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!

Monday, June 5, 2017

We are Lucky!

In April our teaching staff engaged in a discussion of personalized learning for our students. Our current definition of personalized learning remains the same, "Providing students with what they need, when they need it, and how they need it." It is clear this definition may change over time but the impetus of it will remain the same.

We started the day with an overview of personalized learning and how it impacts students, teachers, and the school community as a whole. From there we went into a panel discussion with teachers that have visited learning organizations that have implemented personalized learning. To put it bluntly, this discussion was powerful. Staff members shared highlights and wonderings from their experiences. In addition, solid questions were asked that created organic conversations. This process was a great segue to the rest of our learning on personalized learning for the day.

During the morning and afternoon sessions our teachers disaggregated data compiled from surveys of students and staff. The survey administrated included the following questions:
  1. What new things would you like to see in our school?
  2. What things are in our school that you would like to keep?
  3. What things should we get rid of in our school?
By simply asking those three questions of our students and staff we learned valuable information. In both of our buildings it became clear that a common language should be developed so that students from PreK through senior high have a clear understanding of what is being communicated by all adults. In the high school is was discovered that the elimination of a bell schedule would be welcomed. In addition, participants in the survey communicated that there should be further conversation about the loosening of the hat/cell phone policy and more flexible learning opportunities provided. All of this learning was discussed by our staff and an action plan has been created to develop responses to the survey results.

If one piece was gleaned from April's work it was the fact that we have amazing individuals on staff filled with knowledge and a solid understanding of education. Combining all of their knowledge was nothing short of remarkable. I enthusiastically tell you that we are all lucky to have these individuals providing education to students of our outstanding school district. We are lucky!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Enjoying the PL Journey!

On April 5, 2017 several staff members visited the Eastern Carver County Public School District to see their personalized learning in action. As we continue our own journey for creating a system where personalized learning is created, we felt it would be best to see it in action. The day was filled with rich learning that has informed our journey.

Before we get too far, let's define personalized learning with a Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton twist. We believe that personalized learning in our district is defined in the following way: Providing students with what they need, when they need it and how they need it. Although that may seem like a logical practice, systemically it has not been possible.

In the the mid eighteen hundreds, Horace Mann brought our current system of education to the United States from Prussia. During the Industrial Revolution, this system made a lot of sense. The educational system has not evolved with the times because we were all simply used to "doing school" and were comfortable.

Enter the sense of urgency! Our world is changing at a much faster pace than what we are used to or comfortable with. If we are going to prepare our students for their futures, we need to begin changing the way we do business in education. Historically speaking, personalized learning was not possible due to the inability to scale it. With the access to the technology we have today, we can make this happen for our students.

A transition to personalized learning is not for the fainthearted. On the 13th of April our staff will engage in a district wide conversation about implementation. They will also split into elementary and high school teams to discuss relevance and action steps for implementation in their areas. Our hope is that each area comes away with an initial plan of action.

In closing, it is important to note that this will be a journey for our district and that there are sure to be tweaks and adjustments along the way. In education we cannot expect a final product as we are ever evolving as are our students. Let's enjoy the journey!

For one example of what is already taking place at the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton Public School District, please check out the video below (

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Beauty of a Community

Sweet! The title of this article got you to click on it. So, now that you are here, I encourage you to read ahead. While we are talking about community as defined by Merriam-Webster, I shall provide said definition.

"A unified body of individuals: such as, the people of common interests living in a particular area."

It is quite clear the common interest of those living in the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton School District and beyond is the school district. People from all over donated silent auction items and other outstanding door prizes for our Bulldog Night Out (#bulldognightout). Attendance of supporters at this event was humbling. I, personally, couldn't be more proud to lead this district. In addition, I am thankful my own children attend a district filled full of outstanding educators and supportive adults.

A special shout out goes to the Bulldog Backers. What an amazing group of volunteers lead by President Holly Oliver. As a district, we are overjoyed by the commitment of this group of supporters. These folks put in a lot of time to ensure Bulldog Night Out was an absolute success. To put it boldly the event was a paramount success!

Here is a rundown of all the activities involved in our special Bulldog Night Out.
  • Silent Auction Items
  • Raffle for Jewelry
  • Pick of the Litter Raffle
  • Entertainment - Which many of our staff members provided through music and comedy.
  • Beverage Tasting
  • Appetizers
  • Collection of Monetary Donations
  • Securing a Venue and Date
There are so many people to thank for this event that I won't attempt to do so in fear of forgetting someone. With that said, thank you to those that organized the event, donated in some way, provided entertainment and came to support the event. You are all amazing and make JWP a beautiful community.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Where are we going?

School districts throughout the United States work consistently to develop strategic plans to provide direction for their learning organizations. Typically there are diverse stakeholders involved in the development of said plans. Our district participated in this process about five years ago and we landed on a great product that includes our current mission statement.

"Our district will empower learning, energize achievement and enhance community. Excellence without excuse."

As a result of this work, our school district has made positive progress in several areas. With anything, there are still areas of concern and we are honed in on problem solving. We want to increase our achievement results in all areas and improve graduation rates. This district is full of committed professionals that are improving their professional practice to enhance student learning.

We have this process down and have mastered our oversight of the plan. However, we are missing one important piece of the puzzle and I cannot believe we overlooked it. Thanks to my good friend Dennis Laumeyer, superintendent of the Benson Public School District, the puzzle piece was found. We don't have any strategic directions over our activities programming. This work will begin soon.

Our activities programs allow our students to participate in things they are passionate about and to learn lifelong skills that they do not learn in the academic arena. I firmly believe that we should have a plan in place that works to improve our overall programming in this area. So, what's the game plan?

I recently contacted Bruce Miles of the Big River Group to discuss an effective process to gather input and ideas to develop a plan. He is working on getting me pricing. From that point, we'll give the go ahead to our Activities Director to begin this work with the assistance of the Big River Group. We are excited to provide direction to the overall activities program!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Recent Call to Action

Every now and again you're pitched a curveball with very little time to respond. On Tuesday, March 7th school districts across Minnesota were provided information that recent long-term facilities maintenance (LTFM) legislation could be in jeopardy. Thankfully, this curveball was hit out of the park.

LTFM was provided in recent legislation as a way to equalize facilities funding. This new revenue stream has provided districts like Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton the ability to address ongoing facilities issues. As many of our constituents are aware, we will set out to address major safety concerns on our athletic facilities utilizing this funding source. As you might imagine, talk of eliminating LTFM drew major concerns from this school district.

In a call to action, we are asked to contact our legislatures to explain the impact to our school district. The following communication was sent to local legislatures and legislative leaders.

First and foremost, thank you for the work you do on behalf of Minnesotans each and everyday. I realize you folks have a difficult job ahead of you and appreciate your willingness to listen to the people of Minnesota. Your work is sincerely appreciated.

It has been brought to my attention that House leaders are considering cutting Long Term Facilities Maintenance (LTFM) revenue in preliminary budget plans. This may or may not be accurate. With that said, the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton Public School District along with many other districts in rural MN would be negatively impacted by this action.

I can only speak for my school district. We have waited for many years to address maintenance problems in the school district due to the lack of funding for such issues. We were NOT going to cut from the classroom to make repairs and improvements. With the passage of LTFM our district was provided the opportunity to make these repairs and breathe a sigh of relief.

We are one of those districts that have bonded to pay for work that will be completed this spring. The revenue generated from the LTFM would be used to pay off the bond over a period of years. The JWP School District does not receive any equalization aid from the State due to current legislation. All revenue generated comes directly from our local taxpayers. With that said, we had our truth in taxation meeting in December with max authority being approved. Our taxpayers received their statements of the impact of this levy in advance. We had zero constituents in attendance voicing concerns.

I urge all of you to consider the negative impact this will have on school districts and students. Please do not consider eliminating LTFM or capping it. We are thankful for LTFM and our students and community will benefit from our improvements.

In closing, thank you for listening and all that you do for Minnesotans. Best of luck throughout the remainder of this legislative session.

As a result of unified communication from school districts throughout the state, our legislatures have informed advocacy groups that they are no longer considering negative adjustments to LTFM. This Call to Action was a success! 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Athletic Facilities Explained

Small communities are great places to live and raise a family. Back in the early 1970's residents of the Janesville Community worked together to develop an athletic complex for the students of the then, Janesville Public School District. These athletic facilities have provided excellent opportunities for our students over the past 45 years. It is now time for the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton School District to conduct repairs and improvements to this area. There have been several questions asked by district residents over the past few months regarding this. Please review the questions and answers below. Should you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact Bill Adams at the contact information listed at the end of this article.

Drainage Issues
Proposed Concept

How is the district paying for this?

1. With the passage of the operating levy in the fall of 2011, costs of operating the school district were secured. During this time, the school board has worked diligently to be fiscally responsible in expenditure and revenue planning in an effort to pay for repairs and upgrades.

2. The State Legislature came out with a Long Term Facilities Levy (LTFM) recently that allows for school districts to levy dollars to complete repairs on facilities. This authority will be utilized as a way to pay for needed repairs.

3. Lease Purchase for additional learning space is an authority that can be utilized to provide additional learning space. The improved and upgraded facilities can be used for education purposes in physical education, health, outdoor education, and in many other areas.

When does the 1998 bond fall off?

The 1998 bond is set to fall off after the 2017 tax year. Therefore, 2018 tax statements should reflect a decrease in taxes collected from the local school district. With that being said, the impact will be dependent on the value of each property.  

Why are you installing turf?

Several discussions regarding grass or turf took place throughout the past five years. In the end, the school board decided on turf surface for the following reasons:

- The utilization of the football field and softball field was taken into consideration. Due to the outstanding drainage of this surface, the football and softball fields can be used as soon as the ground thaws or when it stops raining. This will allow for fewer events being rescheduled and extreme maintenance needs reduced.
- The utilization of school facilities has increased significantly throughout the years. With the installation of turf, we will be able to allow usage of these facilities on a consistent basis. Physical education courses, junior high football through senior high football, youth football, and so on.
- Cost savings in maintenance, irrigation, weed control, paint, and other areas are realized with a turf surface as opposed to grass.
- Income possibilities are realized as the facility can be rented to other interested parties. We have already received interest from the Region to host a section football final. The district hopes to host conference and section track meets in the future. The possibility of soccer events played on this field is also present. 

If the school is spending this money, why are they in need of renewing the operating levy in the fall of 2018?

The operating levy that was passed in the fall of 2011 is for operating expenses. In essence, this money pays for day to day expenses from teaching and learning to electricity. The school district depends on this allocation of finances to operate. The school board has worked diligently to be fiscally responsible in expenditure and revenue planning in an effort to pay for repairs and upgrades. In addition, we will be utilizing finances from Long Term Facilities Maintenance and Lease Purchase authority provided through the State of Minnesota. These funds are specific to facility repairs and additional classroom space and cannot be utilized for operating expenses. 

Aren't more injuries caused on turf fields than grass fields?

No, that is not true. There have been various studies conducted on this very issue. In some studies, it is stated that turf fields do cause more injuries where in others it is argued the exact opposite. A study conducted by Dr. Michael C. Meyers of the Department of Health and Human Development at Montana State University has confirmed that Field Turf is safer than natural grass sports surfaces. Specific information regarding this study can be found via this link:

What type of shoes do people have to wear on the turf fields?

Those participating on the turf surface can wear tennis shoes or their normal cleats. If a team that is visiting the new field does not have a turf field, they can wear their normal cleats to play the game. There are no special foot attire required.

Are the soils acceptable to complete work in the designated area?

This is still a work in progress. We have had several soil borings completed over the past month. Some of those borings showed outstanding areas to work on while others did not. The school board will continue to meet to discuss options in this area. At this point, there will be revisions made to ensure we can move forward with the project. What we can positively state is that no additional dollars will be spent beyond what was budgeted. Therefore, changes in scope and scale of the project may be revised.

As stated at this beginning of this Q&A, should you have any additional questions, please feel free to contact Bill Adams at or 507.231.7770.