For the past decade, personalization has been a hot topic in education. You may have wondered if it’s a real and attainable goal for your school system or if it’s some holy grail that many seek but few achieve.

Community Consolidated School District 93 (CCSD93) in Illinois has been working to shift our instructional delivery system to a more personalized approach since the 2012-13 school year. While many believe that personalized learning is an instructional strategy directly tied to a laptop or tablet, for CCSD93, it goes well beyond that. Classroom instruction, curriculum, student grading, conferences, design thinking, and even learning spaces are components of our plan to personalize teaching and learning. Here are six steps that have been essential in our efforts to transform education in our nine schools.

1. Define personalized education for all stakeholders
Personalizing education has different meanings for different people. For us, it was initially difficult to try and accomplish this endeavor because teachers, administrators, and staff members had different ideas of what personalization was. We couldn’t get to the “why,” let alone the “how,” if we didn’t understand the “what.”

Personalizing education is not new; it can be traced back as far as ancient Greek and Roman academies. It was the essence of education in many parts of the United States prior to the introduction of the factory model. Our definition harkens back to these roots. For CCSD93, personalized education meets each student where they are and helps them to meet their unique learning goals and interests, inside and outside of school. It helps them to achieve their potential through a wide range of resources and strategies appropriate for their learning styles, abilities, and interests as well as social and emotional needs. Personalized education is not just allowing students to be engaged but enabling them to become empowered and to take responsibility for their learning.

2. Align your mission, vision, and strategic plan to personalization
Personalizing education should never be considered an initiative; it requires a transformational shift in the design of schooling. Senior leadership needs to ensure that it truly becomes the main crux to how the school system operates. This shift needs the support of the Board of Education, teachers, staff, students, parents, and the entire community. We had months of discussions with our Board of Education prior to initiating our shift. We then undertook our strategic planning process with administrators, parents, and staff members from each district building and together sought to embed key concepts behind our shared definition of personalized learning into our new vision and strategic goals. This helped to not only operationalize what personalization meant, but also showed our district’s commitment to it and gave us a roadmap for how to achieve it. We hosted town hall meetings and live streamed them to ensure that parents and the entire community were aware of our commitment to this shift.

About the Author:

Dr. Bill Shields is the superintendent of schools for Community Consolidated School District 93 (CCSD93) in Bloomingdale, Illinois. He has held a variety of building leadership positions during his 29 years at District 93, including 10 years as superintendent. This fall, Dr. Shields will participate in the AASA Personalized Learning Consortium to further assist CCSD93 in improving its approach to personalized education.