Wednesday, December 23, 2015

PLP Pathways Year in Review

The PLP Pathways project was started as an effort to support the work being done on elements of Act 77 by teachers around the state of Vermont. With support from the Middle Grades Collaborative and the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education, we have focused on the implementation of personal learning plans with an emphasis on the middle level.

The premise of the website and supporting social media is that by developing a collaborative and cooperative workspace for teachers, the transition and implementation to personal learning plans will be more efficient. In particular, we hope to provide "real world" examples of teachers around the state who are leading their students and colleagues in these new initiatives.

Moreover, instead of providing stand alone professional development, we are trying to provide a continuous arc of instruction and resources that will be relevant throughout the personal learning plan implementation process.

What have we learned thus far?

  • There are teachers across the state doing amazing work  with personalized learning that demonstrates creativity, professionalism, and outstanding educational practice.

  • Using Google Blogger as a reflection tool with students can be a tremendous asset for developing student understanding of personal learning activities.

  • Time is extremely tight. Teachers are under a lot of pressure in the classroom and finding the time to participate in extra-curricular professional development can be tough.

  • Despite the time crunch, engaging in these professional development activities can have immediate and positive impacts in the classroom. Over the course of the past few months, suggestions from professional development activities and conversations have had a direct impact on our teaching practice and philosophy regarding the personal learning plans.

  • Google Hangouts and associated technologies, including Twitter and Google+ can be great ways of sharing, archiving, and curating excellent ideas for later classroom use.

  • As teachers roll out personal learning plans, collecting data regarding student attitudes and dispositions (using Google Forms) is critical.

  • Teachers should consider developing their own personal development plan. The practice of creating such a plan can provide invaluable insight into the student experience.

  • Developing effective communication strategies for families and the community is essential.

If you would like to learn more about these efforts, or just want to keep up to speed with personalized learning, please consider following us at PLP Pathways on Google+, through Twitter, or by subscribing to this blog. We'd love to hear about your experiences.  

As we head into 2016, we are excited about the continued evolution of personalized learning in Vermont, the challenge of supporting teachers with effective professional development, and mastering new technologies to facilitate collaboration, collegiality, and innovation.

A special thank you to Maura Kelly of People's Academy for her role as the PLP Pathways webinar and television co-host. Additionally, thanks and appreciation to Kevin Hunt of the Williston Central School, Megan Gagne of Colchester High School, Life Legeros of the Tarrant Institute, and Dr. James Nagle of St. Michael's College for their willingness to join our monthly webinars and share their expertise and support.

Finally, without Adam Blair's editing and ORCA Media's support, none of our video production would be possible. Thank you everyone and have a wonderful holiday break. We will see you at the Personalized Learning  in the Middle Grades Conference on January 9, 2016!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Using Data to Inform the PLP Process


With the ubiquity of easy-to-use data collection tools available online, educators implementing personal learning plan programs this fall may want to consider systematizing their data collection efforts. This nuts and bolts organization can help teachers and students evaluate the direction of the program, develop essential feedback loops, and help complete the communication loop created with parents and the community.

Tools and Techniques

In our program, we leverage the ease of Google Forms to gather regular feedback from students regarding the elements of their personal learning plans, effectiveness of the initiative, and student dispositions regarding the personalization of the learning experience.

Educators and teams should spend some time deciding what information they would like to capture and at what intervals they would like to collect data. By setting up regular, consistent calendar dates for collecting feedback, teachers can design a system that not only informs current practice, but provides feedback over time, thus guiding the overall direction of the program. Standardizing questions throughout this process can help teachers identify strengths and challenges in the program.

One note on collecting data (and perhaps an obvious one); make sure that you have an effective labeling system for your data collection. Once your data set becomes more robust, wading through similarly labeled files can create confusion and eat up large amounts of time. Additionally, if you are interested in studying specific cohorts over time, specific labels will help organize your work.

Feedback, Student Input and the Learning Community

A critical element of collecting data regarding implementation of personal learning programs is the discussion and analysis of that data with students. Sharing the collected data (scrubbed of confidential or personal information) can be a huge benefit to teachers and students.

First, it provides students with the broader classroom perspective of the initiative. This can help students understand their role in the classroom community and also how their opinion and input can help shape the direction of that community. Second, data analysis and reflection can be an excellent platform for utilizing and teaching the transferable skills, particularly in areas of communication, collaboration, and use of technology. Finally, communicating data and analysis back to community members and families (some of whom may have participated in data collection activities) can keep them informed about their student's progress and is an important piece of Act 77 and the personal learning plan initiative.


Finally, and crucially, collecting data in an organized manner is an essential element of student and teacher reflection. Collectively analyzing data can provide students with the evidence upon which they can begin reflecting on the personalization of their education. By thoughtfully considering not only their own responses, but also those of the learning community, students can be encouraged to reflect on their role in that community, their goals as a student and learning community member, and how they can participate in a more personalized educational future.

For teachers, reflecting on the data from personalization initiatives can be the stepping stone to transformative teaching practices. Students are our most valuable, most important, and most responsive constituents. By utilizing their feedback in an organized way, reflective teachers can leverage that information into real classroom change that engages, motivates, and inspires children through an effective personal learning experience.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Core Values and the Personal Learning Framework

When looking at the Personal Learning Framework one of the key components to the Identity section is having students think about who they are and their core values. Ultimately, this can be a foundation to help students design goals.

For the past few years I have been trying to help my students think about their identity and develop a sense of self. However, I was finding that I always had a group of students who really struggled reflecting on themselves and communicating their values. Being an avid-skier, I had heard about something called the Flyin’ Ryan Hawks Foundation and felt it may fit this need in my classroom.

The Flyin Ryan Hawks Decision Program

Ryan Hawks was a well known freeskier out of Mad River Valley who went on to compete in the Freeride World Tour. Ryan passed away from injuries sustained at a Freeride World Tour event in Kirkwood, California. Shortly after Ryan’s passing, his family found a document on his computer where a few years before, Ryan had crafted his own core values.  The Flyin’ Ryan Hawks Foundation was established “with the idea of EXPOSING people to Ryan’s core principles, INSPIRING them to explore and compose their own set of core values, and ACTING on the core principles they have composed.”

Implementation at Peoples Academy Middle Level

Being personally inspired by the Flyin’ Ryan Hawks Foundation, I started to hear more and more about the Decisions Program the Foundation had started. This program brings Ryan’s Core Values into schools and organizations as a way for students to write their own core values.  I knew this would be a great fit for my students, especially those who had a hard time engaging in self reflective work.  I reached out to South Burlington High School teacher, John Painter, who had a Rowland Fellowship last year where part of his fellowship was to work with area school to implement the Decisions Program. After my meeting with Painter, I knew that the FRHF Decisions Program would be a great way to kick-off this year’s PLP roll out in September and I could not be more thrilled with how the project took off.

In the start of year year we introduced our students to the FRHF and Ryan’s core values through video on the Foundation's website. Students were instantly inspired by Ryan’s story. It is so important to give our students real life examples of things we ask them to do. Ryan not only thought about his core values, but also set goals and achieved many of them. This was a powerful way to engage our students to think critically about their own core values, which can be a very difficult exercise for 12 and 13 year olds.

Next, we had our students reflect on how others saw themselves. How would their family describe them? How would their friends describe the student? Finally, how would they want to be described?

This started our conversation with students about their core values; the qualities and characteristics they want to be have in their life that will guide them. As teachers, we also were crafting our own core values list and sharing them with the students. We asked students to come up with a minimum of four core values, but many went above and beyond those expectations.

Finally, we had students go into iMovie on their iPads and turn their core values into a movie that would become a part of their PLP. The iMovies included images and music of their choice as a way to highlight their personal core values.

Students were so engaged in this project, many of them worked on their videos at home and shared them with their parents and friends while they were still in the creation stage. Having students craft their core values in this way gave us great insight into what drives our students and who they hope to become. We used these core values to then launch into the PLP, looking at how their core values will guide them in their life and think about what goals can set to help stay on the right track.

Parents Reactions to Students Core Values iMovies

One of the most rewarding aspects of this project was the reaction parents had while viewing their students’ core values iMovies. We had students start their student led conference this year by showing their video which was placed on the About Me section of their PLP. You could see the joy on the parents’ faces while watching the videos. Many parents asked to watch the videos multiple times and asked thoughtful questions to their children about both the process and the values the students selected. We asked parents for feedback after the student led conference, and it was overwhelming how many parents commented on how nice it was to see their students’ core values iMovie.

For more information about bringing the Flyin’ Ryan Decisions Program to your school or classroom please contact John Painter at

Maura Kelly is a 7th grade humanities teacher at Peoples Academy Middle Level in Morrisville, Vermont. She has a passion for working with young adolescents and believes in the power of a strong middle level program in developing students to be ready to face challenges in our world today. When Maura is not teaching you can find her out skiing and biking around the state of Vermont.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Collaboration into Practice: Using Technology to Improve Student Outcomes

Last year, as part of a personal learning pilot program, we started hosting a webinar called PLP Pathways. Our goal was to utilize a somewhat new technology -- Google Hangouts on Air -- to connect educators who were implementing PLPs in their classrooms.

Having not hosted a webinar before, but intrigued by the possibilities, we managed to host 3 or 4 sessions, had a good time doing so, and decided to see if the project had legs by formalizing the process a bit more for the 2015-2016 school year.

With support from the Middle Grades Collaborative, we created the PLP Pathways webinar series in an effort to determine if this type of long-term, collaborative, web-based professional development could support teachers throughout the school year. In this day and age, that also means incorporating a host of social media platforms (Google +, Twitter, and Google Sites) to promote that effort. Not only was the professional development embedded, so too was the need to learn how to use the social media tools effectively.

The results thus far have been mixed. While the content of the webinars has never been stronger, getting teachers to find time in their busy schedules to watch and participate in a webinar is difficult. Now more than ever, teachers’ time is limited.

Despite these hurdles, the benefits of committing to this type of professional development are undeniable, at least from my perspective. Last month, on October 29th, we held our webinar with guests Kevin Hunt from the Williston Central School and Life LeGeros from the Tarrant Institute. Our conversation focused on student growth and reflection, goal setting, and tying evidence to goals.

This would seem like a logical and easy extension of our personal learning. However, the conversation got me thinking, particularly about the student process of linking goals to specific pieces of evidence from across the curriculum. In order to do so effectively, students must have a deeper understanding not only of their own goals, but also of the objectives behind activities at school, and the different purposes and outcomes of those activities.

When students can independently select evidence that meets the criteria for the learning goals that they have designed, tracked, and reflected upon, real learning is taking place.

In my own practice, I know that I have been guilty of selecting evidence for the kids. That is, if we have completed a big project in language arts, I have asked kids to post that to their PLP whether or not it meets their individual learning goals. And maybe this practice is a good way of enabling students to reflect on their strengths and challenges no matter their learning goals.

Even so, the conversation evolving from our webinar extended my thinking about goals, linking those to evidence, and supporting student growth through by helping them develop the ability to do so independently. This is a simple, but powerful idea that could transform my thinking about goals, evidence, and reflection. This, coupled with our discussion of the REAL Reflection Framework explained by Life, was something that had immediate implications for my classroom practice.

Following the webinar, students were asked to start identifying evidence from across the curriculum that could be added to their PLP. Additionally, students were asked to blog about their strengths, challenges, and goals that they had relative to school-wide activities, not just in my classroom.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the webinar resulted in my having conversations with colleagues, specifically foreign-language teachers, about the evidence they were seeing in their classroom that might 1) connect with student goals and 2) reflected students developing academic and social dispositions.  

Connecting these ideas together, and forging that into a cohesive, student-centered, student-driven personal learning plan are direct results of the continuing professional development through the PLP Pathways webinar. Although time is tight, committing to at least some form of this type of professional development can lead to improvements in practice, pedagogy, and collaboration.

Monday, October 26, 2015

PLP Implementation Reflection

It's the end of October, the time change occurs this weekend, and teachers are out straight with all of the duties, obligations, tasks, meetings, and things to do that are part of the profession.

For those who have started the PLP implementation process, it's probably a good time to pause and reflect on progress. Here are some thoughts.

Setting Goals

Using the Personal Learning Framework, students may be nearing the completion of the Identity phase. Introductions have been written, students have taken an initial measure of their strengths and challenges, and they have been working on developing positive relationships in the classroom. 

If they haven't already, now is the time to begin the initial goal-setting of the Growth and Reflection phase. This year, Team Summit at Main Street Middle School has shifted their goal-setting to encompass one goal in each of the following areas: academics, transferable skills, sustainability, and extracurricular activities. 

Using the SMART goal framework, students are self-selecting their goals, identifying why they are important and what principles and values they see reflected in those goals, and developing methods to track their success.

Growth Mindset

In conjunction with their goal-setting, students are developing an understanding of Dr. Carol Dweck's Growth Mindset. Academic language related to growth mindset is being incorporated into language arts classes so that students will be able to effectively self-evaluate and reflect on their progress. 

Digital Citizenship

It is always a good time to continually review elements of digital citizenship and to keep digital citizenship as a constant expectation in the classroom. Although it might be difficult to complete a piece by piece digital citizenship curriculum, employing components of that curriculum throughout the school year can be a great way of continually reinforcing your digital expectations and to create digital norms in your classroom.

Along with Common Sense Media's Digital Citizenship curriculum, Google has continued to develop an array of digital citizenship materials that cover a wide range of topics. You can find additional resources at the PLP Pathways website or by simply doing some quick research.

Parent Communications

As personal learning plans become more integrated into classrooms and learning communities, it becomes even more important to reach out to parents and the community to explain this element of Act 77. In a previous blog we discussed developing different streams of information to reach out to your parents and interested parties. 

If you have developed some structures for communication, now might be a good time to reach out to parents for feedback that will inform your work in the future. Quick Google Forms surveys, one or two phone calls to parents, or meeting in person can pay big dividends in terms of support and community understanding.

Professional Development and Resources

To help support your efforts with PLP Implementation, the Middle Grades Collaborative is supporting the PLP Pathways website. This site is designed as a guide for PLP implementation but also as a space for the collaboration and sharing of ideas by educators across Vermont. 

In addition to this blog, PLP Pathways hosts a short television show and regular webinar to discuss issues related to personalized learning. If you have questions, concerns, or would like to collaborate with educators from across the state, don't hesitate to follow PLP Pathways on Twitter @plppathways, on Google+, or by sending us an email:


An essential element of the personal learning plan is the regular reflection by students on their growth and progress. Incorporating these exercises, in whatever mode you see fit, can provide crucial information for learners and teachers alike. As calendars get jam-packed and time becomes even more limited, now might be a great time to take a breath, slow down, and reflect on the year's progress. 

Just as we recommend this to students, teachers who can find time to regularly reflect on their work will find that regular reflection can lead to celebrations of hard work, innovative teaching measures, small victories, and the recognition of colleagues and collaborators who make our work so enjoyable. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

PLPs and Parent Communications

PLPs and Parent Communications

Late September and early October bring leaf-peepers, spectacular fall foliage, and hopefully, some rhythm to the school year. Among all the activity, and depending on school implementation of personal learning plans, teachers may be considering how to best communicate their work with PLPs to parents and the community.

Parent and educator involvement in the PLP process, including easy access to, and monitoring of the PLP plan, are critical elements of Vermont's Personalized Learning Program. Here are some options to consider when thinking about introducing the PLP process to the community.

Parent Education and Planning

Developing a plan for reaching out and communicating teacher, team, and school plans about the implementation of PLPs can significantly improve parent understanding  of the process and expectations for student work.

To make this successful, teams and teachers should look at the calendar and develop a process for distributing information in a meaningful and cohesive manner. Calendar dates should also be given consideration as events such as Open House and student-teacher conferences can be excellent opportunities to keep parents and the community informed about PLP implementation and what that means for their students.

Educational resources and information for communicating to parents are widely available through the Agency of Education's Vermont PLP Process website. You can also find information on the PLP Pathways web page.

Electronic and Social Media

Depending on teacher and team social media presence, popular platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and Google+ can be excellent venues for the distribution of PLP related material. Individual, team, or school websites can also be great places to distribute links and material to the community.

Obviously, this requires an understanding of the community's use of technology (and perhaps additional education). That said, these tools can be excellent for supporting implementation of the personalized learning program.

PLP Based Parent Conferences

Conference formats and expectations vary widely from school to school but utilizing the PLP as a foundation for student-parent-teacher conferences can be a great way to introduce parents to the PLP program. This option requires thoughtful planning and clear expectations for all parties.

Here are some thoughts to consider:

  • What elements of the PLP will be viewed or discussed in the conference?
  • What role will the student play -- leading the conference, participant, presenter?
  • What advance preparation is necessary so that students and parents can move through the conference format without confusion or questions?
  • What goals and evidence do students need to have on their PLP to most accurately reflect their academic achievement, social growth, and strengths and challenges?
  • How can the conference be formatted to maximize parent understanding of both the PLP process and student progress?
  • How will teams and teachers document parent involvement in the PLP development process?
  • How will teachers and teams develop feedback systems to identify elements of the conference experience that need improvement?

Admittedly, this is a lot of work and it requires a good deal of planning and preparation. Teams and teachers in the first year of implementation may choose to simply introduce the PLP process to parents at conferences.


Efforts to educate parents and the community about Act 77 and Personalized Learning Plans can help teachers, teams, and schools develop support for these educational initiatives. By planning ahead, utilizing existing structures where possible, and through the thoughtful implementation of new media and technology, educators can ease the transition to the personalized learning model.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Are Relationships the Key To Good Goals?

As the school year progresses, students should be working their way through the Identity stage of the Personal Learning Framework. As noted in our last blog post, not only can this serve as a great way to welcome students into the learning environment, it can also help educators begin to develop personalized relationships with students.

As teachers move their students through the Identity phase, they should be considering how students will bridge from the Identity phase of the Personal Learning Framework into the Growth and Reflection phase.

In the current model, students begin the bridging process through the identification of specific learning goals. It's important to understand that even if the elements of the Identity phase are not complete, teachers should be developing a learning progression that will land students in a place where they will be able to self-identify goals, monitor and reflect on growth, and independently repeat this process as they become independent learners. This is also a great place to incorporate concepts of growth mindset, mindfulness, and resilience.

But how can we implement this process in a way that increases student motivation and engagement? Too often I hear teachers pulling out the SMART goal model and too often I hear kids lamenting their inability to achieve goals not due to skill or subject, but because they just aren't engaged enough -- they lack the "want to".

Perhaps we should be looking back at the Identity phase as a dynamic, personalized landscape for the development of goals that really matter. By leveraging what we learn from students through their biographies, principles and values, and community, we could possibly help students develop more relevant, engaging, and meaningful goals that lead to heightened student interest and increased motivation.

For example, students might be encouraged to set goals related to their extracurricular activities, hobbies, or activities outside of school. What's vitally important is that students see the goal setting process as something that occurs throughout the fabric of their lives, in school and out.

By paying careful attention to the student's developing PLP, and especially the elements of the Identity page, educators may find that good, positive relationships lead to goal setting that is more meaningful, personalized, and productive.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Identity, PLPs, and the Learning Community

Personal learning plans can be an ideal platform for starting off the new year and getting to know the new students who have entered your learning community.

This year, after a brief primer on digital citizenship, students immediately began work on their Identity page. There are several huge benefits to teachers who initiate the personal learning process at the beginning of the year.

First, teachers can emphasize important elements of the 21st century classroom. These might include digital citizenship concepts related to putting our best digital footprint online to discussions of appropriate personal information and privacy. Teachers can use these "teachable moments" to set year-long expectations and classroom protocols for the use of technology.

Second, through observation and task selection, teachers can quickly identify the technical strengths and challenges that new learners bring to the learning community. Can't insert that image? Don't know how to label a file? Trying to crop a picture? Need help formatting the Google site or following instructions? These issues can help teachers zero in on the needs of their students. Down the road, each of these questions can be parlayed into skills work and lessons that will improve student performance (and can be evaluated using the Agency of Education's Transferable skills).

Third, and as a language arts teacher, perhaps most importantly, students provide teachers with a biography that can be evaluated as a norm/standards referenced writing piece. This highly motivating writing requires very little prior knowledge. After all, who do students know better than themselves? Yet the structure of their paragraph writing, ability to use the writing process, and finished product will give the instructor an immediate understanding of student writing ability.

At the end of the day, using personal learning plans to welcome students to your learning environment can be a highly effective, informative, and meaningful learning experience that can get your year off to a great start.