Pelham School District’s Path to Personalization

Jun 13, 2017

In April 2015, Pelham School District in New Hampshire began its journey to become a Future Ready Schools® (FRS) district. Work had begun to update the current technology plan, but the district’s attendance at the Rhode Island FRS summit supplied a framework that brought Pelham beyond technology integration to a vision of how every learner could be reached. As we worked together as a team over the two-day summit, it became very clear as to what the district needed to prioritize and how it could begin with a better model for technology planning.

Our team returned to Pelham and presented the FRS framework to the leadership and district technology committee. We spent the next year collecting data from all stakeholders and writing goals for each gear. The work resulted in a technology plan that resembles a well-rounded picture of what learning can and will look like for Pelham students and staff. With personalization at the core of the gears, Pelham’s FRS plan aims to achieve the district’s vision of “inspiring success one mind at a time.”

Once the FRS plan was in place, the district leadership team began investigating the definition of personalized learning. Through discussions and research, we came up with our own district definition and began evaluating where we were implementing these strategies. Together we believe the following:

In a personalized learning environment, learners understand how they best engage with academic, social-emotional competencies, and performance outcomes. The learner cultivates a network of peers, teachers, and resources that fosters individuals to take responsibility for their learning. In partnership with a teacher or mentor, learners are active participants in designing, implementing, and evaluating a personalized learning plan.

From a shared understanding, we measured personalized learning strategies in the district to gauge where it was and what needed to be done. A walk-through survey was developed to take three quick data points in classrooms throughout the district. We looked for evidence of the following:

  • Student grouping (grouping by student needs and interests)
  • Flexible learning spaces (variety of seating and learning spaces)
  • Student data (evidence of student involvement in their learning goals, e.g., student goal sheets, portfolios, student conferences)

These results were shared with staff to begin a district-wide discussion of personalized learning and provide professional learning experiences to foster these practices.

Pelham had pockets of innovation throughout the district, but we wanted these to grow and spread. To begin transforming classroom practices, we formed the first “digital cohort” with teachers representing each of Pelham’s three schools. This was frequently referred to as the “beta cohort” and actively involved participants in developing the format for future groups. Technology tools and classroom practices were shared in a collaborative atmosphere and units were developed with an eye on the SAMR model to raise the level of technology integration in our classrooms.

The end results are cross collaborative, shared units that break away from the traditional textbook model and pull from a broad selection of personalized learning pedagogies, including blended learning, flipped teaching, and game-based learning. As more teachers participate in this experience, we are building a shared repository for units, lessons, and resources across the district that staff can access and search.

Within Pelham’s individual buildings, opportunities for job-embedded professional development are being created. One of the most exciting additions in the elementary school is a Pineapple Chart. Each week, the technology integrator in collaboration with the principal sends out a newsletter and includes exciting and innovative practices happening in classrooms. All teachers are invited to sign up to visit other classrooms to learn about a new strategy. These strategies range from making global connections with video conferencing to exploring what a student-led genius hour looks like. Building administrators make these visits possible by providing coverage for their classes.

Beyond fostering teachers’ learning, Pelham realizes the most important stakeholders are the students. Since the launch of the district’s 1:1 initiative (Connect2), high school students have been enlisted to help deploy, repair, and provide curricular support for teachers and staff. While teachers are learning, students are teaching. This model will be replicated across the district empowering students, staff, and the administration to continue down the road to personalization.

About Holly Doe
Holly Doe is passionate about student voice and integrating a global perspective to the classroom. Holly has more than twenty-two years of classroom and leadership experience. As director of technology for Pelham School District in New Hampshire, she is leading a digital transformation to a 1:1 Chromebook initiative in grades 3–12 that not only changes how students access content but changes how teachers will teach in a more personalized environment. She is a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, Presidential Awardee for Science Teaching, and a Google.

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