failing forward ILP

How one district improved its personalized learning by failing forward


After failing to create usable Individualized Learning Plans, teachers refined it until it worked. Isn't that what we want from our students?

After collaboratively creating a template to use with their students, the next step was to sit down with each student and work with them to fill out the initial plan, with the intent that the ILP would not be a static document, but rather a plan the student could continue to use as they learned how to advocate for their own learning. These conversations were so beneficial. It was a great opportunity to build relationships with students and learn about their aspirations, strengths, and constraints.

Unfortunately, the success of the project went downhill after that point. The ILPs were difficult to manage for a large group. The students were not as invested in the process after the initial meeting, and most of the ILPs remained untouched in their respective Google Drive folders. With the typical teacher workload already on their shoulders, managing all of those documents and drawing students to them on a consistent basis when their students were working remotely or at different paces, became too much of a burden. After the first year of implementation, the teachers were unsuccessful in using the ILPs in a way that would increase student engagement and consistency of effort.

As the group came together to reflect on the year and their goals in regards to the Individualized Learning Plans, it would have been easy for this idea to be dismissed as a failure or waste of time. That meeting went in a different direction, though. Instead of hearing “So much for that,” the teachers asked, “What can we do differently?”

This fail forward mentality is what so many teachers want of their students — to not let mistakes discourage us, but to learn and grow from them. Their students-first attitudes gave me the confidence as a professional developer to take a risk too.

At about this time, the district adopted a new learning management system (LMS). Within the platform, there is an ILP feature that can be used with staff and students.  This could immediately solve one of the problems the teachers experienced. The ILP could be on the homepage of the digital environment where the students navigated to daily for the classwork.

The ability to tie it to coursework smoothly and efficiently was also appealing. As a professional invested in personalized learning, I believed that using the ILPs could have a dramatically positive effect on our students’ growth. However, it was important to me that I not ask the teachers to implement something that I would not be willing to do for them. Upon further reflection, I also believed that the teachers deserved a personalized approach to learning, too.

This summer, all of our Achieve Virtual online teachers (included the BDED teachers) got together and learned more about personalization. They each constructed their own learner profiles and used those to create ILPs for their professional development for the year.

We had some common goals as a group, but the teachers ultimately decided what they would learn, how they would learn it, and when they would learn it. They were even given control over how much professional development they received this year. The principal and I knew that we worked with a group of dedicated professionals that did not need us to mandate a certain number of seat hours or tell them how they would best learn something.

I am currently working hard at managing about 60-70 Individualized Learning Plans for our teachers. We are all collaboratively contributing resources, discussions, and links to webinars and Twitter chats. I will still host face-to-face meetings for those that prefer that format and online mini-courses for anyone that is interested.

After two months of implementation, we are seeing a lot of success with the level of voluntary engagement in the professional development.  At the end of the year, we will all get together and reflect. We will reflect on our successes, what isn’t working, and how we can use our enriched understanding to make this work successfully for students.

While there will be failures along the way, I am confident that we can use them to learn, grow, and ultimately fail forward.

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