Supporting Great Teaching for Personalized Learning

Posted by on May 21, 2015 in Commentary, Featured | 0 comments

What do we need to do to support personalized learning – learning that is student-centered and based on innovative practice and proficiency? How do we support teaching to promote personalized learning?

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a convening on the district conditions for scale, facilitated by KnowledgeWorks and Nellie Mae Education Foundation, which began to address these very questions. KnowledgeWorks brought together a tremendous group of education experts to focus on the conditions that need to be in place to bring personalized learning to scale. As NCTAF is focusing on the conditions that support great teaching, it was encouraging to see there are many shared beliefs and lessons to be learned.

There were two main themes that stood out at the conference. The first was the need for courageous leaders to promote personalized learning and to support great teaching. Throughout the two-day meeting, a community of courageous leaders were highlighted in various sessions – educators at the state, district, and school levels who recognize that we need to meet students’ needs differently than we have in the past and that the teacher is critical to this effort.

Take, for example, the Kettle Moraine School District outside of Milwaukee. Five years ago, this district decided to bring personalized learning to all of the schools in their district. The district leadership decided to focus on learning with the capacity for customization around student needs and interests. Technology was integrated into all classrooms as a tool for helping teachers and students personalize learning. District leaders, truly courageous people, recognized that the role of the teacher had to be changed and supported to make this happen. The district encourages a collaborative community of learning for its teachers. Leaders are unified in advocating for policy changes and waivers in order to encourage professional learning and other strategies that help educators grow into accomplished teaching. For example, they have created policies to allow for flexible scheduling which provides more time for collaboration among educators. The district has built a community of educators that is set up around student needs and encourages teacher leadership.

The second theme that was highlighted is the need for professional development systems that are collaborative, supportive, and look at continuous improvement. KnowledgeWorks identifies professional development as one of ten district conditions that must be addressed in order to bring personalized learning to scale.

Among the participants at the conference were leaders of the Boston Day and Evening Academy. BDEA is the only high school in Boston whose specific mission is to meet the academic needs of students who are overage for grade level and have not previously experienced or are struggling with achieving academic success. The school has seen tremendous progress with most students going on to two and four year colleges and every student graduating with a postgraduate plan. This unique school has made great strides in rethinking their professional development and creating an environment where educators want to teach and feel trusted as leaders. They have created a collaborative community among their educators where they are encouraged to try new forms of teaching – including blended learning, experiential learning, and active learning. Trying new types of lessons, activities, and teaching is not only accepted, it is revered and the community is one of trust where educators learn together.

From these examples and others showcased at the conference, it is clear there are school, district, and state leaders that understand how to effectively incorporate personalized learning and support great teaching. However, we need to move from a school-by-school approach to a system-wide, transformational process to give all students the opportunity to learn in this type of environment. One of NCTAF’s goals through our great teaching initiative is to translate the lessons learned from schools around the country into policies that support practice.

Student-centered learning should be our focus, and educators are the catalyst to bring new methods for students to discover, learn, and excel!


Melinda George, President, oversees NCTAF’s research, policy, and implementation projects, develops and maintains strategic partnerships, and provides thought leadership about teaching for the 21st century. Melinda served as NCTAF’s Vice President and Chief Operating Officer since 2011.


Leave a Comment