Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Finding my Voice to Become a Learner Again

This is my story why I am so passionate about transforming teaching and learning.
Barbara Bray, co-founder, Personalize Learning, LLC

I was brought up in a house of artists in Maryland. My mother, a fine artist, raised me with the idea that I could draw whatever I wanted and especially to draw my own way including outside the lines. I was raised to be creative, to come up with new ideas and to ask lots of questions. I was able to read early and used to put on plays with my younger sisters. I laughed and giggled all the time.

With a full head of red curls, people wanted to touch and play with my hair. At first I didn't like it, then I dreamt my hair was my magical power. If anyone touched my hair, they got my magical power. I was really good at pretending and dreaming about amazing things. I even wrote poetry and plays before I was five.

Then I started school and everything changed. I am left-handed and they wanted me to write with my right hand. My parents fought the school so I was able to continue writing left-handed. My handwriting is not the best, but it is with the hand that I’m supposed to write with. My parents were my advocates, but they could only do so much for me.

My first day of school was exciting and scary. I had some of my friends in my class but most were new. When I walked in the class the teacher said to me "what beautiful red hair" and then touched my hair. I was so happy that my first teacher got my magical power on my first day of school.

She had everyone introduce themselves and then had us divide into groups by hair color. Really! I noticed I was the only redhead in the class. and the only one in my group. First day of school and I was put in a situation to be different. I should have been happy about that but I was too young and confused about something that seemed strange, weird, and mean to me. She asked each group to share. I didn't know what to do since I was alone. I started crying before the class. I changed that first day, and I didn't want to go back.

I pushed myself to be part of the class. I asked questions in school and was told to be quiet. I said I didn’t understand the tests and was told to just finish on time. It wasn’t long before I realized that I might have been a good learner once but needed to learn how to be a good student to make it in the system. I decided the best thing to do was to be quiet, do what I was told and stop asking questions.

My mom made my clothes and people laughed at how I dressed. I shut down more. I loved the dresses my mom made, but now with homemade clothes I didn't fit in at school. In second grade, the teacher told my parents that I wasn’t very smart and probably would have a tough time in school. She told them I would probably never go to college. I heard them talk about me and felt so stupid. 

Not one teacher in my K-12 experience ever asked me why 
I felt the way I did about school or why I was so quiet.

I secretly cried about school. I was embarrassed about being stupid and my defense was to be the shy one. Each new year school became more oppressive and a terrible weight on me. I was put in a special reading class because they said I had comprehension problems.  I loved to read -- just not what they gave me to read. I was to answer the multiple-choice questions about paragraphs from the book we were reading. There were several right answers, but I could only pick one. I was so confused, but then I got it that I needed to play the game of school. I chose one right answer even if I didn't believe it was right. I learned how to be a good student and graduated but never reached my full potential in K-12. It was when I moved to California and went to a community college that I first learned about me and how I learn best.

I had an English teacher that paid attention to me and my writing. He told me that I was an amazing writer and clever with words. No one had ever told me I was good at anything except my parents. He entered one of my poems in a national contest and it won first place. It was then that I realized that I had talents and a passion about something that I love to do. I love to write. I love to share ideas. This was the beginning of me being a learner again, and it changed my life. I wrote this quote in 2006:

I found out that I can learn what I want to learn and that I have a voice in how I learn. I realized that what happened to me in school happens all the time to learners of all ages. It happened to my son and so many other children I worked with. As a teacher and coach, I was limited in what I could do to encourage voice and choice. The system was set up to manage students so they were compliant and follow rules. It was all about the system first. I became a teacher for a reason—to make a difference for learners to find what they want and are passionate about - to love to learn-- to find their voice. I made it my life mission to not let education and the system be oppressive for another child or anyone who wants to learn.

Finding ways to make learning personal for every learner and give them a voice has been and will continue to be my mission and why I am so passionate about making personalized learning happen now. Unfortunately, my story is not unique. What happened to me still happens every day and to children that may not have advocates like I did. Children get it right away that they have to play the game to "do" school to get out of school.  I really thought I was smart when I started school then all those years in school I felt something was wrong with me. It wasn't me. It was the system. 

So now I fight to transform the system. I fight for every child and I write and speak. I have a voice so they will.


I live in Oakland, California with my husband, Tom. We have been married 45 years and have two beautiful children, Sara and Andrew. Sara lives in Truckee, CA with her husband Rob Zimmerman and their beautiful 7 year old daughter, Cali. I'm Baba to Cali and she is the light of my life. Andrew lives in Portland, Oregon. Both of my children were raised to have a voice and to be creative. They are both artists. Sara is a graphic artist, fine artist, web designer (, creates web comics, Unearthed Comics and rock climber. Andrew is a talented musician, actor, voice coach, teaches theater, and a beekeeper. I love that they do what they love. 

I am co-founder of Personalize Learning, LLC with Kathleen McClaskey who lives in New Hampshire. I was introduced to Kathleen over four years ago by a mutual friend, Julie Duffield. We have a virtual business where we collaborate and talk almost every day about why we do what we do. We felt it was important to tell our stories so that's what this post is. 

I was a teacher starting 1982, then consultant and entrepreneur since 1991. I assist large and small organizations to build online communities for teachers to connect and learning from each other. I   support teachers in changing teaching practice through action research, design-thinking, inquiry, and project-based learning and guide the design of coaching programs where teachers are facilitators, advisors, and "guides on the side." I facilitate visioning sessions, write strategic plans, recommend resources and determine what is authentic, valid, cost-effective, safe, user-friendly, and relevant for clients. 
I trademarked the phrase “Making Learning Personal” in 2000 because I always believed that learning needed to start with the learner and that every learner matters. I will continue to research how to personalize learning so all learners follow their passion so they discover their purpose. More about me...

Follow Me...

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Coalition of Essential Schools (Model)

In 1984, Ted Sizer founded the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) to bring together examples of the radical school restructuring that was the focus of Horace’s Compromise, his work about the state of American high schools. Ted served as executive director of the Coalition of Essential Schools until 1996; during that time, he also established and led the Annenberg Institute for School Reform. CES creates and sustains personalized, equitable, and intellectually challenging schools. Essential schools are places of powerful learning where all learners have the chance to reach their fullest potential. Essential schools include hundreds of schools and more than two dozen CES Affiliate Centers that serve learners from pre-kindergarten through high school in urban, suburban, and rural communities as small schools and schools within large comprehensive schools.

CES practice includes small, personalized learning communities where teachers and learners know each other well in a climate of trust, decency and high expectations for all. Essential schools work to create academic success for every learner by sharing decision-making and helping all learners use their minds well through standards-aligned interdisciplinary studies, community-based "real-world" learning and performance-based assessment.

The CES Common Principles

The CES Common Principles are a guiding philosophy rather than a replicable model for schools. Based on years of research and practice, these principles reflect the wisdom of thousands of educators who are successfully engaged in creating personalized, equitable, and academically challenging schools for all young people.

Learning to use one’s mind well. The school should focus on helping young people learn to use their minds well. Schools should not be "comprehensive" if such a claim is made at the expense of the school’s central intellectual purpose.
Less is more, depth over coverage. The school’s goals should be simple: that each learner master a limited number of essential skills and areas of knowledge. While these skills and areas will, to varying degrees, reflect the traditional academic disciplines, the program’s design should be shaped by the intellectual and imaginative powers and competencies that the learners need, rather than by "subjects" as conventionally defined. The aphorism "less is more" should dominate: curricular decisions should be guided by the aim of mastery and achievement rather than by an effort to merely cover content.

Goals apply to all learners. 
The school’s goals should apply to all learners, while the means to these goals will vary as those learners themselves vary. School practice should be tailor-made to meet the needs of every group or class of learners.

Teaching and learning should be personalized to the maximum feasible extent. Efforts should be directed toward a goal that no teacher have direct responsibility for more than 80 learners in the high school and middle school and no more than 20 in the elementary school. To capitalize on this personalization, decisions about the details of the course of study, the use of learners’ and teachers’ time and the choice of teaching materials and specific pedagogies must be unreservedly placed in the hands of the principal and staff.

Learner-as-worker, teacher-as-coach. 
The governing practical metaphor of the school should be learner-as-worker, rather than the more familiar metaphor of teacher-as-deliverer-of-instructional-services. Accordingly, a prominent pedagogy will be coaching, to provoke learner to learn how to learn and thus to teach themselves.

Demonstration of mastery. 
Teaching and learning should be documented and assessed with tools based on learner performance of real tasks. Learners not yet at appropriate levels of competence should be provided intensive support and resources to assist them quickly to meet those standards. Multiple forms of evidence, ranging from ongoing observation of the learner to completion of specific projects, should be used to better understand the learner’s strengths and needs, and to plan for further assistance. Learners should have opportunities to exhibit their expertise before family and community. The diploma should be awarded upon a successful final demonstration of mastery for graduation - an "Exhibition." As the diploma is awarded when earned, the school’s program proceeds with no strict age grading and with no system of credits earned" by "time spent" in class. 

A tone of decency and trust. 
The tone of the school should explicitly and self-consciously stress values of unanxious expectation ("I won’t threaten you but I expect much of you"), of trust (until abused) and of decency (the values of fairness, generosity and tolerance). Incentives appropriate to the school’s particular learners and teachers should be emphasized. Parents should be key collaborators and vital members of the school community.

Commitment to the entire school. 
The principal and teachers should perceive themselves as generalists first (teachers and scholars in general education) and specialists second (experts in but one particular discipline). Staff should expect multiple obligations (teacher-counselor-manager) and a sense of commitment to the entire school.
Resources dedicated to teaching and learning. Ultimate administrative and budget targets should include learner loads that promote personalization, substantial time for collective planning by teachers, competitive salaries for staff, and an ultimate per pupil cost not to exceed that at traditional schools by more than 10 percent. To accomplish this, administrative plans may have to show the phased reduction or elimination of some services now provided learners in many traditional schools.
Democracy and equity. The school should demonstrate non-discriminatory and inclusive policies, practices, and pedagogies. It should model democratic practices that involve all who are directly affected by the school. The school should honor diversity and build on the strength of its communities, deliberately and explicitly challenging all forms of inequity.

Why do we consider the Coalition of Essential Schools a model for personalized learning?
  • School is restructured around powerful learning and trust
  • Small, personalized learning communities
  • Coaching model
  • Equitable, and intellectually challenging schools
  • Honors diversity
  • Demonstration of mastery in exhibitions

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Story Behind My Passion to Personalize Learning

 This is my story behind my passion, beliefs and commitment to personalize learning.
- Kathleen McClaskey, Co-Founder of Personalize Learning, LLC

This story needs to be told. I am passionate about learners and learning! I believe that every child on the planet is a learner! I am committed to help schools create learning environments where every child can become life long learners and realize their hopes and dreams!  You could say that I am on a
mission. But why has personalized learning become my passion and mission in my life? There is a very personal story that begins over 36 years ago when a little boy came into my life, my first-born son. He was an active toddler who spoke early and could engage you in long conversations about his imaginary world. He had a sense of adventure when he explored the outdoors and could create new worlds in his drawings. Early on he had a love for animals, fishing and books about history.

He entered school with all these wonderful qualities with a love for learning and discovery.  His experience as a first grader was a difficult one with his teacher using the whole language method for reading. Before the end of 1st Grade, he would be identified with learning disabilities. Although he was identified exceptional in math, he would never be recognized with this gift or any of his aspirations, talents and interests.

You see, they now saw him as learning disabled in all aspects of his learning
from this time forward.

In 2nd Grade, he came home crying every day asking me why he was different. I called a friend who was the guidance counselor in the school where my son attended. She observed him for 30 minutes one day in his class and took minute to minute notes of his activity in the classroom. She shared with me that my son could only keep pencil to paper for only 30 seconds at any one time. It was no wonder he saw himself as different but I thought that this must have a name to it. It did. In 1987, my son's pediatrician who had extensive professional experience with children with attentional issues verified through evaluations that my first born was ADHD. This would be another label that he would be identified with every day as he entered school. It was in 2nd Grade that he stopped being a learner. He would now have instructional aides who would read to him, write for him and organize him in his daily tasks.

The reason I am telling this story is that although my son had an IEP and annual goals, he was never taught how to read or to develop independent learning skills. His exceptional memory skills for words helped him mask his inability to decode words. In 7th Grade, that strategy fell apart. We needed to find an answer so we hired an independent evaluator who conducted a battery of tests and finally applied the appropriate identification of his reading challenges, dyslexia. With this new identification came extensive recommendations on how to rehabilitate my son in reading. In was not until he was in 9th grade that the school district decided they could not provide the services to help him read so they agreed to an out-of-district placement. We sent him to a private school for dyslexics, 200 miles away from our home in New York, so that he could finally learn to read. In less than six months, he was reading at grade level as they used the Orton-Gillingham reading methodology to teach him to read. In fact, a proven method that can teach every child to read. In 1998 he graduated from The Kildonan School with a high school diploma.

Years later when my son was 22 years old, we had a discussion about what he experienced in school and how he felt. This is something he never spoke about during his years in school as he was often depressed and angry. His response was brief and to the point: "You know Mom, I felt stupid every day of my life in school!" After this moment, I knew that I would be on a mission for the rest of my life to help schools and teachers understand how to create learning environments where every learner can become self-directed in learning.

My passion is built into my heart,
my belief that every learner matters is resolute and
my commitment to transform education so that every learner
realizes their hopes and dreams is unwavering.

Discover the Learner in Every Child

I look back now on this experience with my son and know that he is one of virtually millions of children who stop seeing themselves as learners and who often feel stupid in school. So how do we begin to discover the learner in every child? Most importantly, how do we have every learner understand how they learn best? You decide. With labels or through the UDL lens of Access, Engage and Express?

"Remove the veil of disability and you will see the learner!" - Kathleen McClaskey (2008)

You may also be interested in a related post: "Changing Perceptions - Every Child a Learner".

Kathleen McClaskey is Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Personalize Learning, LLC and Co-Author of Make Learning Personal She is a recognized Personalized Learning Expert and Digital Learning Consultant with over 30 years experience in using technology in the classroom and in creating learner-centered environments. She has been on mission the last three decades to level the playing field for all learners. She has been a teacher, administrator, professional developer, innovative leader, visionary, and futurist who believes that everyone on the planet is a learner. As an educational technologist, graduate instructor and an Universal Design for Learning (UDL) consultant, she has worked worldwide in training thousands of teachers in using tools to instruct all learners in the classroom. In the last decade, Kathleen directed and designed the professional development in multiple technology-based projects in math, science, literacy and autism to build 21st Century classrooms and sustainable learner-centered environments. She is passionate in empowering learners with tools, skills and learning strategies so that they can become self-directed learners who can realize their hopes and dreams and have choices in college, career and life. Kathleen has an M.Ed. in Technology in Education from Lesley University.
 Kathleen is...
  • Founder and President of EdTech Associates, Inc.
  • A UDL Consultant and Professional Developer 
  • 2012 ISTE Public Policy Advocate Award Winner
  • NHSTE Board member and Advocacy Chair 
  • Finalist – Make Me a Million $ Competition 2010
  • A believer that every learner matters
  • On a mission to make a difference in education 
 Follow Kathleen...
  • Twitter: khmmc
  • Facebook: kmcclaskey
  • LinkedIn: kathleenmcclaskey
  • Google+: kathleenmcclaskey
  • Skype: kmcclaskey
Check out her Scoop-its
Contact Kathleen directly: 

Follow Kathleen...
  • Twitter:  khmmc 
  • Facebook:  kmcclaskey
  • LinkedIn:  kathleenmcclaskey
  • Google+:  kathleenmcclaskey
  • Skype:  kmcclaskey
Kathleen pins on these same topics in Pinterest:

Contact Kathleen via or - See more at:
Follow Kathleen...
  • Twitter:  khmmc 
  • Facebook:  kmcclaskey
  • LinkedIn:  kathleenmcclaskey
  • Google+:  kathleenmcclaskey
  • Skype:  kmcclaskey
Kathleen pins on these same topics in Pinterest:

Contact Kathleen via or - See more at:
Follow Kathleen...
  • Twitter:  khmmc 
  • Facebook:  kmcclaskey
  • LinkedIn:  kathleenmcclaskey
  • Google+:  kathleenmcclaskey
  • Skype:  kmcclaskey
Kathleen pins on these same topics in Pinterest:

Contact Kathleen via or - See more at:

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a registered trademark of CAST (


Monday, May 11, 2015

Advisories, Mentors and Internships

There were amazing conversations in our Monday night #plearnchat about advisories, mentors and internships with a fantastic group of people. The topic was from Trend #10 in the 10 Trends to Personalize Learning in 2015.

Each learner can be assigned to at least one advisor over several years. An advisor can be any adult in the building. In fact, each learner can have several advisors that could include another learner. The idea around advisories is that there has to be a purpose for the advisory program, and it is important to start each advisory with a clear structure. 

Each learner can work with a mentor around something they are interested in or passionate about. A mentor can be a teacher, another adult or another learner. Learners can also pursue their career interest through internships. Businesses can develop a partnership with the school or district and offer internship opportunities for learners of all ages. 

The conversations in #plearnchat focused around the big question that went deep with these questions: 

Here are a few resources from the chat:

Congratulations to Paula Kaiser  who won our book, Make Learning Personal.

Paula is coordinator of K-12 Curriculum and Instruction in areas of Personalization and Assessment for the West Allis - West Milwaukee School District: working with preK-12. Paula has been involved in the district's personalization initiative since the onset, first as a classroom teacher and then as a key contributor of the district's foundational pillars in the Next Generation Learning. 

Her role includes facilitating professional development across the district with elementary, intermediate, high school educators and district-level administrators and identifying action steps to vertically align, implement and scale personalized learning. In addition, Paula collaborates with regional leadership in personalization and hots visitors from across the nation to share the work and vision of the WAWM School District. Paula's Twitter @PKaiser9


HEADS UP! Next #plearnchat is in three weeks -- Monday, June 1st, 7pm ET on Teacher and Learner Partnerships

Archive of #plearnchat of Advisories, Mentors, and Internships on May 11, 2015

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Building Self-Sustainable Personalized Learning Systems (#plearnchat)

There were great conversations in our #plearnchat about Self-Sustainable Personalized Learning Systems This is Trend #3 in the 10 Trends to Personalize Learning in 2015

A Personalized Learning System is a culture shift and a change in process that impacts the entire school community. Moving to learner-centered environments is more than just handing over the keys to the learner so they drive their own learning right away. As more schools build a shared belief system, more districts will need to support the transformation to learner-centered environments. 

So the system is self-sustainable, it will be important to build capacity with your own staff. Just like we want learners to own their learning, we want schools to take ownership for their personalized learning system. Teachers are learners too, so they will need coaching support. Teachers will develop Personal Professional Learning Plans based on learning goals developed with the teacher and coach. Expect to see an increase in Personal Professional Learning Plans with coaching programs where schools use their coaches to support teachers in building self-sustainable Personalized Learning Systems. 

The conversations in #plearnchat focused around the big question that went deep with these questions: 

We would like to congratulate Amber Clay-Mowry who won our book, Make Learning Personal.
Amber is Curriculum Director of Highland Local Schools, Graduate of Ohio State University, a National Board Certified Teacher and a Learner for Life

Follow Amber on Twitter @Aclaymowry
A few resources we shared:

HEADS UP! Next #plearnchat is in one week --
next Monday, May 11th 7pm ET on Teacher and Learner Partnerships

Archive of #plearnchat of Self-Sustainable Personalized Learning Systems on May 4, 2015