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personalized learning

7 ways rural schools can sustain personalized learning

Personalized learning isn't just for urban and suburban schools--it can be successful in rural districts, too

Rural schools could get a boost from personalized learning programs as they strive to meet unique challenges and help students succeed, according to new research.

Attracting and retaining highly-effective educators, transporting students to and from school, and keeping pace with technology’s ever-changing nature are persistent challenges for rural schools, as outlined in A Guidebook for Success: Strategies for Implementing Personalized Learning in Rural Schools, released by Future Ready Schools (FRS).

But rural schools also have strengths, most notably strong and tight-knit communities, and these close relationships can help support personalized learning models in schools.

Personalized learning is important for rural schools, the report says, because it “provides opportunities for students that often are not available in many rural districts. With its focus on individual learning and the use of emerging technologies, personalized learning helps to transcend many of the limitations confronting rural students, such as geography and limited course opportunity and access.”

(Next page: A 5-step planner and 7 “gears” for personalized learning)

“I’ve seen firsthand the many challenges facing rural schools, from teacher recruitment and tight budgets to a school principal who also drives the school bus,” said Bob Wise, former governor of West Virginia and current president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, which leads FRS. “But rural schools also have tremendous assets, most notably their tight-knit communities that create trusting relationships among teachers, students, and families. Personalized learning allows rural schools to capitalize on these assets to increase student engagement and improve outcomes.”

Fifty-three percent of all public school districts are rural, and 25 percent of rural children younger than 18 live in poverty.

FRS offers a five-step planning process to help schools move to a personalized learning model. Those steps are:
1. Create a future-ready leadership planning team
2. Take the Future Ready district leadership self-assessment
3. Gather input from stakeholders; analyze gaps and strategies
4. Create your Future Ready action plan
5. Explore, share, connect and repeat

The report lays out seven “gears,” or categories of work, that together form a research-based framework to help rural schools plan and implement personalized learning.

1. Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment: Teachers customize instruction, content, and assessment on a student-to-student basis to ensure mastery.
2. Personalized Professional Learning: Through technology and digital learning, educators access professional resources and learning opportunities that can lead to improvements in their students’ academic success.
3. Budget and Resources: Districts align their budgets with personalized learning priorities including ongoing support for quality technology and infrastructure.
4. Community Partnerships: Schools and districts partner with local businesses and industries to advance the school’s learning goals.
5. Data and Privacy: Districts and schools establish policies and procedures for collecting, analyzing, storing, and reporting student data that ensure student privacy and data security.
6. Robust Infrastructure: Teachers embrace technology and online platforms to access tools, resources, data, and systems necessary to tailor student learning.
7. Use of Space and Time: Through technology and a new approach to classroom structure, teachers and schools leverage in-school and out-of-school time to meet the needs of individual learners.

For example, faculty in the Fordland R-III District in Missouri did not know how to best use technology to support their instruction, and they had never received training related to personalized learning.

Under the direction of Superintendent Chris Ford, who joined the district in 2014, the district created curriculum, instruction and assessment to match the needs of students and to offer flexible learning opportunities. Personalization also extended to teachers, who gained access to more personalized individual professional learning opportunities.

When Ford arrived, just 8 percent of the district’s students had wired internet connections at home. Now, the district has plans to offer Wi-Fi hotspots students can check out from the library for home internet access.

Aligning plans to the seven gears let the rural district map out a strategy to help its teachers and students reach their full personalized instructional and learning potential.

“By creating an individualized learning experience for students that accounts for their unique strengths and needs, personalized learning holds great promise for helping students in rural areas reach their full potential,” the authors note in the report. “While the shift to personalized learning is big, its promise for generating student success is even bigger.”

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