Sunday, January 31, 2016

Growing a Personalized Culture of Learning

Building Learner-Centered Environments through Coaching 

Guest Post by Patrick Riley, Cognitive Coach, Green River Regional Educational Cooperative, kidŸ⋅FRIENDLy, Race to the Top-District Grant ( @priles3000 )

Flowers are blooming in Kentucky. And, while I can no more indicate the exact moment when the roots started to take hold than I can tell you the minute and second of when the petals began to blossom, I can now see and see with great detail the vibrant colors, ever so brightly, here and there, in and around Kentucky…

“Celebrate learners when they soar and catch them when they fall.”

Starting with One Seed


Ms. Jessica Morris’s Burns Middle School science classroom was not for the pedagogical faint of heart... Learners hustled with collaborative intent as they created prototypes for energy efficient model homes. Project partners huddled around mini iPads while experimenting with the thermodynamic properties of insulated cardboard houses.  And, learners hummed with the collective, captivating buzz of curiosity in the self-paced pursuit of scientific insight. Alas, Ms. Morris’s class possessed an electric alchemy that radiated a “culture of learning.” 

To be certain, this personalized culture of learning was not the traditional, typical environment marked by forerunners twenty years ago. The personalized learning strategies used in this classroom were not the methods taught to pre-service teachers ten years ago. In fact, it was not even the learning style that Ms. Morris herself employed as recently as two years ago. For Ms. Morris and her learners, the learning taking place in this seventh grade classroom was an amalgamation of learner-centered, curiosity-provoking activities, galvanized in the fires of learner passions, that transcended even the most stubborn traces of teenage apathy. In essence, this Learner-Centered Environment was the maturation, the development of one tiny seed planted in the fall of 2014. The seed of personalized learning…

Planting the Seeds of Personalization

Through the $41.5 million dollar kidŸ⋅FRIENDLy, Race to the Top-District (kF-RTTD) Grant ( awarded to 111 schools in 22 school districts in the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative (GRREC) and Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative (OVEC) in the spring of 2013, over 60,000 learners have been positively impacted by the personalized learning initiative and innovation. Fostering learner empowerment, project-based learning, and technology-enhanced instruction, the kF-RTTD Grant has enabled more than 300 principal-selected Teacher Leaders across GRREC and OVEC to “dare greatly” in their classrooms.

Organically Growing a Safety Net of Support

Throughout my coaching journey, the most powerful professional resource I can give Teacher Leaders is a safety net of support, in conjunction with school and district administration, for each teacher to grow and thrive at their own pace and level of commitment. My job is to foster the growth of each Teacher Leader, personalized to their individual needs and passions, much like each Teacher Leader is asked to do for their learners. My role is to encourage Teacher Leaders to take risks, to celebrate when they soar and catch them when they fall.

Undoubtedly, my most important role as a Cognitive Coach in promoting a Learner-Centered Environment is listening to the needs of my Teacher Leaders. An extremely perspicacious Cognitive Coach colleague, Ms. Shanan Mills, once quipped, “When your job as a coach revolves only around completing items on a checklist, you are not doing your job.” Daily, I endeavor to truly listen to my Teacher Leaders--to what is said, and what is not said--in an effort to anticipate barriers to learning, while gently coaching my Teacher Leaders to plan and produce solutions to overcome these classroom challenges.

Additionally, matching Teacher Leaders to other practitioners in the field and coordinating efforts among colleagues, be it virtually or face-to-face, has been another invaluable strategy for organically growing this safety net of support within personalized learning. For Teacher Leaders in the kF-RTTD Grant, support takes shape in two distinct forms. First, Teacher Leaders meet monthly (and more often, as needed) with their respective Cognitive Coach to engage in personalized professional coaching that provides opportunities for risk-free communication regarding the implementation of personalized learning strategies for their school, their classroom, their learners. Second, Teacher Leaders are encouraged to attend Learning Forums across Kentucky, sponsored by the kF-RTTD Grant, several times each year. Learning Forums allow Teacher Leaders to connect with other Teacher Leaders to share Personalized Learning strategies, stories, and successes to further impact learners. These informal and formal Learning Forum connections take shape through Teacher Leader-led roundtables and Teacher Leader presentations, respectively, on a variety of topics from “Personalizing the Physical Environment” to “Passion-Based Learning” to “Self-Pacing”--with Teacher Leaders self-selecting which roundtables and presentations to attend. 

As the kF-RTTD Grant has evolved to meet the needs of our representative schools and school districts, one thing has remained the same… To challenge each learner at a high level through the creation of Learner-Centered Environments, emphasizing a “Culture of Learning” with trust, risk-taking, and effective communication. 


PatrickRiley_BioPic.jpgPatrick Kagan-Moore, Centre College professor and Kentucky dramatist, once said, “each step in your journey prepares you for what comes next.” Over the course of his professional tenure, Patrick Riley has assumed a variety of roles, some with a non-linear progression, but each connecting and interconnecting with their respective responsibilities: actor, director, learner, teacher, speaker, writer, and program administrator. Currently, all of the aforementioned roles and responsibilities intersect at this nexus called “Cognitive Coach.”
As a Cognitive Coach for the kF-RTTD Grant, Patrick Riley works closely with more than 30 Kentucky Teacher Leaders (working in ten schools and three school districts) to embed personalized learning strategies in the classroom, helping them to further inspire, challenge, empower, and engage learners through the constructive process of learning.

For further communication regarding this post, please contact Patrick Riley (GRREC Cognitive Coach) at or @priles3000 (Twitter). Also, for further details about the kidŸ⋅FRIENDLy, Race to the Top-District (kF-RTTD) Grant (, please contact Dr. Karen Barron (Program Manager) at

No comments:

Post a Comment

Join us in the conversations and share your feedback: