The PLP Gap, Perhaps It’s Time to Rethink Our Process

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Dr. Steven J. Rippe has over 20 years of experience working with educators and school leaders designing and implementing innovative schools and programs throughout the United States. A successful teacher, principal and University administrator, Steven has worked with passionate educators to create nationally recognized schools and works with struggling schools to reinvent themselves into high performing, dynamic learning organizations.

The PLP Gap, Perhaps It’s Time to Rethink Our Process

By Steven Rippe, Director of Organization Development and Hope Survey


I have been part of a wonderful community of educators that has been studying personal learning plans for over a decade. The idea of a true personal learning plan, one that inspires and guides us to become our best, has been a goal worth pursing. Reflecting on the work of Chris Argyris, I am forced to realize that what we have in our heads around the purpose and process of personal learning plans and what we practice, are often fundamentally different. In this article I will describe the PLP gap, how we arrived there and the new opportunity we have to actualize our original intent.

Working collaboratively with students and educators across the United States we were able to identify elements that facilitated authentic, engaging and transformative personal learning plans.  Each year we met and shared our best practices and offered workshops to educators and schools interested in using our process. We do know that our work spread throughout the United States and has taken on a life of its own. We also knew that we still had work to do to make this process work for everyone.

As we were gaining momentum with our personal learning plans, the effects of the No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB, 2002) began to take hold. According to Education Week (2017), NCLB effectively added a new federal role in holding schools accountable for student outcomes, with harsh consequences for not meeting “Adequate yearly Progress”. As I traveled throughout the United States working with schools, students and teachers frequently reported that personal learning plans had devolved into an assignment and for some, it felt like another control device to get them to achieve on high stakes tests. Fortunately, we did have a network of schools and committed educators that continued the work and are producing amazing personal learning plans. NCLB was replaced in 2015 with Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which sets the stage for a new mindset around data collection, including socio-emotional growth and the role of personal learning plans.

Perhaps it is time we challenge our epistemology and practice on how we are engaging in personal learning plans with our students, staff and ourselves. We are teaching and learning in a time that encourages authentic personalization. I am currently involved in a book project on the next generation of student-led personal learning plans with students from Valley New School in Appleton Wisconsin, along with Nicole Luedtke (advisor at Valley New) and Dr. Walter Enloe. If you would like to be involved in our learning community, including our yearly gatherings and /or would like to contribute to our writing project, please contact me directly at