How We Diffuse Innovation to Personalize Instruction at FCPS

Learn how districts like Frederick County Public Schools are personalizing learning
Contributed By

Amy Cordes

Achievement Specialist for Personalized Learning

How We Diffuse Innovation to Personalize Instruction at FCPS

Posted in Community | October 01, 2019

Below is our latest Q&A from Schoology Administrator of the Year, Amy Cordes.

Tell us about your district, Frederick County Public Schools, and the role you play in it.

Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS) in Frederick, Maryland is home to 43,000 students, 2,700 teachers and 67 schools. We serve rural, suburban, and urban communities with over 52 languages represented. As the Achievement Specialist for Personalized Learning, and as a part of the Personalized Learning team, my primary role is to help personalized learning become a reality in every classroom. One of the ways our team works toward this goal is through our three-year teacher leadership program, which we refer to as the Vanguard Program. This program is designed to diffuse innovation throughout the district with an intentional focus on blended and personalized instruction.

Personalized learning means a lot of things to different people. What does it mean to you?

We look to iNACOL’s definition when we refer to personalized learning.

“Personalized learning is tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs and interests—including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when, and where they learn—to provide flexibility and support to ensure mastery at the highest standards possible.”

This definition embodies what we believe. Students need to feel empowered and be agents of their own learning journey. Voice and choice in their learning path and products allow them to thrive in both areas. We need to cultivate passionate life-long learners who see value in their educational experiences.

You’ve approached blended learning and personalized learning in a very thoughtful way at your district. Tell us about the Vanguard Program you and your team developed.

The Vanguard program started with a vision for personalized learning in every classroom as a response to closing achievement gaps. It is informed by the Diffusion of Innovations (originally forwarded by Everett Rogers), and the Vanguard Program in Fulton County, GA. At its core, our program’s culture embraces change, encourages risk taking and empowers students and teachers to be agents of their own learning with a focus on blended and personalized instruction.

Almost 4 years later, we have 159 Vanguards who create a vibrant culture of learning, collaboration and growth oriented to personalizing instruction for students. It’s invigorating to be in a classroom with a Vanguard using blended to empower students while amplifying high yield instructional strategies. The students love it and so do the teachers. Our Innovators and Early Adopters have blazed a trail in our district that is undeniable. Cohort 1 is just entering their coach year. Their lessons learned, expertise in blended and leadership within the district will help others make connections and transitions to blended smoother and faster. 

So, this will be your third year with your personalized learning program. What role will teachers who have completed your 3-year Vanguard program play?

The 2019-2020 school year marks the first graduating cohort! 

We’ve already seen Vanguards move on to new leadership roles in their buildings and curricular areas. We always anticipated that our team would continue to grow as leaders in the district. They are a positive voice and support blended to personalize instruction. The best way to sustain this diffusion of innovation is to have leaders at every level to speak to and support teachers who are making the shift to blended/personalized instruction. 

How do you ensure teachers are leveraging the skills and competencies they’ve learned in your 3-year program?

As teacher leaders, our Vanguards engage in Teach, Lead and Coach years. During that progression, Vanguards compile evidence of growth and reflection in our competencies: Mindset, Teaching Practices, Professional Learning and Networking, and Instructional Technology. Vanguards also submit Proof Points every year. This is a document that shares a detailed view of their work in blended and personalized instruction. These microcredentials and proof points are a body of evidence that shows their growth and commitment to this journey.

Sometimes when teachers hear things like “personalized learning” they think it’s going to create a lot of extra work for them, particularly with respect to curriculum. How do you overcome this?

Blueprints are a new development in response to the question: How can curriculum help simplify teacher workload, amplify high yield strategies and make personalization sustainable in classrooms? 

For FCPS, a Blueprint is high quality curriculum materials developed, curated, built student-facing, and provided for immediate use in the classroom. Our hope is this new way of building curriculum will allow teachers to reallocate time spent looking for resources to focusing time on connectivity and personalization in the classroom. 

At this point we have a group of amazing English teacher leaders and teacher specialists leading Blueprint development. They are also using Blueprints in classrooms this fall. Who better to develop student-facing curriculum than teachers who know FCPS students and the content best? 

You mentioned the importance of maintaining a balance between pedagogy and technology in education—but particularly with respect to personalized learning. Tell us about the role of technology in your personalized learning program.

In our Vanguard program, we remind teachers that pedagogy comes before technology. Technology is a tool we leverage intentionally to amplify and sustain our best high-yield strategies in the classroom. It doesn’t replace the teacher and shouldn’t. Based on the instructional problem being solved, a teacher can choose a blended model and leverage technology to increase student control over the time, place, path and/or pace of learning. A balance of carefully curated online and offline tasks/learning experiences is essential to developing well-rounded students who can successfully navigate both digital and face-to-face experiences. 

Schoology helps our teachers minimize their managerial tasks and maximize instructional time. We know that quality feedback, micro-lessons and relationships are at the top of Hattie’s effect size and we want those practices to be robust and sustainable in the classroom. Purposeful use of technology gives teachers the space and time to respond to student needs faster and more effectively. When using blended models, teachers leverage Schoology by organizing and curating flexible learning pathways rich in content, formative checkpoints and more. Online student-facing experiences afford teachers opportunities to obtain formative data and time to leverage small group instruction so they can meet students where they are in relation to their learning goals. 

Where do you see the future of personalized learning heading at Frederick County Public Schools?

Four years ago there were conversations and book studies around what personalized learning would look like in Frederick County Public Schools. Today, we continue to scale our work through a robust community of practice which includes our Vanguard program and curriculum projects. We’ve invested heavily in the power of positivity, people and resources to make innovative instruction like blended/personalized instruction attainable and sustainable. Moving forward, we are focused on growing and nourishing our community through Blueprints and reimagined professional learning. We’ve had teachers watching our innovators and early adopters navigate uncharted territory and create a path for others. We believe this path will become even more traveled as we give teachers the support and blueprints to be architects of their own student-centered classrooms.

Anything else? 

I’d be remiss not to mention just a few of the people that have shepherded this journey from the very beginning. Follow us on Twitter to see how we embrace what’s possible and lead personalized learning in Frederick County Public Schools.

Kevin Cuppett, Executive Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Innovation: @FCPSExecDir_CII 

Eric Haines, Project Manager for Personalize Learning: @EHainesFCPS 

Anne Navazio, Technology Teacher Specialist: @FCPS_TTSELA 


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