An essential aspect of building a personalized learning system in any school or district is community; intentionally and strategically enrolling that community in the transformation process. Each community has strongly held beliefs and a collective desire to have only the very best educational system for their learners. When these voices are a part of building the system, only then can the hard work of designing, adopting or creating personalized learning frameworks that fits best be possible.
In January of 2007 our district, Lindsay Unified School District in the Central Valley of CA began its own transformation by first enrolling the school and district leadership. Over a six month period, we met several times per month with leaders for two-to-four hour sessions in focused studying of the problems with traditional education, the future societal demands and dreams we had for the future for our learners. We asked a lot of “what if” questions and began to form excitement of what could be possible.
Through this process we discovered the value of the voice and influence of the school principal. On a day-to-day basis, the school principal is on the ground floor of most activities in a learning community. The school principal is in a powerful position to either carry a vision for personalization forward or to stop that vision in its tracks. Principals influence (for good or bad) building level staff, parents and ultimately learners as the vision unfolds.
Once the leadership of the district and schools develop a basic understanding of the need for personalized learning, by May 2007 we began bringing key stakeholder groups to table for true vision building.
We conducted a series of work sessions that involved representative parent groups, teachers and administrators from each learning community. We included leaders from all departments, community members and the Board of Trustees. The teachers' union was represented, as was the classified bargaining unit and the City Council. This team of approximately 150 people got together and collectively answered the following five questions:
Why do we exist as an organization?
What are the values that will govern how we act toward one another?
What are the principles by which we will make decisions?
What is our vision for the future with regard to learning, instruction, curriculum, assessment, technology, leadership, personnel, and stakeholders?
What is the description of our graduate?
From those questions, the voice of the community collectively created the Lindsay Unified Strategic Design which essentially defines our Mission, our Core Values, our Guiding Principles, our Vision for the Future, and our Life Long Learning Standards.
With a future-focused and learner-centered Strategic Design that honors the voice of the community we have become empowered to take the necessary action that will lead to personalized and customized learning for all Lindsay learners. We keep our students learning at their particular learning level until they demonstrate competency. We no longer use the traditional grading practices (A-F, averaging, zeros). We’ve replaced these systems with honest and objective feedback loops that show where a learner is on a continuum of learning.
Over the past seven years this Strategic Design has not changed or been modified. The mission is still very clear and the learner-centered vision dreamed up by the community in 2007 is slowly becoming a reality.
Since that time, there has been an intentional effort at all levels of the organization to ensure that each component of the Strategic Design is referenced, reinforced, and utilized on a daily basis in Lindsay Unified. During professional development or any “change” in LUSD, the purpose is clearly linked to the Strategic Design. The Core Values from our Strategic Design are referenced whenever we validate or celebrate an employee. They are also used when holding people accountable. We also use these in our interviewing process, along with dozens of other processes across our district every day.
We hold one another accountable to living the Core Values, we ensure the teaching and learning of our Life Long Learning Standards, we embrace the district mission in our daily work, and we engage in actions that make the vision become a reality. In Lindsay Unified, all stakeholders have become heavily vested in the success of the Lindsay learner.
What Students Can Bring
When you listen to and honor the voice of the community and then empower everyone to play their part in making the vision a reality, all things, including personalized learning, are possible.
Throughout this process, we experienced many successes, but we have also made many mistakes along the way. One of those lessons is that we should have also engaged the learners in the original community work sessions. At the time, we did not have the proper appreciation for what the learners can bring to the conversation. Now that we engage learners in debates and decisions, we are able to find better solutions to complex issues. They are a critical part of the community that must be heard continually throughout the transition process.
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