Opportunities to Personalize Our Learning in the New School Year

by Scott Thielman, MASA President and Superintendent, Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose Schools

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Scott Thielman
MASA President and Superintendent
Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose Schools

Welcome to a new school year! To me, and I’m sure to all of us, this is the most exciting time of the year as students and staff return with enthusiasm and focus for what lies ahead. In our districts, we have prepared our staff for new initiatives and in some cases a re-commitment to prior initiatives that need to be implemented with fidelity. A part of our responsibility is to provide direction and prepare our staff with motivating messages that focus on doing what’s best for students that can carry forward throughout the year. In anticipation of the new school year, we prepare for new opportunities in our districts and the same is true for MASA as we prepare for new opportunities for our members.

At the June Board retreat for MASA, board members heard from Dr. Jim Rickabaugh on the topic of “Tapping the Power of Personalized Learning.” Personalized learning has been discussed for decades and leaders have been pursuing ways to implement a personalized learning plan for our students through a myriad of ways. We are now beginning to create learning environments that facilitate flexible and collaborative classroom spaces and many districts are implementing one-to-one technology or supporting bring-your-own-device to maximize 21st Century learning experiences more now than at any other time in history.

While school district leaders look for avenues to create, support and attempt to make personalized learning experiences scalable for our teachers and students, so too does MASA look for ways to make professional growth and development personalized and timely. One of my priorities for MASA is for our association to provide adequate resources and support for quality professional development opportunities for all administrators. That priority also aligns with one of the strategic goals for MASA that states, “by 2017, MASA will coordinate professional learning that meets the needs and interests of each member.” One way MASA is meeting this goal is by providing an opportunity to support each region financially for professional development tailored to member needs if the region applies for funding.

MASA is also meeting this goal by providing personalized professional development opportunities. Last spring was MASA’s first attempt to provide a just-in-time personalized learning experience meant to be meaningful and relevant for members. It was titled, “The UnConference Session.” This approach will be used again this fall. The Edcamp/UnConference is an opportunity for all of our members to design their own learning experience by exploring the topics we will determine ourselves at the fall conference. Most of us reject the one-size-fits-all notion in which you attend a conference to sit-and-get information that may or may not be relevant to your personal professional growth. We would rather adopt a process by which individuals support the skill development and capacity building necessary for continued learning. Our members ARE our experts, and this is a great chance to share knowledge and ideas.

This year, the school district I serve, Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose, had the opportunity to have Kevin Honeycutt serve as our keynote speaker at our District Welcome Back Program. Many of you heard Kevin speak at the MSBA winter conference a few years ago. He spoke about the “Challenges and Opportunities for Today’s Learning Mind”. One of the points he emphasized was to engage learners by letting them help us navigate the content of curriculum through new uses of technology. He also encouraged us to use the students’ talents to help everyone in the classroom. The same can be true for MASA members if we use the talents of the members to help everyone in our association grow in their own professional development.

The UnConference can do just that; it will afford members who have questions or who have been researching topics of interest to share their expertise and experiences with everyone who is interested in the topic. It also affords members the opportunity to sit in on a topic that they are interested in exploring but haven’t had the time to begin researching. The goal is to connect learners with others who have like interests and would otherwise not have known of similar experiences or interests. It is MASA’s intention this fall to support you by organizing and providing dedicated time and space for you to accrue skills and make choices in pursuit of meeting your personal and professional growth and development goals and interests. Whatever topic you engage with, we look forward to your participation and leadership in these sessions.

It is an honor to serve as your MASA President and I look forward to maximizing our students’ educational experiences as well as our members’ experiences. I hope everyone has a great start to the school year and I look forward to your involvement in helping yourselves and your colleagues in personalizing your learning.

Have a great year!

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