. It’s not about more work. On the contrary, it is about maximizing the time with students and prioritizing their needs, resulting in better work.

The same approach to personalization should be implemented when formulating a strategic plan for your organization.  I've learned to honor the organization's demands by guiding the planning process through three separate phases rather than a preplanned template.  There are the following:

  • Collaborative Learning: Using data analysis and examination in a group setting to formulate questions and establish priorities.
  • Facilitated Collaborative Planning: Facilitating a group's vision, mission, values, and top priorities.
  • Stakeholder Test Drive and Implementation: Sending the plan's findings or draft to relevant stakeholder groups for comments or adjustments.

Below is an example of the finished product from a post project where I helped a district with this process.

Consider your possibilities while developing the strategy to propel the organization forward and the road map to lead the way. For students, customization works best, and any organization thinking about the future should agree.

Dr. Richard Schroeder is the Chief Education Officer of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute.   He previously served as a partner in an education leadership consulting group, a multi-national k-12 publishing company, and various district and school leadership positions.  He can be reached at:

If you would like to learn more about strategic planning services through Aspire Change EDU reach out at

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Ditch the Drill and Choose to Thrill: Personalization with Student Choice

There is a saying out there that I hear often: learning is learning. While I don’t discount this view, I firmly believe there is so much to it at the individual level. Preferences and experiences play a significant role in how we all learn, and interests do as well. When asked to do the same thing at the same time in the same way, it is pretty much a fact that a few people will thrive, some will get by, and others will struggle. While this notion challenges the status quo and how things have been done traditionally in education, it is the truth. The question now becomes, what are we going to do about it?

Learners have different learning needs and preferences. Herein lies the power of veering away from approaches focusing on just one way.  Nicki Slaugh and I shared the following in our book Personalize:

Personalized learning compromises an array of strategies where all students get what they need when and where they need it to learn. It’s not about more work. On the contrary, it is about maximizing the time with students prioritizing their needs, resulting in better work.

Agency in the classroom is about giving students more control over their learning through greater autonomy and purpose. Many factors drive it, but the underlying premise is to move learners from a state of engagement to empowerment so that they exert more ownership over their learning. While there are many high-agency strategies to choose from when personalizing, choice stands out. It allows for the tailoring of the learning experience to student needs and strengths, leading to better retention and deeper learning through the following:

  • Increased Engagement: When learners have a choice in what they learn or how they learn it, they become more invested in the process. This intrinsic motivation leads to deeper engagement and a stronger desire to understand the material.
  • Ownership and Agency: Choice fosters a sense of ownership over the learning process. Learners feel empowered to make decisions and explore topics that interest them. This sense of agency increases their responsibility for their learning and makes them more likely to take initiative.
  • Active Exploration: Having choices encourages learners to explore different approaches, materials, or activities. This active exploration allows them to discover new information, make connections between ideas, and solidify their understanding. 

In a science class studying the human body, a teacher wants students to demonstrate their understanding of the digestive system. Traditionally, this could mean assigning a written report or a diagram labeling the organs. However, here is where incorporating student choice can personalize learning through different ways to demonstrate understanding:

  • Art: One student who excels in art chooses to create a comic strip explaining the journey of a hamburger through the digestive system. This allows them to showcase their artistic skills while demonstrating their understanding of the different organs involved and their functions.
  • Technology: Another student is passionate about technology and chooses to create a stop-motion animation video depicting the digestive process. This student gets to combine their love for technology with their understanding of science.
  • Performance: A student who thrives on public speaking chooses to write and perform a short play where the different organs of the digestive system come to life and explain their roles. This allows them to demonstrate their knowledge creatively.

These are just a few examples; a teacher might provide additional options or let students develop their own ideas as long as they meet the learning objectives. The key is that students can choose a method that resonates with them and allows them to showcase their understanding effectively and enjoyably.

Recently, on my podcast, I discussed how choice can be a great differentiator that helps meet the needs of all learners.  There are natural connections to differentiation. Below are the three components and some of the strategies Nicki and I go into detail about in Personalize

  1. Choice in content: Students can choose to learn the content with the teacher in small groups or independently through a flipped lesson or self-pacing task (reading, video, notes, slides, etc.). No matter the path chosen, checks for understanding along the way inform the student of their understanding. 
  2. Choice in the process: Students can choose scaffolded and relevant tasks to complete in a must-do/may-do format, choice board, or playlist. While they work, the teacher uses data or evidence to pull individuals for intensive support.
  3. Choice in product: With a well-designed rubric, students choose how to demonstrate learning through creating a product.  For examples, click HERE and HERE

Overall, choice empowers learners, personalizes the experience, and fosters a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

Take a deep dive into personalized learning by grabbing your copy of Personalize: Meeting the Needs of All Learners on Amazon. 

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Student Voice as an Engagement Strategy

Imagine a classroom buzzing with curiosity, where questions fly like sparks and exploration thrives. Engaged learners are joyful learners. When students are genuinely invested, a sense of wonder takes hold. They delve into challenges with a smile, their eyes alight with the thrill of discovery. This joy of learning is contagious, fueling a classroom where knowledge isn't just absorbed; it's embraced. In this empowering environment, students blossom, reaching their full potential and embarking on a lifelong journey that sets them up for current and future success. 

Engaging students today is a complex task. Educators often express the challenge of keeping students focused and interested in the learning process. This can be particularly difficult in today's world, where students are bombarded with distractions and have a multitude of competing priorities. However, research provides a beacon of hope, offering valuable insights into fostering a thriving learning environment. According to a study by Fredricks et al. (2004), students who are actively engaged in lessons demonstrate a deeper understanding of content and develop stronger critical thinking skills. By implementing effective strategies, educators can transform classrooms from places of passive absorption into dynamic hubs of active participation and intellectual growth. The following passage explores some of these strategies that can ignite a passion for learning within students.

Student voice in the classroom is not just a concept; it's a catalyst for a more engaged and successful learning environment. When students feel their ideas and perspectives are heard and valued, they become more than just participants in the learning process; they become active contributors. This can lead to many benefits, including increased motivation, a deeper understanding of concepts, and a greater sense of ownership over their education. Students who believe they have a voice are more likely to be academically motivated. Teachers can tailor their lessons by listening to students to better resonate with their interests and learning styles. This two-way communication builds trust and empowers students to take an active role in their own education, preparing them to be critical thinkers and lifelong learners.

Nicki Slaugh and I shared the following in our book Personalize:

Student voice denotes any action that empowers students to express their perspectives when shaping their learning journey. The primary message here is that classroom participation is all-inclusive, promoting a greater sense of involvement for everyone. 

We see student voice as a gateway to personalization, especially during instruction. The image above details the many positive outcomes of this high-agency strategy. When asking questions, you can use the following to amplify the voices of your learners:

  • Individual whiteboards
  • Dry-erase surfaces
  • Post-Its
  • Digital tools
  • Physical objects such as clothespins or signs (these can be colored red and green for students to attach to their devices or hold up during group work)

Understanding that there is no right way to amplify student voice is crucial. While the list above provides a good foundation, keep in mind that you or your teachers might develop more innovative ways to let all students be heard, increasing engagement in the process while gaining valuable insight that can be used to strengthen Tier 1 instruction or improve Tier 2 supports.   

Students who feel their ideas and perspectives are valued are more invested in learning. This can lead to increased motivation, a deeper understanding of concepts, and a greater sense of ownership over their education. Teachers can tailor their lessons by listening to students to better resonate with their interests and learning styles. In short, student voice is a gateway to a more successful learning experience.

Take a deep dive into personalized learning by grabbing your copy of Personalize: Meeting the Needs of All Learners on Amazon. 

Fredricks, A. C., Blumenfeld, P. C., & Paris, A. H. (2004). School engagement: Importance and development. The Educational Psychologist, 39(1), 18-24.

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.