The Harwood Vision for Personalized Learning – A Visual Representation

Over the summer, a group of Harwood Union teachers and administrators in conjunction with the WWSU Director of Curriculum, attended the League of Innovative School Design Institute.  The purpose of the Institute was to create a vision of personalized learning – a vision that would serve as the foundation for our school action plan.  Our vision of learning also had to include a visual representation – we chose a maple tree.  Below is the result of our summer work and a portion of our submission for the NextGen Personalized Learning Initiative Grant that we have applied for.


Harwood Union High School embraces the vision for a diverse variety of programs, learning experiences, instructional approaches, and academic support strategies intended to address the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations and cultural backgrounds of individual students.

Currently, many structures and systems are in place to provide students with learning experiences matched to their unique needs and interests. The school and community have recently engaged in dialog that challenges the status quo of traditional school. The ‘Community for Harwood Excellence’, a group of parents, administrators and school personnel have established a formal process to continue the dialog and to forge a partnership toward positive change . As a means to communicate the principles and characteristics of personalized learning we envision for the future, we have designed the Harwood Union Graduate Tree; a symbol of the beliefs, values, opportunities and resources to ensure that every student actively participates in his/her learning now and in the future, and is prepared for success in college, career and as a participant in a democratic society.

Our “Tree” is in its 4th iteration. The current iteration is based on feedback from the entire faculty and staff and was drawn by a student – who feels it is not complete. The next step is to share the 4th iteration with students and the community, receive feedback and solicit a broad representation of stakeholders to continue to revise and use the model and narrative as an inspiration of excellence and a communication tool.

The Harwood Union Graduate Tree

The Harwood Union Graduate Tree begins with the ‘winged’ seed of the Maple tree. It is the seed of curiosity and when properly nurtured, it will helicopter into flight, and each student will begin a life long journey of learning. The hands holding the tree represent a Harwood Union student. Our student ‘point of view’ states: “I am a student who cares about my learning and needs to have ownership because how I want to learn matters.” Seemingly it is a commonly held belief that not all students care about their learning. Students may appear to care, going through the motions and ‘doing school well’, while other students outwardly exhibit behaviors that communicate school does not meet their needs. At Harwood Union; however, we believe there is a clear distinction between ‘doing well’ and true engagement. All students want to be successful in some way, shape or form. We believe that all students do care and that our challenge is to ensure there is a pathway that inspires individual engagement, personal growth, and efficacy via relevancy, meaningful relationships and high, clearly articulated expectations for learning. We must be prepared to have as many pathways as we have students.

A critical component in the development of student pathways is ‘ownership’. Students must be empowered to participate in the personalization process. Students must be provided an opportunity along with the knowledge, resources and supports necessary to make informed pathway decisions: that is to learn about individual strengths, challenges, interests; to set goals; create a plan and carry it out; assess; and reflect and revise as necessary. At Harwood, we envision ownership being fostered through Personal Learning Plans (PLPs) in conjunction with a support network of adults.

Furthermore, we believe that student ownership is nurtured by the values, mindsets and beliefs of the school culture. At Harwood Union, it is our intent to continue to foster a culture that supports students to confidently access multiple pathways of learning throughout their educational experience. The roots of the tree represent this culture of learning; one that anchors our shared vision for personalization. It begins with the HU mission. It is the mission of Harwood Union, “to ensure an educational and creative environment in which every person is valued as an individual, challenged as a learner and inspired to contribute to democratic society.” The culture, through systems, structures and classroom practice will reflect a commitment to equity and the growth mindset. All learning pathways will be open and available and students will be encouraged and supported in achieving the HU Graduation Expectations and all associated Learning Proficiencies to be successful in college, career and as citizens in a democratic society. The roots also reflect a culture that believes all students need to have ownership of their learning in order to be fully engaged and maximize their opportunities; in other words, Harwood Union believes in empowering students, because with the proper support, students can direct what they want to learn and how they want to learn it.
The trunk of the tree represents the various structures that will support and guide the student through pathways that include existing learning opportunities as well as ones a student wants to create. These structures and systems will ensure that all students receive the academic, social/emotional and logistical support they need to navigate their path, persevere roadblocks and progress toward their desired outcome. The student will begin his/her high school journey in a 9th Grade Community supported by a strong Teacher Advisory (TA). In the classroom, teachers will utilize technology and the principles of neuroscience to create a student-centered learning design that includes a variety of pathways and supports for students to attain identified proficiencies.

Additionally, TA will provide students with an adult partner who will serve as a guide in the Personal Learning Plan process throughout high school. It will be through TA that students will gain experience in evaluating the impact of various pathways and making revisions to their PLP. A collaborative adult partnership that will include the school counselor, the teacher advisor, the parent and/or other important adults in the life of the student, will interact in formal and informal ways to support the student as he/she begins to climb a variety of branches or pathways. At the same time, this network will support the student in returning to the trunk as necessary to reflect, revise and venture out again.

The trunk also includes specialized structures designed to support the unique needs of individual students. It will include a comprehensive multi-tiered system of interventions to ensure every student is able to successfully achieve the HU Graduation Expectations and other identified learning standards – CCSS; NextGen Science; and Vermont State Content Proficiencies. A strong Leadership Team comprised of administrators, faculty and students will serve as stewards of the HU vision of learning and guide our Professional Learning Communities through regular meetings designed for the faculty to share expertise and use data to collaboratively improve teaching and the academic performance of all students.
The branches represent the multiple learning opportunities. Currently HU has a variety of learning options for students such as classroom and on-line learning, travel abroad, service learning, internships, dual enrollment, independent study, apprenticeship, student designed learning, and early college. Additionally, there are Pathway Programs like Harwood United Beginnings and Harwood Community Learning Center that utilize a student designed learning model in a smaller setting. The options in the future will continue to grow; branches will extend into the local as well as the global community. New and unforeseen partnerships will be forged providing experiential learning that inspire creative problem-solving, effective communication and personal development. These partnerships will be reciprocal dissolving the concept that learning occurs within the confines of the school building. This growth will be supported by a flexible schedule, Personal Learning Plans and a school and community culture for learning that embraces personalization.
The leaves on our tree are the all encompassing representation of student outcomes – the outgrowth of their learning experiences. This outgrowth is equivalent to student proficiency in the articulated transferable skills and content that stem from the wide variety of unique learning opportunities each student experiences. Seasonally, just as the leaves of a tree pass through the life cycle – bud and grow, a student will be provided regular opportunities for a personalized demonstration of his/her learning, growth, and achievement. Exhibitions of learning will allow a student to demonstrate how he/she is making progress toward and/or has met the proficiencies regardless of the branch or path he/she chose. Furthermore, the EOLs will also be an opportunity for the student to consider and articulate the impact the experience may have on his/her future learning and/or pursuits.
The essential elements that nourish the tree are the forest, sun, rain, clouds and soil. These elements represent the outside resources that affect the growth and health of the tree. A tree can not stand alone; it needs the forest – a community that reflects sharing and mutual concern among members, protection, guidance and room to grow. Additionally the sun, rain and soil work in unison to feed the tree. Beyond a culture that embraces the idea of personalized learning, these are the forces – that when leveraged, bring the idea to fruition. It includes, the reciprocal relationship between the community and school; parents as partners in the educational personal learning plan process; grants and other resources provided through the Vermont Agency of Education; school policies that support the transformational efforts of the school; and school funding through support of the annual budget.

The Harwood Union Graduate Tree represents the principles and characteristics of personalized learning that we envision for the future. It highlights the many aspects necessary for a learner to grow and be ready for college, career and democratic citizenry. It is our hope that the HU Graduate Tree will be an inspiration to all those who want the very best for their students.