Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why, has great points about beginning with WHY. I’ve been involved in several large scale technology initiatives and the why of what we’re doing has always been front and center. Having a shared vision is essential to any new educational initiative or innovation.  For your initiative to be successful, however, you must also focus on WHAT you want to achieve and HOW you want to get to desired results. Follow the steps below to put your initiative on the path to success.

Define the problem:
The WHY has to solve a problem in your organization. It isn’t enough to decide that you want to implement a 1:1 computing initiative without knowing what problem it will solve. All stakeholders should be involved in the decision making to take a big problem and make decisions about moving forward. Don’t underestimate the power of a few individuals to undermine the group efforts. Get the word out to everyone in as many ways as possible and invite them to participate. Everyone in the organization – your WHO – much know the vision and be able to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing. Define the problem with as much detail as possible. Examples of problems you might want to tackle include declining literacy skills or low graduation rates.

Develop your outcomes:
You also need to look at the outcomes that you expect – the WHAT. What will it look like when your innovation goes viral throughout the organization? Paint a picture of the results that you expect. Rapid prototyping with small scale projects allows you to try out several strategies and will ultimately give you something tangible for everyone to see. For a 1:1 computing initiative, the WHAT isn’t a device but an outcome for student learning. If your problem is literacy skills and you believe that 1:1 computing will provide students with a collaborative environment for research, writing and publishing, you might want to pilot your solution with a team of teachers at your school and develop a model that others can follow.

Create a road map and measure your progress:
The devil is in the details and HOW you’re going to get to your desired outcomes. A recent news story talked about a school district that was ending their 1:1 computing initiative and looking for a way to recycle the computers. I’m sure that they talked about WHY but I wonder if their WHAT was about a device instead of an outcome? Was the problem in the implementation – the HOW? If certain steps aren’t taken by everyone, will you end up with silos of innovation?  People must work within teams and across teams for you to see widescale adoption of your initiative. A pilot program will allow you to develop a detailed plan and help you to determine the essential elements for success.

Measuring your progress along the way is a big part of HOW you will get to the finish line and see the desired results. Project management is key and it’s essential that everyone knows their role. Teams will be learning throughout the process and it’s always good to take the temperature with discussions that will help determine the next steps. It’s okay to fail on a small scale but fail quickly and use your experiences to iterate or even pivot if necessary.

As you continue to solve problems for your school or district, start with WHY, define WHAT your outcomes will be, and then decide HOW you’re going to get there. Your innovation will be successful when you get those three things right.



Personalized learning. You hear the term more and more these days but have you really wrestled with what it means? After a year of exploration and the last week in a deep dive at a consultancy with Summit Public Schools in Redwood City, CA, I feel ready to share some insights.

Just as a doctor knows the lifestyle and genetics of a patient to provide the best treatment plan, a teacher much know the learning styles, abilities and interests of a student in order to help them develop a personalized learning path. In a personalized learning environment, students help design and direct the learning to achieve mastery of the standards and other outcomes defined by the learning organization.

This model is both loose and tight. Years ago when my husband and I were making decisions about our daughter’s education, we visited a Montessori school and I was struck by the activity all around me. At first glance, it seemed very loose with students doing a variety of activities that interested them. Looking deeper at the curriculum, I realized that the system was very tight. Carefully selected manipulatives and lessons were designed to provide students with voice and choice but were scaffolded to ensure that students were mastering learning objectives. Students used a weekly checklist to decide their path for the week and had frequent check-ins with the teachers to ensure that there were no gaps in their learning. The power of personalized learning appealed to us and we enrolled her in the program. The personalized approach allowed her to follow her passions and influenced the person that she is today. She was able to move around the classroom and school freely, come together with other students for collaborative learning, and pursue her personal interests with monthly projects and extracurricular activities. She was a self-directed learner and mastered the content that she needed to be successful.

Isn’t this what we want for all students? Blending learning with technology tools and resources in addition to project-based learning and face-to-face instruction allows us to provide our students with choice in the resources that they use to achieve mastery in a subject. Personalization doesn’t mean that every teacher is letting students do whatever they want. It means that everyone in the school organization is focusing on the same vision for student outcomes which allows for student choice in the path that they choose to learn content and showcase their learning to others.

You can’t personalize learning in your organization by purchasing a packaged program. Successful implementations including the Summit model include teacher-designed assessments and a mix of teacher-created and curated resources. Developing an effective model means that organizations will need to embrace a new model of how they use time to allow teachers to work on assessments and content. Ideally, content and assessments for the subject are built for the entire year so that students who need more practice can continue to work on a topic while students who’ve mastered content can move ahead or focus on another area of interest. As you begin to explore personalized learning, keep these key points in mind:

  • Students should set goals and help in the process of designing their learning path to achieve mastery of the content
  • Students should have an opportunity to connect the content with their interests and passions
  • Students need to learn how they learn and monitor and reflect on their own progress
  • Learning is blended with some personalization occurring through online learning and some learning occurring through project-based, collaborative learning
  • Formative assessment provides students with feedback about their progress
  • Teachers use data from a variety of assessment tools to monitor student learning and make adjustments as needed
  • Students need adequate time and space to work on their learning path
  • Students should be provided with a mix of tools and resources to best meet their learning needs
  • Be loose in how and when students learn the content but have tight alignment to standards and desired outcomes

Creating a personalized learning environment in your school takes a collective effort with everyone in the school working together to create a successful model. To begin your journey, read Personalized Learning: A Guide for Engaging Students with Technology by Peggy Grant and Dale Basye. Explore Summit’s model here and by visiting their site.


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