I did not fully grasp what was ahead of me when I sent in my application to become part of the third Lexington Education Leadership Award (LELA) Fellowship. Was this another advertising scheme? Did I just win $10,000,000 from Ed McMahon?
Being a bit skeptical at first, I did my homework and quickly realized that the Lexington Institute and Education Elements were the real deal. It did not take long for the next realization, which was that instead of wondering what was ahead of me, I should have asked what amazing things were in store for our district.
The fellowship organizers know that it takes the proverbial village to create systemic educational change. As such, our district assembled a cross-functional team to participate in the on-site Ed Elements Foundations workshop and final Graphic Facilitation in Washington D.C., where we built a common vocabulary and a shared vision for this district-wide shift. I did not anticipate how the fellowship would benefit others in my district, and I am so happy that it did.
Luckily, both the Lexington Institute and Education Elements understand that, while leadership is the key to systemic change, leadership is not a solo practice. My personal experience in this fellowship cannot be told without including my internal team as well as my district-based team — all who gained tremendously from the LELA fellowship. Over the six months of the LELA fellowship, my team and I worked closely with the Education Elements team through a series of strategy, vision, and design activities to better understand personalized learning and the right path for our district. Along the way, we all had the opportunity to work with mentor Matt Akin, the Superintendent from Piedmont City Schools, Alabama. I personally met many other great leaders from around the country through LELA who are looking to make a big difference in their districts.
Apart from the physical touchpoints of the fellowship, I deeply appreciated its philosophic underpinnings. While the LELA fellowship focused on personalized learning, when a district reaches self-actualization of a truly student-centered system, then the term personalized learning (PL) won’t even be needed.
With this in mind, in Millstone Township we are not in search of district buy-in specifically for PL. “Buy-in” is too narrow of a word and does not fully convey the magnitude of commitment and mindset shift which PL must create. When we reach the level of integration that we are striving for, no teacher, student or parent will even know the term personalized learning, because PL will simply be the only way we know how to do school. We will use the strategies of PL as a way of life, and it will be the oxygen we all need to feel good about our days. Saying that we hope that our teachers, students and parents will simply buy-in is selling ourselves and the LELA fellowship short.
I have never been one for labeling things and have been in education long enough to see the same things renamed, repackaged and re-adopted as new. PL is not that sort of initiative and could never be mistaken as such — it represents a profound shift in how we structure education. So call it what you like, because in the end, when your entire school or district catches on to this work, everyone will recognize the reform we all know is so desperately needed in our country.
To close this post, I will say again that in the six months of our LELA Fellowship we have learned a great deal. The most important and humbling lesson came from the realization of just how much we don’t know — and then realizing that we have good friends and a solid plan to continue learning more each and every day. We will each find our path at our own pace and push forward, knowing we are not alone.
My sincere thanks to our new friends at Education Elements and the Lexington Institute. Our PL whirlwind is just beginning, but just wait and see what us Jersey folk can do. WE WILL MAKE YOU PROUD!
Scott Feder is Superintendent of Schools for the Millstone Township School District in Central New Jersey. As a 26-year veteran in education, he has enjoyed the past 5+ years as the Millstone Superintendent, impacting positive change and working with an outstanding Board of Education, administrative team, superior faculty and the best families in Jersey.
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