Activity Guide

Personalized Schools—Places Where Students Have a Voice

With the growing impact of information and communications technologies, the importance of schools as human places becomes all the more significant. Schools must provide stability and safety in a world that is ever more complicated.

The importance of creating a personalized school environment cannot be overstated and should not be lost in the pressure-filled atmosphere that prioritizes raising test scores. In a personalized school environment, the human touch is a part of the academic framework, students are encouraged and enabled to take ownership of their learning, school staff know and advocate for their students, and the principal models an uncompromising commitment to creating this culture.

If we are to treat each student as an individual, we must create a school culture where students feel valued enough to achieve and to pursue individual talents. This activity reminds participants (principals and teacher leaders) of the necessary characteristics of a personalized school where students have voice and ownership; it can also be used to initiate the thoughtful conversations that lead to a healthy and lasting school culture.




  1. Provide participants with copies of both reading selections and seat them in groups of six to eight
  2. Ask each person to read the articles and “tag” the reading:
    • Main Points—Underline or highlight
    • Ideas to remember—Tag with an *
    • I need further clarification or I have a question—Tag with a ?
    • Key words or phrases—Tag by circling
  3. When the reading is completed, guide a first whole-group discussion using the following discussion prompts:
    • What did you identify as main ideas?
    • Where did you place your stars or asterisks? Why remember these ideas?
    • What questions did you have?
    • What key words/phrases did you identify?
  4. Next, ask participants to divide an 8 ½” × 11” piece of paper into three columns to record an assessment of their school’s level of personalization and student ownership by responding individually to these questions:
    • Column 1: What elements of a personalized environment already exist at our school? In what areas is there evidence of student ownership?
    • Column 2: What will be the most difficult challenge(s) for our school in trying to create a more personalized environment where student ownership is valued and encouraged? Why?
  5. Share responses with others in the group in two rounds. Share existing elements first and then share challenges.
  6. As a group, have participants offer strategies for addressing the challenges that have been identified and list them in Column 3.
  7. Use chart paper to create a list of next steps addressing the challenges and strategies groups have identified. Remind groups of the importance of using/celebrating their positives (from Column 1) as leverage and motivation as they tackle the challenges (from Column 3).

Extend and Apply

During the discussions, identify leaders who might be valuable contributors to a collaborative planning effort to develop and implement initiatives to improve personalization in your school. Provide this school committee with a summary from each group about what elements currently exist and what challenges need to be addressed. Utilize the planning tools with this discussion guide as needed. Present your plans to the leadership team and discuss possibilities for implementation.

As a member of the collaborative planning team, solicit input from members of your school’s student groups about ways to improve student engagement. Identify student leaders and “begin the conversation.” Question prompts may be solicited by reading and discussing “Their Turn” with team members and student representatives. Summarize these conversations and provide student input to the design team. The planning team may select student representatives to guide their recommendations from planning through implementation.