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Ask any electric guitar player, and they will tell you it is a lifelong quest to find the perfect sound for their instrument.  Most of them spend many years (and hundreds of dollars) meticulously tinkering to find the right combination of reverb, distortion, and delay.  The easiest way for a guitarist to control these sound effects is to use several different foot pedals arranged in a portable container called a pedalboard.  Typically, effect levels are set with tiny knobs before a performance, and then turned on and off with the tap of a foot on the corresponding pedal.   In this way, a guitarist can turn up the distortion for one song while trimming back the tremolo on the next.  I envision the VOICE framework operating in a similar way: certain areas in the curriculum may lend themselves to “turning up” the collaboration or innovation while others may warrant less opportunity for student choice.

In a VOICE  classroom, the teacher is still very much the maestro.  Their instruction, symbolized by the purple arrows (instrument cables), runs through the VOICE  pedalboard to be personalized with variety, ownership, innovation, collaboration, and engagement.  It then travels out through the amplifier, which represents the students’ output-- the demonstration of their understanding.  Teachers tap the Innovation, Collaboration and Engagement pedals during STEM maker-space activities.  They turn on the Variety, Ownership, and Collaboration pedals by allowing for creative current events projects.  In my view, if a teacher has a few of the pedals turned on at any given time during their instruction, it’s likely that personalized learning is taking place.

Simon Sinek, the leadership guru who challenges leaders to build relationships rooted in trust above all else, clarifies his vision using what he calls the “Golden Circle”.  He suggests that when we “start with ‘Why?’” -by connecting with our true passion- we are better able to communicate our ideas and, ultimately, effect change.  Whether delivering a staff development session, conference presentation, or communicating in writing, I always lead with my “Golden Circle” for personalized learning:

Simon Sinek’s take on relationships is that any leader (i.e.- teacher, administrator, etc.) should strive for relationships built on a foundation of trust.  In Leaders Eat Last, he likens employment in a workplace with a lack of trust to climbing Mount Everest: as climbers ascend- and the atmosphere thins- they begin to grow accustomed to surviving on less and less oxygen.  It is the same working, or indeed learning, in an environment where relationships built on trust are not valued or attained.  People insulate and isolate themselves as they become accustomed to constantly looking over their shoulder.

In my view, developing strong relationships is the beating heart of a personalized classroom.  Think of the way your favorite band’s drummer and bass player communicate seamlessly, anchoring the low end of a song, creating a strong foundation for the framework of a song to be built on.  None of the elements of the VOICE  framework can be achieved without building trusting relationships among teachers and students.  Rather than viewing mountain-climbing as self-asphyxiation, this is how I envision climbing the "Mount everest of relationship-Building"