Getting Personal

What students need to thrive

Assistant Principal. Cajon Valley Union School District and Committee Member at Concordia University Chicago

Drew Hinds is an experienced education leader who has served as a teacher, career and technical education instructor, online course developer and instructor, program coordinator, head of school, district director, and college instructor with experience across both public and private organizations.

Drew was nominated as a new teacher of the year in California, the Crystal Apple Award as an administrator in Oregon, and was publicly recognized for his state-level work with instructional materials, dropout prevention and school reporting systems at the State Department of Education. His expertise in practical innovation, educational leadership, and student-focused policy are enhanced by an in-depth knowledge of technology, curriculum, instruction, assessment, strategic planning, and program evaluation across a variety of programs, schools, and school systems.

Drew is a seasoned practitioner and educational leader known for fostering collaboration. He consistently interacts with a variety of colleagues that contribute to understandings about education, student performance, and organizational leadership. He is known to surface difficult questions, and values collaborative outcomes, especially as they benefit children and families. His expressed mission is to lead, listen to, and develop rapport with educational leaders, parents, students, and stakeholders in order to increase the relevancy of education, guide and encourage collaboration, support learning communities, and increase strong cultural connections that cultivate character and academic growth in each student.

Experience: technology and educational leadership, accessibility, school improvement, policy and research, online and blended schooling, alternative education, dual-credit programs, career and technical education, program evaluation, professional development, curriculum evaluation, school improvement and planning, learning theory, school and program administration, national and international K-12 school accreditation, state and federal education law, elementary, middle and high school transitions, dropout prevention, educational technology, digital resource management, assessment and school improvement planning.

As an experienced collaborator, technology innovator, and educational leader, what trends do you see as most relevant today and why?

In short, personalization. This means each student gets what they need to be happy, healthy, and thrive in community throughout their lifetime.

For the past hundred years or so, education innovation has occurred in approximately decade-long trends and is often referred to by educators as a pendulum swinging from a constructive to a more literal and practical mindset. The terms schooling educators have used to refer to these swings have changed from the time of Dewey and Thorndike (Educational Researchers). To leverage this metaphor of the education policy pendulum, each swing has resulted in a tighter focus due to the gravitational pull of student personalization. 

If the personalization for each student is at the core of what we are headed toward, parents and members of the community see a clear path forward. They want each student to get what they need when they need it.

Throughout the industrialization and modern eras (last 100 years or so), we have warehoused children in 1,000 square foot schoolhouse classrooms with 20-40 children largely organized by age rather than by interest or aptitude. Some would describe the intent of education this past century was to dampen personal interest and to explicitly teach normative behaviors. Recent shifts are toward a more knowledge-based economy. This means we need to leverage every discrepant strength and wonderful divergent difference children bring to the table. A quick visit to a kindergarten classroom will open your eyes to the remarkable variety within these little. 

School, as it is designed, is only equipped to serve at best, one-third of children. One-third make it work. The final third struggle to find their way and we promote them as if nothing can be done about it. This sense of helplessness is rampant in most public schools and when parents observed that throughout the pandemic, they were upset, as they should be. If your child is not part of the high-performing third, they are largely left behind even as educators attempted to pivot and personalize. 

Can you speak to the innovative mindset and its role in education now?

Radical personalization is the next big swing. Some alternative, charter, and magnet schools are already trending in the direction of offering a personalized plan and schedule, but most are just realizing it will be necessary. 

In short, parents and guardians should be in charge. Parents are the best advocate for their child as they have the longest-lasting influence and stake in their success. We will likely continue to see more states offering choice, many that continue to allow students to be homeschooled and virtual schooled. With the amount of learning loss and behavioral issues, parents and guardians, and special educators will seek to provide support at a huge cost until personalization become the less expensive norm. 

This will look like personalized schedules based upon elective and aptitude at the elementary, career transition and alternative school options at middle schools, and advanced personalization and educationally contracted technical and career related learning experiences at the secondary and postsecondary schools. 

How does collaboration lend itself to a better learning platform?

In short, learning platforms do not do the learning, children do. Learning platforms should make it simple for everyone to connect. Content management systems should link to assessment systems. Learning management systems should connect to student information and health information systems. Student information systems should be connected to parent communication systems. The interoperability of these systems has, for the most part, only been in place for the past few years and we are improving the way we leverage tools and communicate between stakeholders.

Learning platforms are launching places that provide enough structure to hold the weight of increasingly personalized interactions between the student, parent participants, and caring adults with experience in the academic or technical field, as well as a stake in the student engagement.

Where do you see the most positive intersection of students, teachers, and technology?

Parents and communities have maintained learning co-ops based upon special interests, and teachers have collaborated across subjects within the same grade. The ubiquitous use of video conferencing technology has made it easier to offer specialty courses based upon interest and their level of commitment. At the primary level, this can be described as a Montessori-like approach where some structure and scaffolding is provided as students explore. At an intermediate elementary level, this looks like schools who enlist voice and choice of students, combined with observations of parents and caring adults, as the topics and pacing is designed. At middle levels, this includes intentional socialization and opportunities for students to gain confidence in skill sets that they will build upon as they construct a career pathway.

In elementary schools, this currently looks like one teacher who is particularly fond of math and science teaching those subjects while the other teacher(s) in that grade teaches reading and history (social science). The two teachers may teach writing in their contained classroom and most communicate in some way through document management or parent communication tool sets. This collaboration between adults is powerful, especially if there are blended grade levels that allow for increased differentiation and variety. Unfortunately, these subgroups are still groups and not truly personalized. The future will look more like a personalized schedule for each and every student based upon their interests, aptitude, and readiness for associated challenges that particular day. Grit and persistence will grow along with confidence as aptitude and experience increase.

What is your hope for learning communities going forward?

My hope for learning communities going forward is that they will adapt quicker to the needs of our students (personalization). It is not a secret that industrial innovations in the United States have largely outpaced educational innovations. Visits to other industrialized, and even third-world countries, reveal a higher sense of urgency about the need for us to innovate in education. Visits to most modern classrooms in the U.S. reveal that little has changed in the past hundred years with our 1,000 square foot classrooms.

One of the most fascinating interactions with groups of elementary and middle school students was with the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in their learning. Middle school students enjoyed using AI to answer questions because it provided answers without judgment or condemnation which they typically receive from peers or adults. Elementary students did not understand that machines could learn and change based upon the information you provided them (machine learning). For example, expressed interest in drugs or violence will result in personalized results. Another example they had difficulty conceptualizing was that the location you search from impacts the results you get when you search. These recent observations give me hope and plenty of concern about the role the next decade of personalization will play in our ability to equip children to be happy, in healthy relationships, and on a pathway to gainful employment.