It looks like spring may finally be here to stay with warmer temperatures and the greening of everything.

This time of year brings a great deal of excitement to the school scene for students. It is this time of the year when the temperatures warm up that students begin the countdown to summer break.

For teachers and administrators, though, this time of year brings the stress of testing and completion of the learning goals for the year. Before we know it the 2016-17 school year will be finished and it will be time to look ahead and plan for the 2017-18 school year.

As I sat one day last week and evaluated where we are as a District and where I feel we need to go, I kept coming back to the concept of creative thinking and student personalization. I think this is something educators have always felt like we were doing but never really quite accomplished — it has always been just out of reach.

Sir Ken Robinson, a world-renowned authority on education, believes that the infusion of creativity in school requires fundamental changes in attitude and approach. He believes transformation is essential to bring creative thinking into schools, and change is hard.

So if we truly look at infusing creativity into every aspect of education, it is going to be as diverse as the number of students in each classroom. If this is a true goal, the “one size fits all” mentality that has been present in schools has to go. To achieve this goal schools are going to have to step outside the box and begin the journey to personalization for students.

Personalization invests students in their learning, causing them to naturally take ownership. Effective practices will propel learners toward meaningful connections that promote choice and personal relevance. A term commonly used in the personalization conversation is differentiation; these are two different concepts that many times are lumped together and not fully understood.

Differentiation is teacher designed and seeks to address all of the different learning levels that might be present. Personalization is considered “learner differentiation” where students are in charge of designing their own paths to skills and knowledge.

With this approach where teachers facilitate for personalized learning, students are more likely to reach for potential that may be overlooked or obstructed by standardized curriculum that leaves little time for discovery.

For personalization to work teachers must shift a measure of control to the learner and embrace their new role as mentor, facilitator, and sometimes even peer learner. This is a radical change for most educators but one that is necessary.

According to Robinson, experimentation and risk taking in teaching are qualities school leaders can cultivate. A school culture of trust must also be present to encourage innovative practices by teachers and ultimately students.

As we move ahead in our quest to do what is best for students we are going to stretch and grow while at the same time challenging our students to do the same.

By Dan Decker

(Dan is superintendent of the Neosho R-5 School District. He can be reached at 451-8600 or


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