Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest’s Career Readiness Research Alliance is embarking on a new project that will explore the implementation of personalized learning in Minnesota through a networked improvement community (NIC).
Students have individual interests and strengths, so career readiness looks different for every student. The Minnesota Legislature recognized the importance of providing individualized support for postsecondary preparation in a 2012 law that requires each district to "assist all students by no later than grade 9 to explore their educational, college, and career interests, aptitudes, and aspirations and develop a plan for a smooth and successful transition to postsecondary education or employment."
It is each district’s responsibility to complete and act on Personal Learning Plans for its students. Districts are not required to submit these plans to the state, but the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) wants to learn more about whether districts are completing Personal Learning Plans and, if so, how the plans are being implemented.
To help MDE answer questions about plan implementation, REL Midwest is forming an innovative partnership—called a NIC—that will develop, test, and revise ways to collect data on Personal Learning Plan implementation. NICs consist of stakeholders who work together to identify a problem of practice, develop and test a solution, analyze the results of testing, and revise and retest the solution. Mary Barrie, EdD, Supervisor of High School to Postsecondary Initiatives for MDE, notes that the NIC process mirrors familiar practices for educators. As Barrie notes, "We do things like NIC research all the time in education, but not in a formalized way. Teachers try new things and make adjustments in the classroom all the time." REL Midwest currently facilitates another NIC, the Iowa Learning and Technology Networked Improvement Community, which is examining the use of technology in rural schools.
For the new NIC, REL Midwest is partnering with MDE representatives and high school counselors to learn more about Personal Learning Plan implementation in Minnesota. To kick off the NIC’s work, REL Midwest is hosting an initial workshop for participants this spring. During the workshop, MDE and school staff will learn more about the NIC process; choose experts to recruit and inform the NIC’s work; and think about how to align the NIC’s activities with existing state, school, and district initiatives.
Beth Barsness, high school specialist at MDE, noted the need for information about how districts implement plans across the state. This information could help districts learn from each other and improve their practices. Barsness sees an opportunity to share practices that work well in district contexts: "It would be great to find successful examples of plan implementation and share them across the state."
Barrie notes that there may be a disconnect between the intent of the Personal Learning Plan requirement and practitioners’ day-to-day experiences. "A lot of times, we put things into place that we hope will benefit our students," explains Barrie. "Sometimes, these things can be viewed as a burden by the practitioners on the ground. I’m hopeful we can turn the perception of Personal Learning Plans from a compliance exercise into an opportunity to really support student goals."
The NIC structure provides an opportunity for MDE to work directly with schools, which could allow for a more consistent dialogue with practitioners. Says Barrie, "One benefit of participating in the NIC is that we’re providing school staff with the assurance that MDE really does hear their concerns and wants to learn how we can strengthen their abilities to do their jobs."
Barsness adds that the collaborative structure allows MDE to understand what school counselors are facing: "Counselors wear many hats in some schools, from career advising to helping students schedule classes to serving as social workers." This means counselors may not have the resources to reflect on their practices or try new ones. By testing, analyzing, revising, and retesting data collection practices, the NIC can provide valuable information to help Minnesota counselors evaluate their own programs and better support students.