Making Learning Personal in High Schools: A Briefing on Capitol Hill

Teacher and Student

On May 1, 2014, the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) in partnership with the Alliance for Excellent Education led a question and answer based conversation about the role of secondary school leaders in creating personalized learning environments that are sustainable and increase student achievement.   

A panel of experts was led by three principals selected among the 2014 honorees of the MetLife Foundation-NASSP Breakthrough Schools grant.  The Breakthrough School program identifies schools around the country that exemplify high standards of personalization, collaborative leadership, and access to a rigorous and differentiated curriculum. During the briefing, Mark Anderson, Principal, Marshall Fundamental Secondary School; Carol Conklin-Spillane, Principal, Sleepy Hollow High School; and Kevin Grawer, Principal, Maplewood Richmond Heights High School answered a series of questions from the moderator on the subject of personalized education as well as teacher capacity and effectiveness in the context of their respective Breakthrough Schools. The following lists provide a highlight of insights and administrative prospective shared by Anderson, Conklin-Spillane and Grawer on of these topics.

How to personalize learning:

  • Create a sense of belonging for students.
  • Motivate students to learn.
  • Create engaging opportunities.
  • Empower students to access new resources.
  • Resist remedial courses; give students the supports to reach their goals.
  • Adapt to the diversity of students served.
  • “Less correcting and more connecting”: know your students.
  • Invest in Honors and AP programs.
  • Provide experiential learning opportunities based on individual interests and strengths.
  • Hire teachers with a belief system aligned to the school’s mission.
  • Expect students and teachers to have positive relationships.
  • Celebrate student diversity as an asset.

How to achieve teacher effectiveness and capacity:

  • Encourage and support risk-taking.
  • Invest in professional development opportunities requested by teachers.
  • Create a community among employees.
  • Help teachers identify good goals.
  • Encourage collaboration.
  • Work with teachers to creatively interpret regulations and requirements to best serve the students.
  • Personalize support and learning for instructors.
  • Show teachers that they are appreciated and valued.
  •  “Give them reasons to love their job.”


Kathryn Balestreri is a research assistant with the College and Career Readiness and Success Center.


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