System Shift Required

Many have been drinking the 1:1 kool-aid for a while. We have learned that regardless the geography, ethnicity, political leanings or student profiles – the challenges and success navigation strategies are the same. We have a common, working vocabulary for both philosophical and tactical foundations.

The mere mention of 1:1 doesn’t capture the authentic education transformation that is at the heart of the work. The core work is moving from the industrialized, adult-centered school model to that of a hyper-connected information-age, student-centered personalized one. This, where students are ‘partners’ with their teachers, have agency and ownership of their learning and progress. The teacher’s role is pivotal – becoming one of the learners in this partnership-activating learning and all that means in a new ecosystem. As Ron Canuel, Executive Director of CEA aptly states, “Educators didn’t sign on to this work with a goal to remain comfortable, secure and safe as an adult into later life; they signed on to serve students, care about their achievement and ultimately make communities and the world a better place.”

Thomas Friedman, in his December 8, 2013, New York Times article, noted that today’s youth will face three necessary adjustments in the near future: 1) the ability to constantly grow and develop new skills; 2) to be self-motivated to know what skills are needed and how to develop them; and 3) to engage a highly imaginative landscape for developing new ideas and endeavors for personal develop and to fuel more jobs. Friedman quotes futurist, Marina Gorbis who says that the digital divide will dry up and be replaced with a ‘motivational’ divide. She predicts that those with ‘grit’, self-motivation and perseverance will access the world of technology and collaborative tools to create, grow, learn, succeed and contribute. Today’s schools must be incubators for these major educational goal shifts.

Andreas Schleicher, Program for International Student Assessment’s (PISA’s) manager, points out that one of the reasons for other countries’ advancement of student achievement is due to students’ sense of ‘ownership’ of learning. Schleicher reports that in all high performing PISA schools students believe they can personally make a difference in their education, parents hold high expectations for their children, and in general have an ‘ownership’ culture. Teachers have a high degree of autonomy, contribute to the development of standards and have substantial time for professional growth. They also hold one another accountable for high standards of professionalism.

It is daunting if not impossible to create such a culture in today’s traditional schools. Thomas Arnett nails it when he says, “The reality is that our traditional education system was designed to utilize teachers as lesson planners, graders, and managers of whole-group instruction, but today we also expect them to be counselors, mentors and individual learning specialists. It is unreasonable to give teachers these additional roles without changing the structure of their work.” (See more at:

Arnett provides examples of blended learning systems where teachers can develop the key relationships needed for each learner to flourish. As Ron Canuel noted, teachers came into the profession because they care and are passionate about serving young people and helping them achieve. In systems where learning is student-directed and individually defined, teachers have the time to nurture and serve the unique nature of each student. They ‘know’ them. Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey provide a quality template for creating a personalized learning plan (PLP) for each student (

The 1:1 authentic implementation can move the US needle forward in each of the areas noted above. The overarching education leaders must ensure the professional growth opportunities for teachers to contribute to the system and support, guide and hold one another accountable for the vision.

There are many around the world creating a body of wisdom and practice that will get us where we need to go in this transformation. Learning from one another is key to the process. Focusing on real personalization based on research, practice and ‘changing’ how we do school business is the work.

Leslie Wilson

CEO-One-to-One Institute

Co-author: Project RED

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