Friday, March 23, 2018

Team Building, Professional Development and Innovation

"A dream doesn't become a reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work." 
~ Colin Powell

Team Building and Professional Development

Over the past two years the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton has been working diligently on developing a learning environment in which all students are provided a personalized learning experience. This past year we have accelerated our work of implementation.

To start the 2017-2018 school year the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton School District engaged in a comprehensive needs assessment to gather data regarding staff needs to build their capacity for implementation. Through that assessment, we learned that our staff members yearned for three items to building their skills in personalizing education. Those three items were as follows:
  1. Staff members wanted to see personalized learning in action.
  2. Staff members wanted more support to provide training and ideas.
  3. Staff members wanted more time to develop personalized approaches.
On March 23, 2018 we were able to provide our staff the opportunity to see personalized learning and innovation in action as we visited the Waukesha School District in Waukesha, WI as organized and supported by the Institute for Personalized Learning. We had a full day of learning in which we visited various sites and engaged in a panel discussion with students, staff, administrators and parents. To view specific details regarding this experience, please utilize the links below.
  1. Itinerary -
  2. Site Locations -
This school year we added a personalized learning coach to our school district to provide support for our staff in the implementation phase. As outlined above, there is a desire for more support for our staff. Therefore, we'll be adding an additional personalized learning coach for next school year. By doing so, we will have addressed their number two need as listed above.

In an effort to provide more time for our staff as identified through the comprehensive needs assessment, additional prep time daily during the 2018-2019 school year will be implemented. By doing so, our staff members will have time daily to develop personalized learning approaches for their students.

Our school board is committed to this work and has aligned their resources to the strategic plan they approved. I am proud of our school board for recognizing the need for organizational alignment and providing our staff members with what they need to be successful in this journey!

With any change effort, it takes time. The end result of our work is that we'll be able to provide each and every learner with what they need, when they need it and how they need it in their journey to mastery of learning. As a staff, we understand that it will take hard work and dedication to accomplish our mission and vision. What you currently see in place at Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton is not the end product of what we envision when it comes to our work. We currently have components in place and continue to work daily on improving and creating iterations of personalized learning. If your student is struggling with various components of their education, please communicate with classroom teachers as they are always willing, ready and able to work with your student(s).

To learn more about Personalized Learning at Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton, please click here.


Over the past several years the JWP School District has been involved in many innovative practices. However, state statute and governance has not allowed our school district to completely disrupt the learning process to meet the needs of today's learner. Enter the Innovation Research Zones!

The 2017 Legislature enacted Innovation Research Zone Pilot project legislation that provides districts and charter schools an opportunity to test new ideas in K-12 education. An application may be submitted by one or more school districts or charter schools that together form an innovation zone partnership. The partnership may include other non-school partners, including postsecondary institutions, other units of local government, nonprofit organizations and for-profit organizations. Applicants are encouraged to think beyond continuous improvement of existing practices to try out and measure the success of innovative practices. Pilot projects must research and implement innovation education programs and models that are based on proposed hypotheses. The Innovation Zone plan may include an emerging practice not yet supported by peer-reviewed research.

The JWP School District worked collaboratively with the following districts and partnership organization:
  • Fairmont
  • Granada-Huntley-East Chain
  • Sleepy Eye
  • St. James
  • St. Peter
  • Tri City United
  • Waseca
  • South Central Service Cooperative
As information develops, the school district will be sure to keep all of you in the loop. This is an exciting time for the students of our district! It is great to be a Bulldog!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Thank a Board Member!

"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service to others."
~ Mahatma Ghandi

From February 19th to the 23rd it is School Board Appreciation Week. I wanted to spend some time recognizing those fine folks that have decided to provide a service to the students of our communities. So, let the acclamations begin!

Our elected school board members dedicate approximately 50 hours per year in official meetings related to school district business. These same folks spend much more time above and beyond these scheduled meetings reviewing materials and communicating with constituents. Their jobs are extremely important and our elected board members take them seriously. Here are some highlights of their responsibilities as provided by the Minnesota School Boards Association (MSBA):

As the entity legally charged with governing a school district, each school board is responsible to its community to govern efficiently and effectively. This obligation imposes some fundamental duties on the board.

VISION: The board, with community input, envisions the educational future of its community and then formulates the goals, defines the outcomes, and sets the course for the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton Public School District.

STRUCTURE: To achieve its vision, the board establishes a structure and hires a superintendent to accomplish that vision.

ACCOUNTABILITY: The board is accountable to the community for constantly monitoring the conditions affecting the district as a whole.

ADVOCACY: The board advances its vision by focusing on student achievement, partnering with the community, and being proactive in addressing issues that affect education on local, state, and national levels.

CONDUCT AND ETHICS: The board, as a whole, provides leadership to the community on behalf of the district by conducting its business in a fair, respectful, legal, and responsible manner.

I am thankful that we have seven highly effective school board members ensuring our school district's vision, structure, accountability, advocacy, and ethics are forward thinking and student centered. Thank you for all you do for the students of our communities. You are appreciated! Please thank the following board members when you see them.

Kelly Heitkamp, Chair
Kelly Eustice, Vice Chair
Tim Oelke, Clerk
Tim Johnson, Treasurer
Katie Cahill, Director
Kendra Hoehn, Director
Laura Seys, Director

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Creating Clarity

Personalized Learning is the buzz in educational circles today. Regardless of who you ask to define personalized learning, you are sure to get a different response. This is the beauty of this reform as it morphs into what works for each learning community and school district. Essentially, personalized learning plays to the strength of our school community.

At Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton we continue to hone in on our specific definition and framework. The personalized learning team has been working diligently to finalize our mission, key terms, and frequently asked questions. Our hope is that these items will help strengthen everyone's understanding of what we are trying to accomplish here at Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton.

We have been able to identify and eradicate misunderstandings regarding personalized learning in an effort to provide clarity. Clearly identifying what personalized learning is not has assisted in the development of understanding:

What personalized learning is not:
  • Learners always working in isolation.
  • Learners choosing whatever they "feel like" learning.
  • A lack of teacher guidance, instruction, or control.
  • Chromebooks completely replacing instruction.
  • Different curriculum for every learner.
  • A single structure, such as self-paced or flipped classroom.
  • More work for learners and teachers.
To see key terms, frequently asked questions, and other important data regarding JWP's personalized learning work, please use the following link:

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Group Think and Providing Meaningful PD

Who is on the PL Team?
Recently we have been asked, "Who makes up the personalized learning development team at Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton." The answer to that question is multilayered. The "lead" team which determines the vision and implementation plan consists of the following staff members:

Bill Adams, Superintendent
Mike Berding, Technology Staff Development and Curriculum Coordinator
Jeremy Erler, Elementary Principal
Andy Krause, High School Principal
Claudia Roesler, Personalized Learning Coach

In addition to this team, we have a district wide team that strengthens the vision and implementation plan. These committee members are made up of the following staff members: 

Pagie Bellig, Special Education Teacher
Eric Kehoe, High School Science Teacher
Sharyn Miller, Elementary Teacher

The final team we have created is the community wide team. This has included students, parents, and community members in addition to the aforementioned individuals. The work of this team will continue near the end of this first year of development and implementation. This particular team provides insight in terms of what is working and what needs improvement from their perspectives.

Ultimately, we believe that with any change effort it is important to have the voices of different perspectives included in the process. We are certainly learning a lot from these folks as they are able to provide guidance for clarity and communication. There you have it, those are the individuals that make up the personalized learning development team.

If you don't know, ask.
The transition to a student centered approach to education from the traditional model is complex. An important piece to this process is to provide effective professional development for our staff members. At a recent personalized learning lead team meeting we began developing a protocol for professional development. However, we continued to stumble upon "what if" statements until the light bulbs illuminated. We began to ask ourselves the following questions: "What if we modeled personalized learning? What if we developed personalized learning opportunities for our staff members?" Enter the needs assessment!

Needs Assessment Action
What is a needs assessment? Simply put, if you do not know an answer to a question, find it. On November 6th, 2017 we conducted a needs assessment with our entire teaching staff. Below is an outline of the process.

Step 1: Organization
Staff members were separated into nine diverse groups based on subject and grade level.

Step 2: Recording Needs
Each staff member received a notecard with two questions on it. Question #1: What do you need to better understand personalized learning? Question #2: What do you need to create a learner centered classroom? They were to answer the questions without any conversation with colleagues. We truly wanted this to be a personalized and organic experience.

Step 3: Sharing Needs
In a round-robin manner, staff members orally shared with their small group one answer at a time until all answers from their individual notecards had been shared. A table facilitator recorded each idea on their table's chart paper while numbering each response. If there were repeat answers, it was notated. During this time, there was no discussion or debate about the needs of each staff member.

Step 4: Clarifying Needs
Staff members engaged in clarifying discussions about their needs. For example:

Teacher A: What do you mean by, "see it?"
Teacher B: What I mean by that is I want to see what personalized learning looks like in action at my grade level. 

This step allowed for a clear understanding of needs.

Step 5: Refining Needs
After discussions, staff members were to rank their needs in order of importance as an individual. When the rankings were completed, they were to find the mean score of each item. By doing so, they were able to identify their needs as a group. This information was then recorded on a piece of chart paper that was placed around our meeting location in preparation of a gallery walk.

Step 6: Gallery Walk
Staff members then took a gallery walk around the room to view the prioritized needs of each group. Based on their learning from this opportunity, staff members recorded their final individual needs and provided this information to the personalized learning team.

At the end of the process we learned a couple of items that I believe are of extreme value to improve the implementation process. First and foremost, we now have a collection of every staff members top five needs for professional development and we are currently concocting a plan to meet their individual needs. In addition, we know what our entire staff needs as a group in this journey of personalized learning. Here are the top five needs for the group:

1. See PL in Action
2. Time
3. Training
4. Collaborate with Inside and Outside Experts
5. Flexible Learning Spaces is how we plan to address these identified needs:

See PL in Action
We are working closely with the Institute for Personalized Learning in the scheduling of a site visit for our entire staff. At this point we are working on securing a date and specific locations that are having success with personalized learning work.

Discussions are currently underway within our personalized learning development team and with our entire teaching staff to identify ways to create an hour per week for staff members to engage in collaborative conversations. These collaborative conversations would take place with experts inside and outside our learning organization, which addresses need number four, "Collaborate with Inside and Outside Experts."

Claudia Roesler, JWP's Personalized Learning Coach has been following up with every teacher regarding their specific needs from the needs assessment. These conversations are serving as a guide to develop staff specific training opportunities. Information gleaned from these meetings will assist in shaping our district wide staff development plan.

Flexible Learning Spaces
In an effort to create a personalized learning space, staff members have asked to be provided insight and guidance in creating flexible learning spaces for students. As a result, we have worked collaboratively with various experts from inside and outside our school district to begin creating such spaces. Our Director of Buildings and Grounds, Scott Kaminski has repurposed furniture and physical space to create areas for collaborative learning. Claudia Roesler and Kim Scott (Media Center Specialist) have been researching ways to transform learning spaces into flexible environments.

As you can see, we took this needs assessment seriously. We are using the results as a guide to do effective work for students. You can learn an awful lot by asking questions and listening empathetically!

Example Flexible Spaces

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Looking to the Stars

Over the past two years we have been working diligently to develop our framework for personalized learning at Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton (JWP). Therefore, I thought I would take some time to cover where we've been, where we are today, and where we are headed. Happy reading!

Where we've been...
One of the strategic directions of the school board is, "By the start of the 2017 school year, the district will have developed an implementation protocol for personalized learning." In the spring of 2017 the school board aligned their resources to this strategic direction by posting for and hiring a personalized learning coach to oversee the process. We are thankful that Claudia Roesler, former 3rd grade teacher at JWP accepted the challenge!

When Ms. Roesler started we began weekly meetings to build our personalized learning framework. We started with developing a definition first. The working definition we honed in on is the following: "At JWP personalized learning is an individual learner-centered, teacher-guided partnership to reach intended learning goals."

Ms. Roesler spent the summer studying up on personalized learning by reading books, articles, peer reviewed works and a variety of other resources. From there, personalized learning coaching sessions were developed and scheduled with staff members which provided one to one support for our staff members.

We also believed it would be important to clearly identify skills our leaners needed to secure by the end of a course or grade level. Albeit we had done this work in the past, our focus turned to turning those identified skills in to "I can" statements. For example: I can multiply multi-digit numbers. From there, the conversation turned to how students would display their mastery of multiplying multi-digit numbers. This was an intensive process and continues today.

Where we are today...
Our personalized learning team today in the process of integrating the "honeycomb" of personalized learning. To learn more about the "honeycomb", please click here. As you can see in the image below, it would be impossible to implement all pieces of this at once. Therefore, as a district we have decided to focus on the following pieces:

1. The development of learner profiles (core component).
2. Timely and actionable feedback (learning and teaching).
3. Conferring and conferencing (learning and teaching).
4. Development of a shared commitment to success (relationships and roles).

Our task is to master those items at each and every level. Once we feel we've got a grasp on these pieces, we'll begin addressing new areas of the "honeycomb". This process will be challenging and we are sure to experience opportunities in which to learn from. 

Photo Credit:
We call these first components our initial constellation of where we are heading. If we ever get lost in our journey to personalizing our learning environment, we will look to our constellation for direction. Below is an image our personalized learning team developed as a point of reference for future discussions.

Where we are headed...
We currently have five staff members that have signed up for the intensive pilot program to fully immerse themselves in personalized learning work. Essentially, the plan is for these folks to receive extensive coaching and to begin implementation and evaluation of personalized learning in their classrooms. We look forward to learning from these individuals as we scale this philosophy of education district wide.

Ms. Roesler also created a poster recently that depicts where we've been, where we are, and where we are headed. It is our hope that our school community will continue to understand that this process is a journey. We will most definitely keep moving forward, adjust, improve, and learn. Thank you for your support!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Whatever it Takes

I recently had an opportunity to participate in the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) Summit on Personalized Learning in Charlotte, North Carolina with several superintendents throughout the United States. A portion of this Summit was spent in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public School District (CMS) seeing personalized learning in elementary schools. This experience was exceptional and has provided further insight into our district's journey of personalization.

Students in these elementary schools completed learning pathways or playlists for academic development in their securing of knowledge. On several occasions I asked students what they were doing and they were able to clearly articulate their learning goal. In essence, these students possessed complete ownership of their learning and were able to progress at their own pace. The students were completely committed to the learning process.

At JWP we are committed to shifting our traditional school system to a modern school in which student needs, learning styles, and skills are well understood by the students themselves and by their teachers. In addition we are creating learner portfolios that document our students' educational experiences and will serve as a conferencing tool between students, teachers, and parents that build mutually respectful and strong relationships. Lastly, we are striving to create an environment  in which high learner engagement occurs as a result of personal connections and ownership of their learning. 

As of today, we have made exceptional progress in multiple areas. Our teachers continue to work on the creation of "I can" statements created from the dissection of power standards. Students in the elementary school are utilizing SeeSaw to document their mastery of power standards and the high school students are using Google Sites. When these two items are completed, students will begin the process of self pacing their learning. 

The intended outcome of this transition is that no student is left behind and each is filled with a rich learning experience. As they say at CMS, we'll do "whatever it takes" to set our students up for success in the present and the future. We now have a vision to create this environment and we shall carry on!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Cultivating Passion

During the month of September I spent a lot of time in hospitals tending to my mother. Recently, I spent a day waiting for her open heart surgery and thought I would meander down to the gift shop to pass time. While there, I stumbled upon the book, The Mayo Brothers' Heritage: Quotes and Pictures. In the waiting room my sister was looking through the book and stumbled upon three quotes provided by the doctors William J. Mayo and Charles H. Mayo.

"Probably in the not far distant future we will crawl out of our old methods of education, as a snake sheds its skin, and reorganize a new plan." (Mayo, 1928)

Here we are, 89 years later, and we are finally reorganizing a new plan for educating our students. The JWP School District is well along its way in creating a personalized learning environment to ensure all students are learning at high levels. Specifically, we define personalized learning as an individualized learner-centered, teacher-guided partnership designed to reach intended learning goals. Although it has taken quite some time to shed the proverbial snake skin, we are making great progress.

"One of the chief defects in our plan of education in this country is that we give too much attention to developing the memory and too little to developing the mind; we lay too much stress on acquiring knowledge and too little on the wise application of knowledge." (Mayo, 1933)

With the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) into the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal government missed the boat. Our elected officials had a great opportunity to steer accountability away from standardized tests and to create a new system that fostered creativity and innovation. 

In 1933 William J. Mayo understood that the educational system at the time cared more about the student's ability to fill in bubbles on an assessment and recall knowledge. At the time, he was urging a change in the world of education. The desire was to allow students to apply their learning and pursue passions. It is now 2017 and the system as a whole puts more value on rote memorization than the application of knowledge. At JWP, we believe students should pursue passions and apply learning.

"Instruction from teachers and books teaches a man what to think, but the great need is that he should learn how to think." (Mayo, 1938)

At JWP we work hard to ensure our students possess a mastery of learning. It is our goal that students leave our schoolhouse gate college, career, and life ready. A great measuring stick for our educational effectiveness is if our students are contributing to and improving our society. It is imperative that our students are able to think critically, apply learning, and inspire growth and development. This success is fostered at JWP!

In closing, JWP is committed to ensuring our students are provided an outstanding educational experience, an experience in which they develop into outstanding contributors to our society and have the ability to cultivate their passions!