Implementing Personalized Learning? Here’s How to Get Your Teachers Excited About Change

By Ross Kasun

As a leader in a school system today, it can be difficult to make the choice to move forward with a district-wide change, knowing that the team around you may not fully endorse your decision. For me, the implementation of personalized learning across Freehold Township Schools was a move that I knew would require all hands on-deck — it was the best decision for our students, and our teachers were going to be the ones making major changes to their lessons. Because of this, I made sure to include many teachers in the process from the start — building excitement and early buy-in for the work. This is how I made change happen — and it’s how you can, too.

Make it fun
As we embarked on our journey, the first activity we performed as a team was the Marshmallow Challenge to show the power of iteration and that it is — and will be — okay to fail forward. For those unfamiliar, the Marshmallow Challenge is a team-building activity where you are given 18 minutes to build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. When the time runs out, the structure must be standing with the marshmallow on top. Our message upon completion was, “if we wait for it to be perfect, it’s too late.” We also showed the documentary Most Likely to Succeed and read A New Culture of Learning to reinforce the need for change — and utilized twitter feed, slides, Google Q&A, padlets, and more to collect and amplify teachers’ opinions so that we could grow and build together.

Make it a team effort
As we want our teachers to be the leaders of their own learning, we invited them to design pilots, lead professional development, write blogs, arrange book groups, and be an ongoing part of our digital content vetting process. Our teachers worked directly with the district to create tutorials in the form of screencasts, voice overs, and videos about the vision, pilot, project, and personalized learning tools in a way that enabled us to foster leaders of their own learning in all our schools, at all levels. Our goal here was to make sure our teachers had a voice right from the start. It’s an open-loop process, providing teachers with district-chosen digital providers, school-based purchases, and teacher-chosen tools.

Provide internal resources
To make sure our teachers would have 24/7 support, we created internal websites built by teachers and supervisors of instruction that were specifically designed to not just provide resources but also to celebrate, encourage, and continue to motivate those who are innovating and aligned to our personalized learning vision. These websites house videos, blogs, and ideas that have been tried — and experiences are shared along the way. The 24/7 accessibility also provides support with definitions and concepts to keep all parties prepared and informed.

Seek support
After much success infusing technology into our classrooms to enhance learning, we looked for a partner to help us establish goals in our effort to offer more of a personalized learning approach for our students. A huge stepping stone for me was being selected as one of ten superintendents in the Inaugural Lexington Education Leadership Award Fellowship — this allowed us to partner with Education Elements, a leading provider in this space, who worked with us over the six-month fellowship to define our district’s vision for personalized learning and lay out the next steps in our journey. One of the first actions they helped us with was creating a graphic representation that provided clarity on the district vision and created actionable steps to foster personalized learning throughout the entire district.

Since the fellowship, Education Elements has continued to support our district, helping us to think about what personalized learning will look like in our schools, as well as how we can strategically use digital content. This critical work has pushed our thinking and guided us to set innovative, but realistic, goals that will best prepare our students for a very different future.

The Freehold Township School District serves 3,900 elementary and middle school students, and has made substantial progress implementing personalized learning over the past three years largely due to the support of our teachers. Beginning with an emphasis on targeted professional development to leverage personalized learning’s potential for our students, we are confident that the student-centered classrooms we are building as a team will only help to produce connected, independent thinkers who are well prepared for all that lies ahead.

Ross Kasun is Superintendent of Freehold Township Schools
- As seen in District Administration Magazine — February 2017