​How personalized learning will become the new normal at Millstone

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By Scott Feder
Superintendent of Schools
Millstone Township School District

I did not fully grasp what was ahead of me when I submitted my application to become part of the third Lexington Education Leadership Award (LELA) fellowship. Was this another advertising scheme? Did I just win $10,000,000 from Ed McMahon?

Being a bit skeptical at first, I did my homework and quickly realized that the Lexington Institute, a nonprofit focused on education reform and more, and Education Elements, a leading provider of personalized learning consulting services, were the real deal.

The LELA fellowship they offer in partnership remains the only national initiative that is designed to support public school leaders through a six-month program to facilitate the first steps to district-wide personalized learning implementation – and Education Elements would provide all the support we would potentially need along the way.

It did not take long for the next realization, which was that instead of wondering what was ahead of me, I should have asked what amazing things were in store for our district.

Luckily, both the Lexington Institute and Education Elements understand that, while leadership is the key to systemic change, leadership is not a solo practice. My personal experience in this fellowship cannot be told without including my internal team, as well as my district-based team.

Over the six months of the LELA fellowship, my team and I worked closely with Education Elements through a series of strategy, vision and design activities to better understand what personalized learning is and to identify the right path for our district. We all had the opportunity to work with mentor Matt Akin, the superintendent from Piedmont City Schools, Alabama, and I personally met many other great leaders from around the country who are looking to make a big difference in their districts.

The fellowship organizers also recognized that it takes the proverbial village to create systemic educational change. As such, our district assembled a cross-functional team to participate in the on-site Ed Elements Foundations workshop and final Graphic Facilitation in Washington, D.C., where we built a common vocabulary and a shared vision for this district-wide shift. I did not anticipate how the fellowship would benefit others in my district and I am so happy that it did.

Apart from the physical touchpoints of the fellowship, I deeply appreciated its philosophic underpinnings. While the LELA fellowship focused on personalized learning, when a district reaches self-actualization of a truly student-centered system, then the term personalized learning (PL) will not even be needed.

With this in mind, in Millstone Township we are not in search of district buy-in specifically for PL. “Buy-in” is too narrow of a word and does not fully convey the magnitude of commitment and mindset shift which PL must create.

When we reach the level of integration we are striving for, no teacher, student or parent will even know the term personalized learning, because PL will simply be the only way we know how to do school. We will use the strategies of PL as a way of life and it will be the oxygen we all need to feel good about our days. Saying that we hope our teachers, students and parents will simply buy-in is selling ourselves and the LELA fellowship short.

I have never been one for labeling things and have been in education long enough to see the same things renamed, repackaged and readopted as new. PL is not that sort of initiative and could never be mistaken as such – it represents a profound shift in how we structure education.

So call it what you like, because in the end when your entire school or district catches on to this work, everyone will recognize the reform we all know is so desperately needed in our country.

Scott Feder is the superintendent of schools in the Millstone Township K-8 School District.