Episode 041: Build the plane while it’s flying, with Johnna Noll.

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Johnna Noll is the Executive Director and District Administrator for Norris Academy. Norris Academy is a small rural public school system serving disadvantaged youth with an Innovative Alternative Program that utilizes a cyclical student centric educational delivery approach. The model is based on a comprehensive assessment, plan, pathway and proffer of learning across four dimensions of learning; Academic and Career planning, employability, Citizenship, and personal wellness. Prior to coming to Norris, Johnna served as the Director of Instructional Services for the West Allis – West Milwaukee School District in and a former principal of Walker Elementary, a Blue Ribbon School, where her passion for personalized learning was demonstrated through the development of Next Generation Learning (NxGL) Communities. NxGL communities use technology as a tool for personalization, collaboration, accessing information, and communication. Under this leadership the District has been honored by the Apple Distinguished Educators program and as a P21 Exemplar School. Director Noll also provides leadership across the regional approach to the transformation of public education directed by the Institute at CESA 1 to get “learning right the first time” through a personalized 24/7 approach. She has provided staff development locally, regionally and with a national audience through personal and video presentations, webinars, and panel discussions.



Please share an event in your educational journey that has shaped the outlook you have today.
Listening to Ramona Pierson at CESA 1 share her personal story of how she did not engage in learning made me think that we really need to do something different in what we provide to students and how we educate learners.

What about being a thought leader in transforming education gives you the greatest fulfillment?
The response you receive when you’ve made a difference in a students education. When students are completely engaged in something that they feel like they own, that is all the reward in the world.

What about being a thought leader in transforming education is the most frustrating?
When I come into a situation when a system is inflexible or a mind is not willing to be flexible and think about things in a different way.


Please tell us about a person from your journey that has had strong impact on how you view education.
My very first principal who hired me stated the curriculum is what you make of it and what students need in that particular classroom.  That started my innovation and thinking skills right away to be free and flexible.


What is it about personalized learning that you believe will transform teaching and learning?
The whole idea of students developing agency and those students driving their learning and this transformation.


Please tell us about a time or situation where you observed resistance to this work. What did you do to overcome or influence the resistance?
In an old environment, anytime we wanted to expand, people would say that’s not going to work.  You need to have the evidence and testimonials speak out to show how it works while taking your time and really building your capacity.


What one strategy would you suggest educators focus on every day that will have the greatest impact?
Hold true to what you believe and do not give in.

Imagine you are standing with a group of like minded educators who strive to make a lasting impact – just like you when you started your journey. What are two to three key things they should focus on to ensure success?
Communication – get people excited and tell your story.  Keep focusing on building the capacity of others and finally, don’t be afraid to take risks.


What final words would you share with the audience to inspire them to start, continue or accelerate this transformational work?
Everybody can be an innovator.  Create an open field for people to innovate in education.





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