Highlander Institute’s Strategy Refresh: Pursuing 20/20 Vision for Personalized Learning

Image courtesy of TVA.

By: Cathy Sanford

My oldest daughter has a fairly bad vision, a trait that she tried to hide from me for years as a tween. Refusing to wear glasses or contacts, she moved through the world without clarity or confidence—but was content. It was after her first semester in college that she finally agreed to a contact lens appointment. And, predictably, the experience was life-altering. On the way home, my daughter was astonished by the new level of detail and clarity she noticed in the world, frequently repeating “I can’t believe I waited so long to do this. I can never go back to not wearing contacts!”

Over the past 18 months at Highlander Institute, we have been equally focused on clarifying our vision despite the anxiety and discomfort it sometimes creates. Constantly learning from our extensive fieldwork in classrooms, schools, and district—as well as the larger field—we realized that our theories of action needed clarity to reflect our evolving view of what is most important in the realm of school change. Through an intensive strategic planning process, our team articulated a set of shifts to guide the next five years of our work:

  • A shift from building model classrooms to supporting whole school change
  • A shift from instructional strategies centered on technology to those focused on human-centered personalization
  • A shift from a classroom culture built on routines to one centered on community-building and empowerment
  • A shift from focusing on station-based delivery models to instruction grounded in culturally responsive and sustaining pedagogy

These shifts have influenced the update of our Priority Practices Tool and Companion Rubric, informed our classroom coaching cycles, and formed the foundation of support offered to our partners engaged with our Pathway to Personalization framework. They also cosmically coincide with the ringing in of 2020—a year when vision and clarity are on the minds of many people.

In this spirit, we have taken the opportunity to refocus our annual conference to more closely align with our newfound clarity. Formerly the Blended & Personalized Learning Conference, our 9th annual event is called Personalization 2020: Looking Back, Looking Forward. Hosted from April 2-4 in Providence, RI, Personalization 2020 will feature many of the conferences features our international audience has enjoyed for years:

  • School site visits offering a firsthand look at how Rhode Island schools are making the shift toward personalized learning
  • Community site visits showcasing the important role of nonprofits and specialized school models in supplementing, complementing, and enhancing the public education ecosystem
  • Longer Friday workshops supporting a deep dive into strategies and resources that support change management and personalized instruction
  • A Saturday symposium featuring over 40 workshops led by practitioners at the classroom, school, and district levels from around the country
  • Classroom simulations allowing the audience to observe and debrief pedagogical approaches with students and teachers

What makes Personalization 2020 special is our shifting content focus. While a few sessions will reference the strategic use of technology, all sessions will be grounded in people—and how aspects of ownership, autonomy, struggle, collaboration, voice, and cultural responsiveness can elevate education for students, teachers, and leaders.

It will be a powerful experience for visionary personalization advocates. Once inspired by our incredible lineup of session presenters and conference activities, it might feel a little like putting on contacts for the first time: you may never be satisfied with your old views. We hope you’ll join us in April.

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Cathy Sanford leads research and development efforts at Highlander Institute in Providence, RI and is the co-author of Pathways to Personalization: A Framework for School Change (Harvard Education Press, 2018). Find Cathy on Twitter at @csanford42.

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