Welcome to Leading Blended Learning

"The things taught in schools and colleges are not an education, but the means to an education." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, July 21, 2014


The title of this blog, Leading Blended Learning, came out of a deeply held desire to change the way school looks and feels for kids in my district. It came from a place where I looked at what school was offering and realized that the phenomenal teachers and leaders at each of our 51 campuses had the capacity to give kids more than what we were giving them.   We could challenge them to be great and they would rise to it.  I have spent the better part of the last ten years trying to figure out how to lead an authentic shift from good enough to amazing.  Its not so much about wanting our district to have national exposure, or to be the best in show across the State of Georgia, but rather its about making sure that those kids that I met in my office as a middle school principal who had a twinkle in their eyes could see a future where they made it happen.
    I look at the community that I have adopted as my own, after 15 years and having left and returned, it is my hometown now and I see tremendous intellect, strength of spirit, and ingenuity.  I see compassion, dedication, and work ethic.  I see possibilities.  But, I also see self imposed limitations. I see hoops and rules and low expectations. I see bias and hear way too many "bless your hearts." So many of the young people in our community don't believe that they have the power to change not only their world, but the grander world that is at their fingertips. We are now globally competitive, but so limited in global awareness.  We can see video of a conflict in a country 2500 miles away and espouse solutions, but seem to be willing to look deeply at the conflict in front of us that limits our impact.  We want to protect our kids from the harsh realities of the world, without realizing that those same arms that hug and protect also stunt and limit growth and opportunity.
   A wise advisor always said you got to start, and end, with the why.  People have to know and see and feel and believe in the vision of the future that is better than the world they believe they exist in day to day.  They don't have to understand it deeply, commit to it passionately, or even necessarily agree with it... but they have to be able to see it.  Leadership towards this requires time, conversation, commitment, clarity, understanding, and steadfast focus.  It requires meaningful interactions, engaging dialogue, and courage.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Personalized Learning Tenets - Learner Profiles

It is my deeply held belief that school really should be about preparing kids for life, but not just in the traditional liberal arts view of exposing them to deep thinking and the power of learning and not just in the current fashion of economic preparedness that focuses on creating workers.  American public school should operate as an equalizer, giving all kids the opportunity to better themselves, to create their own world of opportunity, to open doors for them.  It should do so by giving kids learning experiences that are personal and common, customized and shared, unique and collaborative all at the same time. After thirteen years in school, our students should come out ready to greet the world with inquisitiveness, with an entrepreneurial and  innovative spirit, with a deep sense of inner creativity and a connection to the world that is both emotional and intellectual.  Kids should leave our high schools as young adults with a vision for the world and a dream for their own experience of that world.
Our district has been deeply diving into what personalized learning means for us and for the future of school for our students, teachers, parents, and community.  For us, the definition of personalized learning really revolves around the tenets you see in the graphic below.  I will be doing a series of five blogs postings talking about each one these tenets.

Each one of the tenets are essential to providing kids with a high quality, rigorous, and meaningful school experience that prepares them to be successful citizens and all around cool people. We believe that the tenets of personalized learning are the tools/processes/mindsets necessary to design school to prepare kids to be awesome college and career ready graduates.

Learner Profiles:
For us, a learner profile is the foundation of relationships with kids.  Kids learn best when they have strong relationships with caring adults.  A learner profile is one way to ensure that teachers know about their kids.  They need to know academic background, behavior background, attendance background.  They need to know about skills gaps and areas of deficiency. Teachers need to know about areas of strength and aptitude where kids excel. Teachers need to know about what kids find interesting, where they have ability, and what they can do.  It needs to include a portfolio of student work as well. This can be housed in a profile that kids, parents, and teachers can see and monitor and use.  This needs to be an easily accessible, intuitive, and focused platform that integrates information from a variety of places into one dashboard.

We see the learner profile also including a personalized learning plan that is co-created and monitored by teachers, students, and parents.  This PLP serves as a place to plan and track learning for the student towards demonstration of mastery of high school and beyond.  The tool for the PLP should be able to list the competencies and courses kids need to complete based on their plan and have a consistently updated progress monitor of that progress toward mastery. This is where kids take ownership, responsibility, and an active role in their own education.

The Learner Profile is more than a piece of software.  The PLP is more than a set of aspirations. The two tools work in concert to provide student voice, autonomy, and purpose to the educational process and act of doing school for kids and parents.  This is a radical shift from doing school TO kids and instead engaging in learning WITH kids.

Check out more at www.henry.k12.ga.us/personalizedlearning

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The teachers do all the talking....

This year my family has hosted a foreign exchange student from Europe. It has been a phenomenal learning experience for all of us.  As I talk with her and a few of the other exchange students that sometimes come around, I ask them about school and particularly about their American High School experience versus their experiences in Europe.  Resoundingly, they all talk about how boring school and classes are here in Georgia.  They talk about being challenged only by their mastery of English and not by the classes or instructional model. In all fairness, they are only talking about a dozen teachers' classrooms that they have been in as students. Most telling is probably an offhanded commented I heard two of them share with each other when we were driving in the car.

 "The teachers here in America do all the talking."

It struck me that as I looked back on my high school experience as a student, as a student teacher, and as an observer over the past 20 years, that it is pretty much the case that in most classrooms in most schools, the teachers are doing all the talking in class time.  Our district is engaged in work to become a personalized learning district, a place where education and instruction are focused on students getting what they need, when they need it, and how they need it.  It is fairly simple term for a mightily complex shift in the design and operation of public education.  As our team thinks about the challenges ahead of us in shifting our entire district's focus from teacher to student, its evident that the largest change is going to be moving our administrators and teachers to a place where the job of teacher is not defined by how much one talks in front of a group of students. 

This isn't new though.  The idea that education should be learner-centric, that teachers should be problem posers and providers of feedback and not givers of knowledge, that coursework should be built around clear end goals that students meet with mastery, the idea that different kids need different supports and paths through the curriculum.  Really, none of these ideas are new ones to those educators that have read an education publication in the last half century.  One could argue that these are ideas that John Dewey espoused a century ago in Democracy and Education.

The core of this fundamental shift for an entire district is to get everyone in consensus that our schools exist and have as a primary and ultimate purpose ensuring student demonstration of  mastery of skills and knowledge.  We have recently added to this the idea of college and career readiness to better define those skills and knowledge that students will demonstrate mastery of in their dozen years in K-12.  In order to allow all students to demonstrate mastery, in its simplest form, the students need to be doing all the talking.  This is the fundamental shift in school operations that will be so challenging.