Building a Personalized Learning Environment: A Tale of Two Districts (Part II)

In the fall of 2019 the team at South View Middle School was recognized as a Trailblazer Award winner at the 10th Annual Convening on Personalized Learning. Part I shared how the journey at South View has continued to progress. Part II (below) shares how Wayzata West Middle School has been implementing learner-centered practices.

Part II: Wayzata West Middle School (Ryan Carlson and Kaela Loo)

In the spring of 2020, while we were working, teaching and leading from home, I (Ryan) had the opportunity to move into the principal role at Wayzata West Middle School in nearby Wayzata, MN. Like every school across the country, the pandemic forced Wayzata staff out of their comfort zone. In that discomfort though emerged an opportunity to rethink instructional time. West built flexible time into the day and called it MyTime. Given their circumstances at the time West had some MyTime sessions that were in-person and others that were virtual. This change was a great starting point to look for and take on opportunities our current times presented.

While building in MyTime and re-thinking time was a nice step, we knew that we had more work to do to really grow learner agency in our building and become more learner centered in our instructional practices. We formed what we called our “Trailblazer Team” at West with staff who were excited about leading the work. A first step for that group was inviting the Institute team in to facilitate a Boot Camp professional learning session for this group. That Boot Camp training provided our West Trailblazer Team with a solid foundation to start early implementation in their classrooms as well as start to envision what our student experience could look like as we focused on putting the learner at the center of our school.  The Boot Camp experience was something that we later had our leadership team participate in and eventually our entire staff. 

Since our initial creation of MyTime in the spring of 2021 we have continued to learn by doing. Our Trailblazer Team created a common language that we are beginning to utilize across the building and that will be a continued focus for us moving forward. In the spring of 2022 we had an opening for Associate Principal and we were able to hire Kaela Loo as AP and bring her expertise into to help lead our work. Both Ryan and Kaela have come to realize that the drive to grow and center the student first and foremost is alive and well at West. Many West teachers have challenged their own practice to grow their own capacity around learner centered practice. Again, highlighting that the work we were recognized for in 2019 is something teachers, no matter their district, can get behind.

Your wordAt West, common language is not the only way teachers have expanded their repertoire. Advisory Circles, unit guides and creating pathways to not only engage in learning, but also express learning, are all areas we are focusing a lot of energy around. The energy around prioritizing learner centered practices only grew when we brought a group of teacher leaders from Wayzata to a school site visit at South View Middle School in Edina. That visit helped fan the flame for the staff who attended and in turn shaped a new wave of Trailblazers at West that will continue to push the work forward.

Special Education Teacher Brittany Eurele says, “Learner Centered Practices have allowed students to have choice and independence in their learning.” This starts with Brittany outlining how the lesson is structured with her daily Do now, Objective, Agenda and Reminders slide. Brittany goes on to express that, “It’s been fun to see the increased level of engagement and the collaboration amongst peers. It has created teacher-student conversations about responsibility and accountability naturally.”

Daily objective

Color wheel unit guide exampleArt Teacher Alycia Knabenshue is leading the work on Unit Guides. Alycia agrees with the sentiment that tweaking the unit guides keeps the work fresh and each edit means the Unit Guides keep getting better. In turn the learners’ reap the benefits and become even more empowered to be an active part of their learning experience.

Ryan and Kaela look forward to what is on the horizon at West, while also continuing to collaborate with and seek support from South View Middle School and the i4PL Team. We know that we owe it to our learners to continue to center each and every one of them in our mission and vision at both South View Middle School and Wayzata West Middle School.

Wayzata West Middle School is part of Wayzata Public Schools. The district is located in the Twin Cities’ western suburbs and serves more than 12,900 students.

Ryan Carlson is currently the principal at Wayzata West Middle School. He has presented at conferences across the country on the topics of leadership and learner centered education.

Kaela Loo is currently the associate principal at Wayzata West Middle School. Previously she served as a dean/instructional coach and language arts teacher at South View Middle School.