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Aurora Institute

The Personalized Learning Mindset

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Anthony Kim

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Rethink Instruction

RocksThis post originally appeared at Education Elements on April 5, 2016. 

I recently attended Carolina Blends, an event which brings together educators from the region to tour schools and learn from each other. After touring three schools with about 50 educators, I came to believe that before you go on a school tour, you need the “PL Mindset.”

On the tours, I noticed a difference in the educators who already had a the PL Mindset. They understood that we were seeing one short snapshot of a classroom with the good, the bad and the ugly. They asked questions which helped them understand what happens in the classroom week after week. They asked how decisions about what happens in the classroom are made. They asked about how the school was different than before, and what changes they made year-over-year.

The educators without the PL Mindset often asked about which digital content was being used and if the content worked. They often criticized what was happening in the classrooms and said they were doing it better at their own schools. They said they couldn’t do this work because of bell schedules, resources, lack of infrastructure, etc.

Judy Beard, the principal at Whittemore Park MS in Horry County Schools, has what I call the PL Mindset. The school building is old and not ideal for innovative school models. It has had weird additions added to the building over time making the spaces and layout strange. Yet over the past four years, every time I have visited the school I can see that the school model is evolving and that they continue to get extraordinary results. So Judy Beard gets my first award for the PL Mindset Education Leader Award.

PL Mindset

What is the PL Mindset?

  1. First, it is the belief that every child deserves a personalized learning experience. You have to believe that personalized learning as a strategy for instruction will provide the best opportunities for each student to meet their fullest potential. All other decisions, then, revolve around this belief..
  2. Second, it is the understanding that personalized learning is a continuously evolving process. As you get new information about the student, teachers, available technologies, and developments in the world around us, what personalized learning looks like for you will change. As I discuss in my Personalized Learning Playbook, personalized learning is a journey, not a destination. If you do it right, you will make frequent and purposeful decisions to iterate your school model and instructional strategies.
  3. Third, it is knowing that this work is creative and often answers are unknown until you try. You have to be ready to fail fast, fail small and try again. When you succeed you try to scale and replicate. In order to do this, we have to create a culture and work environments where we can be creative, collaborate, and learn. Educators spend a lot of hours in schools every day and they have to be places that are awesome for this way of working.

The Christensen Institute published the blended learning school model taxonomy, which is really helpful for educators to get a sense of what is possible. But at the same time it shouldn’t be taken to represent the end state. The taxonomy is a reference guide and a static framework. Without a focus on developing PL Mindset, I believe that execution of personalized learning will not be effective and efficacious. Instead, it will result in another form of a prescriptive learning experience and you’d just be using a different shaped cookie-cutter.

Educators with the PL Mindset are excited to start personalized learning and to keep working at it to make it better. That’s one of the things I love about our clients: they get it. And at our upcoming Personalized Learning Summit, we will celebrate all of them and help them spread the PL Mindset to others.

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Anthony is the founder and CEO of Education Elements, which partners with districts to design and implement personalized learning environments with fidelity. Education Elements’ personalized learning platform, Highlight, makes it simpler for teachers to integrate and use digital content and provides insightful data analytics so teachers make more informed decisions in the classroom. Anthony has been working with education technology since 2000 and has been an early pioneer in online and blended learning. Anthony also blogs about education and edtech on EdFactors – The Highlighter.