Personalized Learning Starts with One Step

Chrissie Wywrot is a freelance writer and social media expert with focuses on LinkedIn profile development and blogging. She is also an advocate for The ChadTough Foundation which raises funds and awareness for Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, or DIPG. Learn more about Chrissie and her business at

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When Allison Zmuda sat down to talk with building principals Dr. Eric Chagala (Vista International Design Academy) and Meghan Ofer (Roxborough Intermediate), she wanted to know one thing each of them could suggest to let teachers know they didn’t “have to go after the entire enchilada right now.”

What would each of these innovators suggest for starting a school on a path of personalized learning?

Ofer: “Building that culture of people being able to take risks and feeling okay to do so – having permission to not do certain things and to do certain other things. For some teachers it’s having that permission to take something off the plate that you’re not really getting your bang for your buck. I talk to teachers all the time (and say), ‘You spend three hours doing this and what’s your outcome? What just happened?’ Giving teachers permission to take things away.

“Then also I think the biggest thing is just making sure that they do feel comfortable to take risks. We can say that – kind of like a buzz word – but do they actually feel comfortable taking a risk? I can say, ‘My teachers feel comfortable taking risks,’ but are my actions following through with them actually feeling comfortable? So I am constantly reflecting upon that because I can say it all day long, but when that teacher does take that risk and fails, what’s my response to that? So I’m trying to constantly be aware of that, so I think just creating that culture of risk-taking and not just saying it but doing it is super important.”

Chagala: “My one tip to every person that I meet goes back to cultures, which encapsulates intentionality, vulnerability, and relationships. If I had to give an actual smart-sounding tip, it would be to allow permission to dabble. For example, the design thinking process. For teachers to integrate the entire design thinking process unit after unit after unit is overwhelming.

“We know there’s very strong industry-tested skills within each step of the design thinking process so we’ve given them license to just pick certain ones. If they’re really strong in empathy to work on empathy; or ideation work with ideation so that kids are still getting really good skills that are aligned to our vision and our future outcomes, but we’re not overwhelming the teacher. My experience in public education has been that we like to think of something that’s fun, new and sexy and then throw the entire swimming pool at it with everything and there’s not capacity or context with why we’re doing so.”

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