Screenshot 2015-03-14 at 11.08.43 AM

Created by Wanda McClure Hopkins

In my last blog post, I discussed the transformative change needed for a school or district to move to a personalized learning model. In a transformed system, deep learning occurs when the focus shifts from students mastering required content to students creating and using new knowledge in the world. Learning is also accelerated when students have access to technology tools and other resources for communication and collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving and creativity.

Changing our learning environments to a personalized model is disruptive and our business-as-usual way of doing things will not move us forward. After spending a few days at Tech & Learning Live in Atlanta talking with leaders who have made big changes, I have new insight into how disruptive change can happen.

Start with visionary leadership
Nishant Mehta, Head of School at The Children’s School in Atlanta, asks everyone in his school to approach each day as if it were the first day of school. The excitement and expectation of the first day continues throughout the school year as teachers prepare students for their futures – not our past.  Students pursue their passions and share their learning with authentic audiences.

Remove silos
Wanda McClure Hopkins, Elementary Director at Amana Academy Charter School, believes in a flat leadership structure. This team approach has made it possible for her to remove silos that exist in traditional school settings. Teachers and other school leaders work together to develop solutions for engaging students in expeditionary learning. Allowing everyone to lead from where they are is vital to getting buy in for disruptive change.

Deconstruct and remix
Systems cannot successfully change with a “this is the way we’ve always done things” attitude. There may be great worth to the work that we’re doing, but we need to be able to deconstruct programs and think critically about each component. Some aspects of the school day like fixed schedules may need to be thrown out in order to move forward with personalized learning. Existing programs may also need to be remixed with new ideas in order to bring about meaningful change.

Get out of your comfort zone
When implementing change, it’s important to go into environments that may be out of your comfort zone. Making site visits to other schools that are implementing personalized learning with a variety of models will give your team a better picture of how personalized learning fits. Site visits will stretch team members and lead to rich conversation that will steer your next steps.

Focus on each learner
Each and every student that enters our schools is unique and deserves a unique learning experience that will develop their talents and skills. Dr. Yong Zaho suggests that we need to make sure that our students are “out of the basement” ready instead of test ready. We tend to measure success thorough standardized tests instead of focusing on skills that will allow students to get jobs when they leave us.

Just do it
Planning is important but don’t spend a year meeting with committees and just talking. Small implementations of your ideas will provide data and feedback that is important to how you move forward. Find the champions of change in your school and involve them in implementing potential solutions. Kate Matthews,  ‎Lead District Instructional Technology Specialist in Fayette County Public Schools and EduVue co-host, goes into schools and works with teachers to implement change with a “yes and” attitude.

Getting to transformative change will be the hardest but most meaningful work that you will ever do. Bring together the right team and you’ll have amazing results which will accelerate learning for all students.

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to attend the Future Ready Summit in Raleigh, NC hosted by the Alliance for Excellent Education, the US Dept. of Education Office of Technology, and the Friday Institute team. To prepare for the Summit, our team completed the district assessment to determine our readiness level in eight areas of digital learning including personalized and deeper learning. The assessment gave me pause to consider what we are doing well and where we need to focus our efforts. We were asked to create an elevator speech about our digital learning vision. I left the Summit hoping to continue to develop my speech in a way that truly articulates how I feel about the role of technology in making our students future ready.

That same day, I came across this quote from @BluntEducator: “Some teachers taught the curriculum today. Other teachers taught students today. And there’s a big difference.” The quote points out the big difference between teacher-centered instruction and student-centered learning. How often do school and district administrators sit down with teachers and talk about changes that need to happen to prepare students for the future? Can we prepare our students if we don’t change the traditional curriculum delivery model? The quote was a call to action and I began reading about deeper learning.

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The thinking behind the deeper learning movement is that we need a new pedagogy to engage our students in learning and prepare them with 21st century skills. Rosalin Picard of MIT’s Media Lab shares some compelling evidence that we need to do things differently to get the attention of digital age learners. The brain activity of students listening to a lecture was lower that their brain activity when they were asleep. We can’t expect social, “plugged in” students to sit passively in the classroom and absorb content. More importantly, will that content delivery method prepare them to be successful in life? Can the addition of technology make a difference if other classroom practices aren’t changed?


Research continues to show that technology alone will not greatly impact student achievement. Adding on technology without changing the way we do things means that technology will be used at the substitution level and not bring about any long term change. In A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning, Michael Fullan sees pedagogy as the foundation and technology as the enabler and tool in the service of deeper learning.  The report states, “The new pedagogies require students to create new knowledge and connect it to the world by using the power of digital tools.” The underlying theme is that new pedagogies cannot be implemented without  the technology and that the technology acts as an accelerator for learning.

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Fullan’s model is disruptive. It flips our traditional way of doing things upside down and requires us to redesign lessons, the environment, and our instructional strategies for a student-centered, personalized learning environment. Making a change to student-centered environments with a focus on deeper learning will require schools and districts to engage in serious conversation. Stakeholders must agree on a common vision that includes technology as an essential ingredient for students to create and use new knowledge in the world. When technology is no longer seen as an add on, we will be ready to prepare our students for the future.

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