Huntingdon Area School District

by: Kim Rieffannacht, Ed.D.

“What we are doing now is not working.  It is time to try something new.” There is nothing better for a school leader to hear in a small meeting where the discussion of change was on the agenda.  This learning facilitator was facing a new building administrator, rumors of grade-level changes, a possible scheduling overhaul and a complete reworking of how instruction was viewed; AND she was okay with it! She recognized that the current system and mode of instruction is not meeting her learners’ needs.  Along with her team, she saw the need to take the next steps is making their environment, in this case a grade-level, a place where the entire focus was on the learner.

This is one of the first baby steps when beginning to walk down an Mass Customized Learning (MCL) journey, the conversation. The conversation that our learners are more important than our adult convenience.  The conversation that allows for all members of the team, learning facilitators and leaders, to ask hard questions and realize that it is okay not to have the answers. The excitement of the ability to meet each learner’s needs, combined with the anxiety of an unknown creates a contagious almost frenzy around the conversation.

What question do you answer first? The answer to that will be different for each learning environment or district and to be quite honest during this meeting, the reality was there was only one concrete answer. There is a need to make a change. Not having all the answers and allowing the them to form over time is not always easy for a leader. As a leader what can be done to keep the team moving one baby step at a time?

First, keep the conversation alive using the terminology that illustrates what each person’s role is. Learner for the students, learning facilitator for teachers and leaders for administration better illustrate each role and how they should carry out their duties.  Students number one priority is to learn, they are the learners, teacher no longer disseminate information, but rather facilitate the learning process, and school administrators are no longer focus on management, but instead lead the charge.  These are important culture shifts and distinctions that need to become a part of everyday conversation.  It will take time, but this list is truly how each member of the learning environment needs to view themselves in order for the MCL journey to be successful.

Second, as a leader, it is okay not to have all the answers.  This is a difficult shift for some and is necessary when moving from the management style of administration to leadership.  A leader is one member of a team, who may have added influence and responsibility; however, they cannot have all the answers.  It has been said many times that more heads are better than one. Decisions related to moving forward with MCL need to be made as a result of a team discussion, research, thoughts and ideas. This shift in philosophy cannot happen overnight and cannot be dictated from the top down.

Finally, when starting out the mindset for the entire staff needs to be addressed.  Working through the book Mindset by Carol Dweck is a good jumping off point.  The learning environment needs to be filled with learning facilitators that believe that all learners can grow and succeed.  This also begins with the leader.  Modeling this is critical and can happen through conversations about seemingly hopeless situations, how professional development opportunities are executed, staff meetings are presented and evaluations are approached.  It is the leader’s responsibility to set the tone for this mindset within the learning environment.  

The MCL journey is a path that is more about the process and constant evaluation and change, than it is about arriving at a completed goal.  Component of the learning environment may be very customized, while others still fall in a traditional model.  There is not right or wrong way to approach this process; however, there is an undeniable need to make a change to meet this generation’s unique learning needs at all phases of development.