A few weeks ago, during a conversation about educational innovation with Mort Sherman, AASA’s Associate Executive Director, Mort urged me to get in touch with a man he described as a “consummate innovator,” Dr. Devin Vodicka. Since educational innovation is a major theme of this blog, I didn’t waste any time in contacting Devin, Superintendent of the Vista (California) Unified School District, and I’m pleased to report that reaching out to Devin has paid off handsomely for this blog. Not only did Devin, along with three Vista USD high school students, record the podcast featured in this post – describing Vista’s highly successful personalized learning initiative – he has also become an important adviser to this blog in his capacity as a member of its Strategic Advisory Committee.
As you’ll learn when you listen to the podcast being featured in this post, Vista USD’s personalized learning initiative is a classic case of successful, large-scale innovation. This is no mean feat when you consider that many, if not most, significant innovation and change efforts bite the dust early in their short, unhappy lives. The culprit more often than not, in my experience, is the normal, inevitable human resistance to changing in important ways, which tends to be an especially insidious foe of innovation because the resistance is often unconscious. I’m reminded of a common phenomenon in large-scale innovation projects I’ve been involved in over the years: one or more self-appointed “devil’s advocates,” who manage to slow – and often even kill – change by asking a million what-if questions about a proposed change initiative. What has stuck me over the years is that the majority of these devil’s advocates appear to genuinely believe they are merely exercising due diligence in protecting us from possible negative consequences of change.
Listening to Devin and his students describe the Vista USD personalized learning initiative, I was struck by how methodically the foundation for change was laid. Perhaps most important, this educational innovation emerged from a highly collaborative strategic planning effort that resulted in Vista’s “Blueprint for Educational Excellence and Innovation.” You’ll also learn that Vista spent a year putting together a detailed definition of personalized learning – a process that included ample student input, and that a wide-reaching, aggressive communication effort explained personalized learning to key district constituencies. And, mirroring successful innovation initiatives in the corporate sector, Vista USD carefully pilot-tested personalized learning in five “pioneer” schools – two elementary, two middle, and one high school – before expanding the initiative to other schools in the district.
We invite you to share your experience in generating large-scale innovation in your districts by commenting at this blog, and we promise to help bring examples of successful innovation initiatives to a wider audience that needs to know about the path breaking work being done in public education and to support that work, rather than being seduced into believing that charter schools and vouchers are the only routes to innovative education.