We Can Make It Work

Scrolling through Facebook, I noticed a HuffPost Parents link to a post written by a mom of a child with autism. Essentially, this mom declines birthday invites on behalf of her child as she is not wanting to steal the spotlight from the birthday child in the event of meltdowns that are likely to occur in what would be an overwhelming situation for her child.

Until one day.

The mom of the birthday child attached a note to the invite, per her son’s request, and detailed events of the party and possible ways of making it work for the friend with autism to come and be part of the special day. The words she used to spark the first ‘yes’ to a party invitation?

We can make it work.

What if we used this phrase more often in school?

What if we thought about each child in our classroom in the same way this mom thought about each guest at her son’s party?

What if we started asking how we could “make it work” for each child and their family in our care?

What would that look like?

I think, that it would be an example of Personalized Learning at its finest. As I wrote in my book Imagine A School:

My point was that ‘one size fits all’ doesn’t really look good on anyone and expecting students to ‘fit in’ to what we want is not in the child’s best interest.  Instead, asking how we can help each student stand out, and in doing so, personalize their learning experience, is the way forward.

A parent at my school recommended this book to me. It is an easy read but one which points to the possibilities that exist when we start thinking of students as individuals and look for ways to utilize technology  to support a more personalized approach to learning.


The book points to a three step process:

  1. Defining what Personalized Learning is and WHY we are pursuing this for our students.  Knowing WHY you are about to embark on a project is key. Even more important is being able to clearly articulate your ‘why’.
  2. Acknowledging that the role of technology is to AMPLIFY the role of the teacher. I love this idea and have done ever since Sal Khan wrote of this same concept in his book One World Schoolhouse. Technology is not going to replace teachers BUT teachers who use technology will replace those that do not.
  3. Starting from a point of Whole School Design in the implementation of innovative personalized learning. This is also key. Of course, personalized learning can exist in one classroom in somewhat of a vacuum to what is happening in the rest of the school, but this is clearly not ideal. Innovation needs to be the collective mindset of the whole school and school leaders need to take the lead in moving their school forward.

Making this switch, and using technology to do so, could be considered “innovative” in light of the ‘factory’ approach to schooling that many institutions employ. One of my favorite thinkers and educators, Will Richardson, recently posted on Medium imploring schools to ‘stop innovating’.  In doing so, he was cautioning educators about the danger of confusing the purchasing of technology with a change in mindset regarding what true innovation in schools should and could look like:

Innovation in schools of any type needs to start with the idea that the goal is not to force kids to abandon their passions and interests for our curriculum when they come to school, which is what we currently do.

Richardson goes on to add:

How we innovate depends largely on how we define learning. If we believe that learning is defined by “student achievement,” i.e. test scores or GPAs, then the vendors peddling their gadgets and code will continue to reap the profits of selling into our desires for better. But if we believe that the most powerful learning that kids do can only be measured by their desire to learn more, then any innovation we introduce must focus on creating fundamentally different experiences for kids in our classrooms, with or without technology.

I believe that technology does, can and should play a role in innovative learning environments. I also think that having a school leader or leadership team who have a clear vision about how and why they want to innovate is key for this process to ‘trickle down’ within the school. And so I said as much to Will:

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Will took the time to respond to my thoughts:

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It starts with a clearly stated belief around how kids learn best.

I would also suggest that it starts with a mindset driven by those same five words used by a mother seeking to include her child’s friend in a positive, shared experience: we can make it work. 

How do you innovate in your school or classroom? What are your beliefs about how kids learn best?

Here are some more thoughts by Will Richardson that may provoke a response in you regarding this.



1 thought on “We Can Make It Work”

  1. Mindset before technology. Common beliefs on how learning happens. The will to make it work for everyone. Not easy but possible, and in a long run necessary to reach each child. It seems that “innivation” means different things for different people and sometimes the word is used in a rush. Thank you for your thoughtful post.

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