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District Support for Schools Shifting to Personalized Learning

Henry County Schools supports its personalized learning schools based on theory and resources

Overview

Henry County has been intentional about how to provide support for schools as they transition to blended and personalized learning. The supports take a variety of forms but are the direct result of Henry County’s investment in the people and resources that make them possible. The ways in which they work to support their schools include:

  • Enabling bold thinking about what school can look like - As district officials work towards transitioning all 50 schools to personalized learning, Henry County has recognized the need to “change hearts and minds.” Each school is encouraged to think about their student experiences, and what could be changed to create more agency and foster better learning within their schools. This effort goes far beyond a mere thought exercise and takes the form of continual conversations across many years, eventually leading to the creation of a mission, vision, and strategic plan as part of a school redesign process. School leaders also visit other schools focused on personalized learning in order to expand their understanding about their own school. Henry County district staff members also continually check in with schools, providing encouragement for the challenging work they are doing.
  • Encouraging different approaches to instruction - Henry County recognizes how tough change can be in a public school district environment. While they believe personalized learning will benefit all of their students, they also recognize that schools are held accountable by state tests. The district recognizes that these metrics may not be the best metrics of success for their schools and encourages each school to prioritize improving their instructional model. They believe this improvement will eventually be reflected in accountability metrics, and district officials give provide their schools with permission not to worry about the state tests during their first years of planning and implementation. Test scores are now viewed as one of many indicators of performance.
  • Providing a balance of structure and autonomy - Henry County has created an operating structure for its schools that provides both “guard rails” and also considerable freedom. Through its five pillars, the district outlined the high-level outcomes of what personalized learning should look like, enabling schools to focus their efforts on their own discrete set of instructional priorities. The district was also intentional about providing resources and support for each of these components – but not being prescriptive as to how each school should do it. Instead of dictating what learning should look like, the district has focused on what outcomes they want to see for their students and allowed schools (and, in some cases, students) to determine how they can best achieve these outcomes. This has enabled schools to create change that matches the school’s culture while also fulfilling each component of personalized learning. This balance of structure and autonomy was not obvious at the start; it came about through trial and error, observing what schools genuinely needed, and ongoing dialogues with school leaders and teachers.
  • Redesign process - As the district works towards all schools implementing personalized learning, they have created a redesign process for schools. The process is cohort-based, and a similar number of schools goes through the redesign process each year, ensuring the district is adequately staffed to support schools through this endeavor. The redesign process starts with an application by the schools, is followed by an oral presentation highlighting their mission and vision, and also involves the creation of a strategic plan that outlines how they are going to accomplish personalized learning.
  • Investing through resources - Henry County understands that creating change involves some monetary cost and provides schools with funding to address it. Schools redesigning their learning structure receive money for a planning grant, as well as funds for implementation. In total, this amount is between $150,000 and $175,000 per school, spread over three to five years. The district uses funding sources flexibly to finance this within its current budget (e.g., leveraging their professional learning budget for educator development focused on personalized learning).
  • Investing in people - People are the greatest agents of change in Henry County Schools, and the district prioritizes building their capacity for change. The district has a team dedicated to personalized learning that helps invest in people through training, support, and continual encouragement. The district has invested time and money in helping evolve educators’ thinking from 20th to 21st century learning and building capacity for teachers and leaders to think about what student agency can look like for students. Specific programs that help build this capacity include creating time for educator collaboration, the Redesign Process, Leadership Academies, and Coaching.