Personalized Learning: Where to Begin?


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Leading change. Launching new initiatives. Driving improvement. Shifting a mindset. These phrases inspire some to turn visions into purposeful actions, but leave others with anxiety and trepidation. Typically, leaders present ideas, committees are formed, and plans are set. Responses are mixed, investment levels varied, but here we go…

Then what happens to slow progress or impede growth? After defining what we are trying to become, even the most well-intended contributors get caught in the reality trap. How can we make change happen? Voices of the “yeah but’s” emerge from the crowd and collect followers. Doubt infects momentum. Leaders expend more energy justifying actions with research and rationalizing intent through models of success. Unfortunately, the result is often greater distance from the intended outcome—retreating to the security of old habits and traditional practices. How do we escape this cycle in education?

We know the answer. Simon Sinek’s popular TED Talk reminds us How Great Leaders Inspire Action. Establish purpose: start with the WHY.

Personalizing the Learning Process

Before we get personal, let’s get real. Beyond buzzwords and edu-babble, we need to establish a common understanding to reinforce our purpose. Personalized learning is not a program; it is a philosophy. While we acknowledge the importance of placing students at the center of learning, the teacher continues to lead from the front of the classroom. What are our truths as educators?

  1. We care about our students.
  2. We want all students to learn.
  3. We take pride in our profession.
  4. We are skilled at our craft.
  5. We impact lives.

With these truths in mind, we still face a major conflict: despite great efforts, we cannot claim we reach every student, every day, as our motto advertises. So what? Our professional growth relies on asking big questions.

  • Would I want to spend an entire day learning in my class? How about an hour?
  • Would I want my own child to be a student in my classroom?
  • Would students show up to my class if they didn’t have to?
  • What would happen if I stopped addressing the entire class (or limited whole class instruction to 5 minutes)?
  • How could students access course content or find answers without a teacher’s step-by-step directions?
  • What connections to course concepts could students make on their own? How could learners reframe (view through a different lens) topics we cover?
    What do I spend time on, assign, or assess that has little to no impact on essential learning?

Our WHY can be located in finding answers to these questions.


After clarifying our purpose, we may proceed. But before diving in or battling with logistics, educators should approach their entry point based on individual understanding and readiness. Here is the advice I share with educators seeking to personalize their classes.

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Professional growth begins with reflection. When we reflect on our current practices, we may find personalized learning is not far beyond our reach. I invite educators to utilize the reflection guide to first increase understanding of what it means to personalize learning and recognize how many components of the personalized learning model they already implement. While the process of where to begin may seem daunting, our efforts are validated by a clear purpose—reinforced by a simple reminder…

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