Author Archives: Leslie Wilson

Personal Paths to Growth

This past month I observed several real life demonstrations of the positive impact of personalized learning. Each of these happened outside the hallowed walls of traditional education.

1) Leadership and Communications. I am a rabid fan of the University of Michigan football. If you follow it you’ll know that backup quarterback John O’Korn hasn’t been able to rally the team as a collaborative, skilled unit. His many interceptions, snap misses, and fumbles had decimated the Wolverine’s ability to execute. Off the field during the weeks of practice preceding the Rutgers game October 28th, freshman quarterback, Brandon Peters, had been in deep training to garner the leadership skills required to fire up the team’s skills and passion. Peters is a soft spoken, focused, deliberate player. Strong communications were not his forte….until the coaches were relentless in helping him develop what was needed to lead the team. He had to ‘want’ the QB role. He had to learn ‘how’ to lead. And he did and he blossomed. Finally, all agreed he was ready to launch. He entered the game in the second quarter and led to victory with 4 touchdowns. Most of his passes were spot on. He consistently converted on third downs. To say the game dramatically changed is putting it lightly. Peters was leading; he was communicating and his team was responding.

2) In Nashville last week I met a 17 year old lead guitar player who travels the nation with a band of much older country musicians. They are a great, popular band. I asked the young man if he was completing high school. He is – through an online program, Odysseyware. He said he’s loving it since he’s not giving up his ‘on the job/internship’ with the band. He knows it’s his future livelihood – his talent that will drive career decisions. There is no time in his life for bricks and mortar and lock-step high school programming. He doesn’t suffer lack of mentorship. The band is highly supportive of his development – socially and academically. This appears to be a productive life experience for the 17 year old….leading to fulfilling life long dreams.

3) Learning that is Driven. My nephew is no slouch in middle school. He performs at high levels across the board. Often he is ‘bored’ by the irrelevance of some of the learning activities. To compensate he has become a veritable Oracle regarding all things sports. Not only can he recite every team’s/franchise’s/player’s stats and history, he does deep analysis and prognostication based on that data. He spends countless hours seeking this knowledge and understanding that world. The result is that he was reading at a 12th grade level in 4th grade. He has insights about life and people that one would expect from someone much older than 13 years. He is self-taught and able to transfer what he knows in the sports world to the world, his world, in general. He ‘manages’ to patiently wade through the learning tasks in each content area so he can do well on tests and free up his time to do the studying that most interests him.

4) Personal Growth and Career Moves. Coming from a reality where one has a career and holds it ad infinitum or until retirement, it is amazing to watch today’s young work force nimbly change jobs either from personal or employers’ choice. I have followed a young woman, 37, throughout her careers. With degrees in Communications and Sociology she has had many roles and responsibilities in her work life that capitalized on those degrees…some not expected. Her goal has been to be in a position of serving – such as through a non-profit aimed at an honorable mission. In that quest, each of her jobs has led her closer to that realization. She astutely assessed each of her current roles to gauge its plausibility for personal growth and pathway toward the goal. When she realized the position wasn’t aiming in the right direction or she had quit growing, she sought what was next each time landing a role with more responsibility, opportunities for learning and social impact – (and increased salary). Just recently she self-directed a path that led to her landing an Executive Director role in a major NY based corporation. That job had been earmarked for an external candidate with extensive technology background. When the organization learned of the woman’s interest in the position – they listened to her pitch for the job. She had crafted the content of her ask for the position in a way that demonstrated her direct knowledge and skill sets that would greatly benefit the organization. They listened. They gave her the position – again with a 20% salary increase. Her flexibility of style and personal desire to grow, to learn, to expand her capacity landed her the position she sought.

What is important here is how each person found a pathway to grow, to self-develop, to learn, to advance to next levels of knowledge and skill. They had to want that self-direction and accept support and guidance from those willing to help. In my nephew’s case, he simply continues to nurture his own thirst for growth via knowledge and analysis around the world of sports. Then he can scaffold the learning to the traditional expectations.

Leslie Wilson
Chief Executive Officer
One-to-One Institute

‘Retooling’ Our Reality

Educators throw around the terms/phrase ‘transformation’, ‘digital conversion’, and ‘reform’ when describing what’s needed for the current, traditional education system. Key topics of the day include education technology and personalized/online/blended learning. Virtual reality, mastery-based learning and artificial intelligence are included. The heart of the matter is that to authentically shift practice, engage new tools, and create a learner-centric system, we have to REALLY retool our craft and skill-sets from top to bottom. This demands second-order change and leaders who know and are able to guide the conversion.

In 2017 there is no need to reinvent the wheel. There are many who have come a long way down the road having escaped the past. They’ve created innovative practices that run parallel to what they knew as past pedagogy. Brain research tells us that when adults purposely develop ‘new’ habits, they cause new brain cells to emerge which brings about new, innovative thought processes. These are significant for education today and tomorrow.

Traditional education settings and practices (those from the 19th and 20th centuries) had been indoctrinated across the education ecosystem. Rote routine became a nation-wide ‘habit’. Those habits became comfortable and held anticipated routines. The introduction of ubiquitous technologies and the other key topics above create discomfort and a territory unknown. The new practices align the fusion of knowledge, skill demonstration, career and college readiness, and learner-centered systems with robust technologies.

Researchers from the ’60s found that by puberty, humans’ brains shut down half of their original capacity for collaboration and innovation for problem-solving. I believe that educators who have jumped into the new education frontier have built their professional capacity to such a high degree that their new ‘habits’ around teaching and learning are truly compelling and moving the education profession by leaps and bounds. It is this scenario about which educators speak when discussing ‘transforming’ and ‘reforming’ schools. Retooling and building new ‘habits’ have been crucial to the education industry.

The next iteration of our education system will make good on the core of our mission – to serve learners’ drive to their greatest potential as global workers, citizens, and contented human beings. One can understand the significance of teachers’ modeling of these qualities among their learners. Teachers and principals, those closest to the day to day student connection, are fundamental to positive transitions from the old to the new. They are indispensable for a high quality education system nation-wide.

Leslie Wilson
Chief Executive Officer
One-to-One Institute

We Know How to Get It Right!

Numerous colleagues, organizations, and One-to-One Institute are researching the return on investment of education technology.  I realize this blog preaches to the choir and that there are volumes of information out there on this topic; however, I am amazed at what little quantitative data exists from a myriad of education systems that are leaders and early adopters of technologies.

It’s clear that we move at the speed of sound with this work because of community’s demands and required response to this urgency in schools.  This is surpassed by the pace at which technology and information race across our landscape.  It is true that we can do only our best with the time we have to digitally transform schools.  We must insist on high quality professional learning and find ways to acquire, refresh, maintain, and sustain education technology. Personnel and time are limited.

We can be more nimble about how we study the planning, design, development, and efficacy of implementations – which means using systems that ‘work’ (i.e. the Project RED Model©), and understanding the financial and student achievement sides of return on investment.  We educators ‘get’ the value side of education technology.  We are intimate with the 21st century skills and knowledge necessary for world success and student growth.  Business, industry, parents, and caregivers are convinced of the efficacy of education technology rich ecosystems.

As an executive director of secondary education in a large suburban district, I could have done benchmarking with middle school teachers, students, and parents when we implemented our one to one program.  Our solid formative assessment program could have provided evidence of students’ achievement.  Ongoing surveys could have told us students’, parents’/caregivers’ and teachers’ perspectives on topics relevant to the one to one progress.

The one to one classrooms could have become our action research spots with their same grade counterparts as control groups.  Granted, we weren’t scientists, but we could have formulated a simple mathematic formula to compare and contrast along key factor measures such as: student attendance, discipline referrals, assessments, research and problem solving abilities, etc., etc.  I would have that informal information at my fingertips today.

There are several disconnects regarding that district project.  If systems had been in tact (if we knew then what we know now) it would have made a profound difference in the success and sustainability of the initiative.  First, the one to one proof of concept was driven by a superintendent.  He understood and believed in the need to engage education technology.  The leader put in play ‘challenge’ grants for teachers and schools that showed solid plans for instituting high quality technology programs.  Many across the district took advantage.

However, the leader’s cabinet was not fully on board.  There weren’t many shared conversations.  The leadership team didn’t understand enough to support, in concept, the one to one initiative.  Most of these school administrators didn’t research the program and they were not provided ongoing communications regarding ‘why’ this would be an important event in the district’s life.  McREL’s leadership research tells us how this was a major caveat (McREL 2007).

Next, the district’s head of finance would attend meetings of the curriculum and operations teams – but as a group they never engaged in a shared visioning experience where the silos could put their voices and concerns on the floor and begin to understand one another.  This, ultimately, would be a key reason for the project abandonment.

This superintendent was way ahead of the curve considering the norms at the time re: edtech. This was not a wealthy district but one whose leadership was very interested in futures to best realize how to serve the school community.  Unfortunately, communicating and honoring relationships with administrators outside his ‘kitchen’ cabinet weren’t qualities of this leader.

The superintendent’s successor was a person who did level best to ‘undo’ the former supe’s initiatives….the one to one being an example.  The point here is that if we had the informal or formal data to ‘prove’ the need and efficacy of the project, we would not have likely witnessed its demise.

Over the past seven years I have connected with many educators, technology staff, CIOs, CTOs, superintendents, virtual school executives, researchers, and other ed-tech experts and practitioners.  There is a much richer body of research around education technologies and one to one programs.  Project RED (2010) of which I am a co-author is one such resource.

We now have data to show how implementation of meaningfully integrated technology has facilitated learner growth, allowed for cost avoidance, reallocation, savings and other funding measures.  We can do more to ensure everyone in the education space understands this data.  This can be most expeditiously accomplished if district key leaders ensured their teams had the knowledge and built ‘visions’ around it.

Leslie Wilson
Chief Executive Officer
One-to-One Institute

Onboarding for All

Six years ago Thomas Friedman asked “how did the robot end up with my job?”  He talked about our living in a time when being ‘average’ and successful no longer exist in the global economy.  We now compete, globally, with those who are ‘good, better and best’.  Employers have access to top notch performing people, robots and software.  Our education system still turns out a bell curve of capable young adults placing the United States in competitive edge jeopardy.  Hence, the persistent cry for school reform.

Core Standards/Curriculum is crucial to a guaranteed, viable set of learning outcomes/skills for today’s learners.  Powering up teaching and learning to the highest productivity with highest student achievement results is a significant goal.  Creating an ecosystem where learners ‘drive’ their learning to reach their greatest potential is being accomplished where meaningful use of technologies is in place.

How many times can we make the argument, present the research, data and case for infusion of well-implemented technology in schools?  It’s hard to believe that there are still education leaders requiring an evangelist approach about the moral imperative of technology tools in schools.  It reminds me of what’s happening with the postal service.

The United States Postal Service is still trying to compete with the Internet.  They maintain massive mechanical and human structures that were created before the Internet existed.  They face and have faced multibillion dollar deficits for at least 10 years.  The postmaster general began talking about a ‘new reality’ many years ago.

Remember The Pony Express?  It was a huge accomplishment because it moved mail at a fantastic rate across several states in just ten days!  The investors of that progressive movement pulled funding in just 18 months…when people and animals couldn’t move fast enough to match the speed of the telegraph.  Educators still have enormous textbook budgets while teachers and students are creating content and accessing ‘right now’ resources both free and online.

Several years ago the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) reported that there are over 2 billion worldwide Internet users.  The organization helps leaders understand the global economy by providing data and facts to help decision making around management and policy issues.  They focus on productivity, competitiveness and growth while looking through the lenses of global financial markets and the impact of technologies.

MGI further noted that the Internet has been the world-wide doorway for new waves of entrepreneurships, business models and innovations for using, delivering and accessing goods and services.  It has changed how we all engage with the world.  The same can be true in education once we throw open the network doors and facilitate each learner’s ability to have consistent access to the power of knowing and growing ‘now’.

There are great pockets of education systems where this has happened:  Mooresville Graded School District in NC; Auburn City Schools in AL; Alvarado Independent School District in TX; Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District in MI; and all of the Project RED Signature Districts (

Those are celebrations for sure….but when you consider the rapidity of change, growth, economical development happening in the world where they have well engaged technology tools and the Internet, our pace in education greatly pales. Every day is a wakeup call.

There is a lot of rhetoric – much on point regarding the need and possible avenues of growing bandwidth and furthering technology acquisition and correct utilization in schools.  We can rely just so much on government intervention and funding.  What we can control is what we have at our disposal..and what is in our own backyards – our own operating budgets, ability to vision, plan and nail down short and long term strategies.  Engaging community resources, businesses, local higher education settings and the like have all demonstrated support for local schools’ engagement of technology and development of global work skills.

Robust digital conversions are more feasible today than ever before given best in breed showcase sites, best practice resources available online and face to face, and current research.  For most education systems this will be a process. As all processes go….progress begins by taking the first step – making that first big decision.  Here’s to that time and place for all!

Leslie Wilson
Chief Executive Officer
One-to-One Institute

AdvancEd and Project RED III Findings Sync

Project RED III and AdvancEd’s education technology research are in sync.  RED III shows that infidelity to a high quality education technology implementation will result in failure of program and reaching desired goals (  AdvancEd’s “The Paradox of Classroom Technology:  Despite Proliferation and Access, Students Not Using Technology for Learning” (2016, van Broekhuizen) reports that “Learners’ use of digital tools and other technology to support their learning in our K-12 systems continues to be sporadic and often not observed despite the proliferation of use outside of school. Based on an analysis of three years of direct classroom observations in K-12 schools across 39 states and 11 countries, AdvancED found there are still relatively few classrooms in which the use of digital tools and technology is a regular part of a student’s school experience. In more than half (52.7%) of classrooms, direct observations show no evidence students are using technology to gather, evaluate, or use information for learning; two-thirds of classrooms show no evidence of students using technology to solve problems, conduct research, or to work collaboratively.

The intersection of these reports lies in the evidence that organizations (schools/districts) must be mindful of each of the key elements required for successful implementations.  AdvancEd’s findings point directly to the lack of support, training, professional learning for teachers in implementing the technologies.  Project RED, early on, identified professional learning as a key requirement for successfully transforming schools to a digital ecosystem.  Simply having the technologies in the hands of teachers and learners means nothing unless they are being guided to shifting practice in teaching and learning.  Any adult trying to ‘change’ habits of mind and craft must go through numerous cognitive and behavioral shifts to retool to a learner-centric, personalized system of education.  Following that is the actual practice, job-embedded, upon which there is deep reflection and collaboration with peers.

Learners may come to the education table with vast experience using tech tools.  However, understanding and using technology for learning and achievement is much more complex than turning on a device, performing searches, creating presentations, etc.  Core standards and learning goals need to be powered up by technology in meaningful, focused ways, in order to make the transition from a traditional learning environment.  Teachers are important to facilitating learners’ abilities to develop creativity, problem-solve, collaborate and realize real life situations and solutions with technologies.

The idea is to begin educators’ professional growth process in preservice and before the deployment of robust education technology programs. Training on the functionality and power of the devices to be used is important.  Once that know-how is attained it is important to ‘use’ that knowledge and then explore ways of deepening the learning and teaching experiences to reach meaningful, focused levels of tech integration.

We at One-to-One Institute have long witnessed the professional learning gaps in schools’/district’s 1 to 1 programs.  AdvancEd’s research is helpful in underscoring this issue in the hope of all of us being more mindful and better practitioners in incorporating high quality, robust, early onset professional development for robust ed tech implementations.

Leslie Wilson
Chief Executive Officer
One-to-One Institute

Just In Time Learning Always On-Future

I barely know the powers and functionalities of my smart phone and it’s time to get a new one.  I’ll go through the same routine with my provider.  He/She will set up my new phone; show me the highlights and off I’ll go.  I seldom learn any of the phone’s potential until I have the need to do so. My 13 year old nephew has shown me countless tools and opportunities on my phone about which I would have never thought.

We are truly learning ALL the time. The question is, ‘when AREN’T we learning?’  This truth demands the learning environment (everywhere) be conducive to flexibility, just in time knowledge/information, collaboration, and communications. And also product development – making stuff as demonstrations of mastery and what’s been learned.  The four-walled prison style schools are not viable for what’s needed now and in the future.

Yorkville (IL) Community Schools #115 got it right.  They had the opportunity to completely transform the high school and did so with complete focus on the learner ( is a learning space with rolling furniture, access points, computer bars, and fishbowls for collaboration.

The fact is that we’re in a new revolutionary state and prepping next generation employees for what’s ahead (or in front of us now) is crucial. Soft skills (social, emotional, mindset, etc.) will impact employee’s effectiveness and marketability. Analysis, problem-solving, STEAM are on the front burner of needed skills for the future.  All of these are best addressed and developed in a learning environment that capitalizes on flexibility, cooperative work, trial and error, and production.  Real-life, meaningful tasks ensure this kind of learning occurs.

The article cited above lays out two more examples of how school leaders digitally transformed learning systems, environments and activities to mirror students’ future needs.  Most significant is the impact these changes had on student achievement and motivation.

Colorado Springs Schools 11 developed ‘Next Generation Learning’ resources as they continue to evolve their transformation.  A lot of good ideas here that began in 2014.  This accompanies their vision/mission.  It is a good guide for those engaged in the digital shift and learner-centered approach.

It’s good news that many models exist today to help others down the path.  It is more important, however, that the models follow research-based implementation processes to ensure success.  For more on that topic go to  You can read our new research Briefs.

Leslie Wilson
Chief Executive Officer
One-to-One Institute

A Mosaic of Best Practices

The Onion is a US news satire organization.  It features a newspaper and a website with articles on international, national, and local news.  My husband and I winter in Florida.  We walk miles along beaches from February through April.  I gather up lots of shells.  The Onion’s article, “Report: All Good Seashells Taken” (,26337/), comes from Coral Gables, FL, not far from where we stay. The piece pokes fun at a host of human behaviors and beliefs.  It’s supposed ‘environmental’ research about why there are no more ‘good’ seashells.  They have all been grabbed up by ‘aunts with homes along the shoreline and 14 year olds with no friends’.

It is a ridiculous conclusion- every Onion article has one.  There is one ‘hopeful’ statement that helps the reader turn the corner from supposed despair about the seashells…. “When pressed, however, Coates (researcher) acknowledged there might be enough bits of good shell left to be assembled into a serviceable mosaic.”  The same can be said about schools.  Most have ‘bits of good shell’ that contribute to a serviceable system.  I mean schools with high student achievement, personalization, effective technology implementation, high quality teaching, community/parent/caregiver engagement, generative leadership, etc., etc.  Data-wise these are arguably difficult to find. But they do exist.  And if we assemble those ‘bits of good shell’ into a ‘serviceable mosaic’, we can inform and lead real school transformation.

We’ve learned through Project RED and the work of One-to-One Institute that there are few places that have it all pulled together in an effective, well running system that is producing expected student and organizational outcomes.  But there are places that are well greased in certain components that lead to success.  We could create a motif using each ‘showcase’ site’s special effects as part of grand picture for ‘how to’.

That is exactly what we planned to do with Project RED II and the seventeen Signature Districts.  The recently launched Project RED III findings put that package together.  We captured results-oriented best practices into robust media tools that can be virtually accessed by educators.  Highlighted will be effective leadership, meaningfully planned education technology integration, student achievement measures, revenue-positive and return on investment strategies, strategic visioning and planning for short and long term objectives and ways of creating capacity and sustainability.  Professional learning and communications also makeup the content of our new research.  You can find all here.

A major finding from Project RED III is that even in the most optimal environments that capture what we know for sure about implementing successful one-to-one programs, it remains a daunting task to reach desired outcomes.  Implementation systems must work in tandem at high quality levels, be consistently led by skilled leaders, and focused on transforming teaching and learning models through ongoing, embedded professional learning.  Unforeseen circumstances are reality.  Systems and leaders must figure out how to navigate those waters to keep the program safely on course.  It’s challenging work.  And we’re making progress.

Leslie Wilson
Chief Executive Officer
One-to-One Institute