“It’s not the plan that’s important, it’s the planning.” ~ Dr Gramme Edwards

There is obligation and direction around personalised planning which sits within the legislation of the Disability Standards for Education (2005). The Planning for Personalised Learning and Support: A National Resource  has been developed to assist schools in enacting their responsibility to actively plan and respond to the needs and interest of their students. It articulates that schools have a responsibility for maximising the outcomes and wellbeing of all students, and for providing access to high-quality education that is free from discrimination. For this to be achieved, it is stated that educators need to provide personalised learning that aims to fulfil the diverse capabilities of each student. This is consistent with the principles embodied within General Comment No. 4 (UNCRPD: Article 24) and in The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians.

As a result, quality differentiated teaching and learning that is universally designed should be the baseline for all students. This approach should be responsive to analysis of real-time student need, and should sit alongside teaching and learning experiences that are clearly aligned to the curriculum (see Multi-Tier System of Supports).

Therefore, the main record of personalised planning should actually be evident in teacher curriculum planning, and in lesson execution. A living, breathing form of personalised planning that is highly contextual, responsive, and purposeful to the student experience across different subject areas and learning environments.

Beyond teacher level planning, there is however, a place for more formal documentation of individualised adjustments. Although these adjustments should still be addressed within a well-designed, inclusive lesson, they are usually non-negotiables that on a daily basis either have the power to restrict or enable a student with disability to be successful. Therefore, it is at this level that the purposeful necessity for personalised planning as a product is realised.

Personalised Plans:

When considering personalised planning as a specific product, it is important for the framing to be centred on an inclusive purpose and mindset. So often, plans are written from a deficit perspective where every characteristic of the student is pathologised, analysed and managed. This medical model mindset does nothing but pick fault and lists reasons that are masked as responses. This perpetuates failure to identify and separate real functional impacts from stereotypes, bias and general personality and developmental characteristics.

Instead, the purpose of the product should simply be about equity – supporting a student to access, participate and learn in a way that does not result in discrimination or hardship. It should be about valuing the student as an active participant worthy of high-expectation and commensurate outcomes. It should focus on corroboration over opinion, and see impacts as solvable challenges relating to pedagogy and the environment, and not as limitations of the individual.

In order for this to be achieved, it is important to consider who contributes. The most valuable contributor is the student – the person in personalised. The old slogan of ‘nothing about us without us’ could not be more fitting. Empowering the student to have autonomy and input into decisions about them is not only dignifying, but also enhances the potential for success. It is recognised that capturing student voice may be difficult in some circumstances, but this aspect should not go by without authentic attempt.

In addition to input from the Classroom Teacher(s) and specialist staff, parents should also be positioned as partners in the process. Their input, expertise and lived experience relating to their child is invaluable. They should be engaged in regular consultation, and supported to participate as a highly-regarded stakeholders in their child’s education.

This powerful collaboration should be used to drive an inquiry into the educational experiences of the student:

  • What is the vision of the student?
  • What are the student’s strengths, interests and motivators? How are these being incorporated and built upon?
  • What challenges of practice and impacts are being experienced?
  • What can and should be addressed at a whole-school and/or whole-class level?
  • What should be responded to in quality differentiated teaching and learning?
  • What needs to be addressed at a more personalised level?
  • How can these impacts be identified and prioritised?
  • What evidence-based actions can be taken?
  • What is the plan – who, what, when?
  • What capability building and collaboration is required?
  • When will the adjustments be reviewed?
  • What’s working? What’s not? How do we know?

There is no point to any personalised planning if it is not responsive, and if it is not meeting the identified need. Check it, address it, and change it. You don’t always have to get it right the first time. Look to the student as your main marker for success. Their feedback and outcomes is what determines the difference between assumptions on a page and precise, personalised, effective investment.

NB: “People are not supports. People facilitate the supports.” Be explicit about what the support strategies and adjustments actually are. Consider if additional adult proximity is actually required, or if peers, routines and processes can be utilised instead.

The true power of personalised planning is not in the product itself, but instead in the process and in the impact. Implementation fidelity and frequency is key.

Strengths-based Approach:

Typically, we communicate from the what to the why. We do this because it is easier to go from the tangible to the intangible. We can articulate what it is we do, and sometimes how we do it, but we can rarely identify the why that drives us.

When this default, outside-in approach to working is applied to personalised planning, the result is an end product with limitation. It becomes a plan that overtly focuses on and identifies the what – the actions, deficits and impacts of the student, and the resulting consequential, ad hoc responses. It is therefore not surprising that the what is rarely matched with purpose and understanding, and rarely ends up being successfully responsive and effective. This is because a knowing/doing gap is created. We establish what we think we need, but we fail to be explicit on how it is going to be achieved or why it is even important. The result is ambiguity and assumption without drive and accountability.

When we flip our thinking and come at personalised planning from the inside-out, we take the time to capture the why, and more importantly, we take the time to believe in it. That is, we start by positioning the student first and foremost as a student. We value them as an autonomous, worthy contributor in their education. We come at decisions and actions with their vision and rights at the heart, and with an unrelenting responsibility to providing a high-quality educational experience that matches those aspirations. This allows us to focus on the strengths of the student, acknowledging and extending what works, and utilising known success to move out of the reactive and into the proactive.

The moral imperative and acute human perspective that comes from unpacking the why allows us to then shape the how of equity realisation, before finally communicating it as the what.

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Practical Application:

  1. Student voice is captured: their vision, strengths, experiences, likes, dislikes, interests, contribution… is captured and used to drive decisions
  2. Identification of relevant impacts: collaboratively identifying impacts that occur in the school environment as evidenced through data and experience
  3. Identification of barriers: collaboratively identifying the environmental, organisational and pedagogical aspects that impact on equitable access and participation
  4. Whole-school responses: considering what systems and process can be implemented at a whole-school level to respond to and minimise impact
  5. Whole-class responses: considering what whole-class systems and process can be implemented in combination with Universal Design for Learning to respond to and minimise impact
  6. Individualised adjustments: collaboratively discussing evidence-based options to support any remaining impacts
  7. Implementation: responses are recorded and communicated, enacted with frequency and fidelity, and on-going data is collected to inform effectiveness
  8. Review: collaboratively review effectiveness of adjustments, gain feedback, and amend implementation as necessary