Choice, Trust, and Agency in Pinellas County Schools

April 7, 2017
Next Gen Learning Blog

by Kristen Vogt

In today’s Friday Focus: Practitioner’s Guide to Personalized Learning, you will:

  • Discover the efforts to personalize learning in Pinellas County Schools, Florida
  • Gain an appreciation for the strategies the district is using to build buy-in, capacity, and action
  • Note the important role of establishing a school culture of choice, trust, and agency  in the transition to personalized learning

“What do I like about personalized learning? You don’t have to sit at a desk all day listening to your teacher lecture and be bored to death. You do your own thing and get feedback. You get to explore new things.”
—Meadowlawn Middle School student

Pinellas County Schools is a district on the Gulf Coast of Florida, just outside of Tampa. As a member of the Gates Foundation’s Next Gen Systems Initiative (NGSI), it is actively transforming its schools through personalized learning. The effort is known as Pinellas Innovates.

Pinellas hosted an NGLC learning excursion in March. We joined a two-day event that started with the district’s first-ever Innovation through Personalization Conference and ended with visits to four schools: Lealman Innovation Academy, Seminole Middle and High Schools, and Meadowlawn Middle School.

Transforming a District One Student, One Teacher, and One School at a Time

The district has taken a cohort approach to implement its long-term plan to personalize learning. One cohort of secondary schools is embracing personalization through project-based learning as part of the New Tech Network. A second cohort is shifting toward personalization through competency-based learning, with support from the Great Schools Partnership. A third cohort involves elementary schools that are working to adopt personalized learning practices. Schools in each cohort collaborate on design and planning.

The schools we visited demonstrated different strategies for rolling out their redesigned models. Lealman Innovation Academy has a pioneering “we’ll try anything if it means better outcomes for students” approach. In a very different strategy, the two middle schools invited teachers to opt into personalized learning, resulting in a first-year effort with a portion of the schools’ teachers and classrooms adopting the new model. The approach at Seminole High School combines school-wide changes in culture with project-based career academy selections.

The conference was an opportunity for teachers and school leaders throughout the district to learn about the innovations under way and for the educators involved in the work to share their successes and struggles. Choice, trust, and agency were common themes across sessions.

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