Monday, October 5, 2015

Every Child, Every Day, For a Better Tomorrow through Personalized Learning

by Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools Personalized Learning Department
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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) is a large urban district with 168 schools that serves  147,000 students. CMS, by many metrics, is a good school district. We outperform most large urban districts in reading and math on NAEP, and we have increased graduation rates in all subgroups, with an overall grad rate of 88%. In our 2018 strategic plan, we set a bold path for even higher student achievement, aiming to move from a good district to a great one. Information and resources are at CMS website: and Personalized Learning:

CMS completed an intensive strategic planning process in 2012 garnering wide input from hundreds of educators, students, parents, business and civic leaders. The planning process included actively engaging all stakeholders in the community through 22 task force groups, surveys and town hall convenings. From this, Strategic Plan 2018 was built with goal number one to maximize academic achievement in a personalized 21st century learning environment for every child to graduate college and career ready.

In 2013,  CMS received a Next Generation Innovation grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to take a deeper dive into CMS’s Strategic Plan 2018. We created a system design team that consisted of many different stakeholders. The system design team completed a needs assessment and researched what personalized learning looked like in other districts through visitations and interviews, along with looking at the best practices that researchers were discussing. Through this research, CMS charted a path to foster an instructional shift.

Based on the needs assessment and focus groups, it was clear the instructional shift would be hard for CMS. The personalized learning model  evolved toward a shift in the classroom to a teacher facilitated and student ownership model. There we needed to be a purposeful roll out so it was not viewed as “another thing”. The Personalized Learning team created an implementation, change management and a resource plan.

In moving forward on the implementation plan, schools were invited to participate in this hard work, without a clear definition of what Personalized Learning would look like.  In order to create a cohort of pilot schools, it was important that schools were willing as well as able. A five phase screening process was developed to vet schools and ensure they were prepared for an instructional shift.

  • Phase 1: An invitation was sent to all schools within the district asking who would be interested the Personalized Learning Initiative.
  • Phase 2: A triangulation of screening criteria was gathered by Personalized Learning team to verify which schools demonstrated readiness.  
  • Phase 3: Each school submitted an application which was scored by multiple readers based on a comprehensive rubric.
  • Phase 4: Learning Community Superintendents approved each school’s participation.
  • Phase 5: School visits and interviews were conducted and scored based on a rubric.

*All rubrics were created and vetted by a cross-functional steering committee which included members of Academics, Technology Services, Accountability, Exceptional Children, and Learning Communities.
Once selected, each school created a design team comprised  of 10 educators from their school along with the principal.  The first cohort of schools attended a Personalized Learning Institute in July 2014, in which they organically created the definition of what personalized learning would look like in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.  All the training offered during the institute was created by teacher leaders using only one outside resource, the keynote. All professional development is active model learning verse traditional PD. Also during this Institute, each school created an action plan which included a risk management reflection and a professional development plan with their personalized learning design teams.

As a result of the Personalized Learning Institute 2014, the following definition was created: 

Personalized Learning in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools aims to develop the whole child and empower them to take ownership of their learning by providing them with multiple pathways to demonstrate mastery learning in order to be successful and productive 21st century citizens in an ever-changing world.

Not only are CMS teachers adjusting to the instructional shift in the classroom,  so are students. The students’ role changes from being consumers of knowledge to driving their own learning, which helps to build habits of mind.  Adapted from Art Costa and Bena Kallick’s Habits of Mind, educators from the first cohort of schools created ten Personalized Learning Learner Profiles that are now embraced daily in Personalized Learning classrooms.  
Coaching and professional development support is important for successful implementation and sustainability, which is provided for every Personalized Learning school throughout the year based on their needs. Each quarter, Personalized Learning schools come together as a cohort and review individual and group Glows (what is working) and Grows (what is not) in order to learn and continue to move forward.

CMS is excited to be in our in the second year of scaling Personalized Learning with cohort two. The Personalized Learning Institute is now part of the onboarding process utilized for teachers, principals and support staff.  Through actively learning together about personalized learning schools, customize the design for their school based on definition and foundation cornerstones.  Each school through this design process has the autonomy to develop an implementation plan based on their students’ needs.

Along the way, CMS has created many instructional resources that help teachers move across the continuum from teacher-centered to student-centered to student-driven. All Personalized Learning resources are in our toolkit. CMS offers tours to see Personalized Learning schools in action as each one is unique in their approach, but all have the same foundation. Each approach can be seen through school created vignettes from the first cohort.

Looking forward will continue to reflect on the process of change, find solutions to challenges, and continue to build capacity by adding Personalized Learning schools each year to reach the goal of CMS PL for all students by 2018.

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