By Dr. Karen Gaborik
In the middle of January, with little daylight and plenty of snow, we began the process of bringing together the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District community to learn about personalized learning.
With a week of workshops, board sessions and community nights behind us, we realized that over the course of a few days we significantly moved forward work that would impact our 14,000 students for the rest of their lives.
When the school board developed their strategic plan in February 2015, they wanted to make changes to the district’s approach to teaching and learning as part of their commitment to providing an excellent and equitable education to students, and to prepare them to succeed and contribute in positive ways to a global society.
It was determined personalized learning would be a key part of our strategy moving forward and district administration set out to make it happen. At the time, I am not sure any of us understood what an exciting journey we were starting.
Building a Student-Centered System
For us, personalized learning is an opportunity to re-think and re-imagine school. As superintendent, I am convinced that our school system can and must do a better job for more students, especially those groups that consistently underperform. I’ve embraced personalized learning because I believe that making a shift to a student-centered system is necessary to meet the learning needs of all students and prepare students for their futures.
While we are at the beginning of our journey, we have a clear idea of where we are heading. We do not yet know what types of models we will design and implement, nor do we know what technology we will use. There are many decisions we will make as a community, learning from other school districts both inside and outside Alaska and from Education Elements, who are supporting our efforts. It is an exciting time.
Our Current Position
So where are we now? Over the next three years, we will work with 19 elementary schools to design and support personalized learning. Our meetings at each of the elementary schools in January were a great start. We answered questions from teachers and community members.
We also spent time listening to teachers and leaders, observing the wonderful things already happening in so many classrooms and looking for opportunities to do more. We now have an even deeper understanding of the starting point for each school, which will inform the work of Education Elements and our team moving forward.
We also spent time in January bringing together teams from each elementary school for a series of Foundations workshops. During these half-day sessions, we considered “the why” and “the what” for personalized learning. We introduced the concept by experiencing it through a three-station rotation model, considered strategies to support it and created plans to support teachers in implementing it. We outlined next steps for our work, including replicating foundations-style workshops in schools across the district.
Our Next Steps
We will continue to build knowledge and understanding following the introduction of personalized learning in January by bringing together schools to start the design process in March. Through this work, schools will design the instructional models that make the most sense for them, something that is important to us as a district and is integral to the Education Elements approach.
And then, after much work, many iterations and a lot of training, we will launch personalized learning for elementary schools in the 2017-18 school year and for the secondary schools thereafter.
We are so proud to be the first of the “big five” school districts in Alaska to do this work at scale. We see this as a chance to do some trail-blazing but also bring other districts along on similar journeys. This is a moment in time when we can change the trajectories of students in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District and beyond; and it could not have come soon enough.
Our students have been waiting for us to catch up and teach them the way they learn, and we are excited about what’s to come!
For more, see:
- 18 Tips for Making Blended Learning More Student-Centered
- Our School’s Evolution to 21st-Century Teaching and Learning
- Kepner Keeps True to the Innovation Model
Dr. Karen Gaborik is Superintendent of the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District. Follow them on Twitter: @fsdk12
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