Thursday, September 5, 2013

Growing Sustainable Personalized Learning Systems

Moving to a Personalized Learning Systems (PLS) is a culture shift. Moving an entire district or a region to a system with a sustainable PLS takes time and a process. PL Systems are built on a human infrastructure with groups of people where some may be definitely ready and others resistant. Those that are ready may still hesitate to jump in unless they have the support and resources they need when they need it. Those that are resistant may have concerns on what will happen to teaching and how personalizing learning might impact their kids. Some say PLEs grow organically where others say they need to be strategic.
The only way to create a system that is strategic and grows organically with sustainable Personalized Learning Systems is to have a process that includes a coaching program with your staff. 

NRCS Soil Health's photostream on Flickr
When you build a coaching program it is similar to building a garden. You start building your foundation (your vision and belief system) to have the right type of nutrients, sunlight, and soil so your garden starts out right. A shared belief system and vision starts with an understanding of a common language around personalized learning. Possibly everyone agrees that they need to have the right soil and nutrients but not everyone will get the same garden. Every garden like your PLS will be unique depending on the people in your PLS. To get the soil just right:
  • Ask everyone involved to take a self-assessment on what they know and their concerns around personalized learning. 
  • Include everyone in a visioning session so they have a voice in how their garden grows. 
  • Make sure they know how to connect the dots of what they have now with what it will look like in a personalized learning environment. 

After you determine that you want to build your garden, start small. Take the information you collected from the assessments and visioning sessions to determine who and where you will be involved the first year. Find just the right place that has the sunlight and conditions to start your garden. 
  • Start with the administrators and teachers that are ready. This is your first garden and can be your model for the next gardens you grow.
  • Begin the conversations and do action research around personalized learning. Plant your seeds of wisdom and water them daily. 

Gardens grow that are nourished. After the plants and flowers start growing, they need to be pollinated so they are fruitful and multiply. This is where the bees come in. They find the flowers and pick up bits of pollen to spread to other gardens. 
  • Identify your Personalized Learning (PL) Coaches. Think of your coaches as the bees. The bees relationship with the plants it visits is mutually beneficial.  
  • Train and support your coaches who are there when your teachers need them. The consequence of this relationship is that the bees make more flowers by cross pollination which, in turn, makes more food produced from those plants. 

The way we set up our coaching program is based on a train-the-trainer model similar to how bees work together to keep their hive going. Design your coaching program with Lead Personalized Learning (PL) Coaches who support Site Personalized Learning (PL) Coaches who support their colleagues.

We train the Lead PL Coaches so the first year they co-facilitate the Personalized Learning program with us. The next year, they co-design and slowly start taking over where we license our materials and eCourse to them. The Lead PL Coaches at the same time are training the Site PL Coaches to take over more of the support as job-embedded personalized professional development. Then teachers build collegial teams where they first plan together, then co-teach, and then build multi-age teams for projects.


To build a System that Grows Sustainable Personalized Learning Systems, you need a process. Here's our four year model for a district with about 400-500 teachers:


Four-Year Model to Build a Sustainable Personalize Learning System (2013) by Barbara Bray & Kathleen McClaskey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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