The Vermont Legislature has a challenging assignment for schools this fall. By January, a working group of educators must decide how to implement a new law requiring secondary students to design “personal learning plans.” The aim is to match schooling with a student’s career goals.
The new law calls for every student in grades 7-12 to create, with adult help, a personal learning plan based on that student’s interests and ambitions. The so-called PLP must include not just a list of courses leading to a job or career, but also experiences outside the classroom. Tom Alderman directs the secondary and adult division at the Agency of Education. He says students must be at the center of this planning process. And he says the school day may have to be completely re-designed to make time for one-one-one meetings with teachers or counselors.
“It’s a very big shift but it appears to me to be one that most of the folks, the professionals in our schools, and parents and community members are ready to take on,” Alderman said.
The state has hired a Maine-based educational consulting firm called “Great Schools” to help districts implement the plans alongside academic requirements already in place for every student. Ellen Berrings, a career educator at Harwood Union High School in Moretown, says the plans must be flexible, and teachers will need to research careers, because many students don’t come to school knowing much about jobs-- either present or future.
“What’s interesting is, you know, ten years from now there will be careers out there that didn’t exist right now. And so I think the big piece is giving them the strategies to start that exploration process and start with those four they know and challenge them to think about what they don’t know, and then match that to something they are passionate about,” Berrings said.
Berrings says her school does not now use personal learning plans but she’s eager to try them. Others, like Montpelier High School, have been relying on them for years. But there are administrators who see the new law as potentially burdensome. Shelley Mathias is Principal at Edmunds Elementary in Burlington, where she says teachers already put a high priority on personal learning and planning. Even in the kindergarten classroom, each child was working on a different hands-on math project.
“We need to be educating children, not following one more mandate, especially an unfunded mandate,” Mathias said.
Mathias is pleased that personal learning plans are only recommended for elementary schools, not required as they are grades 7 through 12. But she wonders where busy upper level teachers will find the time to sit down with each student, draw up a blueprint, and make sure it gets followed.
The next working group meeting is scheduled for October 8.