Instructionally savvy educators know that personalized learning is the heart of student success. As schools strive to customize education through instructional design, technology efforts and professional learning, highly successful schools know that these initiatives in isolation are not nearly enough to improve and sustain student learning. Strong schools know that deep levels of personalization are found in an enriching and responsive system of teaching and learning, that stretches and supports learning in individual and flexible ways. In order to achieve a truly personalized education for every student, one must articulate, architect and actualize practical ways to engage with such a system, and support the school to ambitiously strive toward a noble vision. Strong leadership, clear school structures, continuous collaboration and monitoring processes are vital elements that help ensure personalized success for every student. When these essential elements are employed, they create directionality for a school to reach their instructional True North.
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A leader must have one foot in the vision and one foot in the reality. She must hold an almost unattainably high vision for her school, while embracing the evident truths about the school culture, data and instructional practices. An instructionally savvy leader knows how to continuously bridge the ground level reality to the top story vision in small and achievable ways. Her steady direction and encouragement is essential to regularly point the way to the instructional True North. It is widely accepted knowledge that if the leader does not believe and practice the vision, the endeavors needed to reach that vision will never take root, grow or flourish. While the instructional vision may seem distant, the leader must model and maintain a laser-like focus, that this instructional work is our moral imperative. At the same time, she is laying a solid instructional foundation and supporting schoolwide incremental footsteps toward the vision. Coaching and feedback are essential leadership tools. An effective leader uses every moment of everyday to indicate the True North, fostering the conditions for school success and celebrating visible learning.
Clear school structures
Clear school structures are the vertical frame on the instructional foundation. It is imperative to establish collaboration time and structures within the school day. Collaboration is the work of teaching and learning. One cannot effectively reflect, strategize, design, analyze, implement and monitor alone. Instead, educators must have time and structures within the school day to have continual conversations about the fine points of teaching and learning. Professional learning communities, data teams and a school leadership team are requisite to ensure a highly effective school. These particular structures are the column supports for learning; educators depend on them in order to personalize education for their students.
Collaboration takes many forms, and it must be a goal, norm and value in the organization. In establishing collaborative structures, it is a necessary first step to ensure the team norms, purpose, goals and process. For example, a professional learning community may employ a protocol that helps them look at student work. A data team may center on a progress monitoring procedure. A leadership team may use problem-solving model. Collaboration rests on clarity of structure. The absence of a clear collaboration structure leads a team to chaos or congeniality. Neither promotes learning. It is important to highlight that conflict is a natural part of the collaboration cycle. It has been said that one is not really collaborating unless there is conflict. Professional discourse reveals different points of view, and is necessary when collaborating around personalized education for a student. Often when teams fail to embrace conflict as a growth opportunity, passive forms of meeting take over, which do not result in instructional growth. There is no question that highly effective schools are steeped in collaboration as an authentic means toward personalizing student learning. In fact, highly effective schools will tell you they would not be successful without collaboration.
The success of schoolwide systems and routines depend on careful monitoring procedures. The leader must blend formal and informal processes to continually ensure that instructional efforts are helping the school advance in measurable ways. Effective forms of monitoring involve transparent efforts, such as classroom walkthroughs, data work, instructional conversations and professional reflection. Savvy educators participate in monitoring procedures for instructional feedback at the student, team, school and district levels. In turn, this helps them ensure that the student’s personalized learning is successful, while promoting their own self-reflection in the process.
Personalization as a goal and an outcome
Highly successful schools know that building and engaging in a system that adapts to students’ strengths and needs is critical in fostering personalized education. Educators in highly effective schools ask themselves, “How can I foster the conditions for success?” They embrace an ambitious vision through a shared leadership model, and actively collaborate within the school structures to design, implement, measure and monitor learning. Strong leadership, clear structures, continuous collaboration and monitoring processes comprise a educational direction for every school, and when properly employed, will point to the True North of personalized learning for every child.
Sandra A. Trach, Principal