Individualized Learning Plans How-to Guide – Section III: Making It Happen


This section includes:

Creating a Whole-School Plan for Implementing a Grade Level Curriculum in Support of ILPs

Designing an ILP implementation plan will be well served if members responsible for each key stakeholder group – educators, school counselors, career and technical education, special education, and family involvement – outline the scope of curriculum content they feel needs to be delivered within each domain (e.g., self-exploration, career exploration, and career planning and decision-making) and the sequence in which it will be delivered within each grade level (i.e., scope and sequence).  It is important to note that the same curriculum may be used differently by each key stakeholder group or different curriculum may result in similar outcomes.  This approach is designed to create a coordinated whole-school effort that allows for unique and individualized content for a given group of students.  For example, work-based learning is a critical area and staff representing regular education may identify different implementation strategies and content for implementation than those representing special education.  A case in point, students with moderate or severe disabilities often need to learn specific work skills in structured settings that may require an extended amount of time to master the skills whereas some students without disabilities can participate in more informal internship experiences of short duration; however, in both instances a clear set of learning objectives and a means to track the outcomes are needed. 

There are time resources that need to be provided for both the development of an ILP plan and the time to conduct ILP-related activities within the curriculum throughout the school year.  The number of hours may grow each year, but it is important to start the development of the plan with a clear understanding of how many classroom periods will be devoted to ILP activities at each grade level before identifying where in the curriculum or school day ILPs will be actually conducted.

Written exercises that serve as ILP artifacts should align to the Common Core Standards or standards that the school is using to demonstrate literacy, numeracy, and science skill development.  In this way, engaging in ILPs will be clearly connected to the school goals for increasing reading, mathematics, and science test scores. This also sends a clear message that engaging in ILPs is relevant to student learning throughout the high school experience.

The plan below (see Table 2) is only an example of what one could look like.  It is based on the idea that self and career exploration activities should give way to an increasing emphasis on career planning and management activities after the individual has identified one or more career goals.  The number of grade level activities and range of ILP artifacts should be determined based on the number of classroom periods that will be devoted to ILPs during a given year for that grade level. NCWD/Youth’s focus group results indicate a consensus for engaging in ILPs two times per week throughout the academic year that would culminate in a student-led parent-teacher conference session. 

To support the development of a plan, the National Career Development Guidelines (NCDG)can be used to identify the specific skills students should demonstrate.  The career development guidelines provide a rich array of skill areas that can be selected and organized within the self-exploration, career exploration, and career planning and management domains described in this Guide. 

As shown in Table 1, the NCDGs consist of goal statements that are organized around codes that refer to both Domains– PS (Personal Social Development), ED (Educational Achievement and Lifelong Learning), and CM (Career Management) – and Indicators and Learning Stages – K (Knowledge Acquisition),  A (Application), and R (Reflection).  Hence the goal “Demonstrate ability to identify abilities, strengths, skills, and talents” is represented as indicator PS1.K – referring to Knowledge acquisition within the Personal Social domain.

Table 1. National Career Development Guidelines Framework

Personal Social Development Domain (PS)


Develop understanding of self to build and maintain a positive self-concept.


Develop positive interpersonal skills including respect for diversity.


Integrate growth and change into your career development.


Balance personal, leisure, community, learner, family, and work roles.

Educational Achievement Lifelong Learning Domain (ED)


Attain educational achievement and performance levels needed to reach your personal and career goals.


Participate in ongoing, lifelong learning experiences to enhance your ability to function effectively in a diverse and changing economy.

Career Management Domain (CM)


Create and manage a career plan that meets your career goals.


Use a process of decision-making as one component of career development.


Use accurate, current, and unbiased career information during career planning and management.


Master academic, occupational, and general employability skills in order to obtain, create, maintain, and/or advance your employment.


Integrate changing employment trends, societal needs, and economic conditions into your career plans.

Source: National Career Development Association.


Table 2. School Counseling (SAMPLE ONLY)


Skill Indicator


ILP Artifact

Year 1





Demonstrate ability to identify abilities, strengths, skills, and talents (National Career Development Guidelines indicator [NCDG] PS1.K2) by integrating results from an interest, values, and skills inventory, respectively.

Complete online career interest, ability, and values assessments using O*NET.

Persuasive writing activity (see Common Core Standards for Language Arts) in which the students make a case for why their long-term career goal is reasonable given its fit with their assessment results and strategies for using their high school learning opportunities to support their pursuit of that career. In addition to a writing sample, students will make an oral presentation using MS PowerPoint or related media.

Career Exploration

Describe short- and long-term career and life goals (e.g., education, employment, and lifestyle goals; NCDG CM1.K3)

Goal Setting Begins with a Dream

Career Planning and Management

Identify strategies for improving educational achievement and performance (NCDG ED1.K2)

Connecting Education to Our Careers

Year 2





Identify positive social skills that will support your employability (NCDG PS2.K3)

Why Should I Hire You?

Research writing activity (see Common Core Standards for Language Arts and Mathematics, respectively) for students to describe: (a) the nature of two careers that were associated with their work-based learning activities; (b) soft skills they realize are needed to be successful at work; (c) a range of labor market information indicators about the careers; and, (d) the post-secondary training or educational pathways needed to pursue the careers.

Career Exploration

Demonstrate the ability to use different types of career information resources (i.e., occupational, educational, economic, and employment) to support career planning (NCDG CM3.A2)

Considering Labor Market Information
in Your Career Choice

Career Planning and Management

Identify types of ongoing learning experiences available to you (e.g., two- and four-year colleges, technical schools, apprenticeships, the military online courses, and on-the-job training; (NCDG ED2.K5)

Connecting Education to our Careers

Year 3





Identify skills and personal traits needed to manage your career
(e.g., resiliency, self-efficacy, ability to identify trends and changes, and flexibility; NCDG CM1.K4)

Do You Have The Universal Skills Employers Seek?

Conduct a student-led parent-teacher conference that describes what you have learned about yourself to date, the learning opportunities you need to expand your range of skills, and plans for preparing to successfully transition from high school into adulthood.

Career Exploration

Develop a career plan to meet your career goals. NCDG CM1.A2

Design a travel map that identifies stops along the way as one's main goals and roads identified as the learning opportunities needed to help them continue along to their ultimate destination.

Career Planning and Management

Demonstrate the use of a decision-making model. NCDG CM2.A2

"Purposely Planned or Luck of the Draw"

Year 4





Assess the impact of your life roles on career goals. NCDG PS4.R1

Design a life rainbow with each color representing a different role. The half circle represents the time between birth and later adulthood. Identify what roles will be in play during one's worklife (roughly 25 – 65 years old) and discuss the ways in which these roles are perceived to support or impact one's career experiences

Prepare a senior exit interview presentation for employers and teachers that describe the interests, skills and values you are leaving high school with and the educational pathways you are planning to achieve to pursue your career objective(s).

Career Exploration

Develop a career plan to meet your career goals. NCDG CM1.A1

Navigate your Future

Career Planning and Management

Demonstrate the following job seeking skills: the ability to write a resume and cover letter, complete a job application, interview for a job, and find and pursue employment leads. NCDG CM4.A2

Career Portfolios
Putting it all together: The Career development checklist
Resume builder

Creating a Professional Learning Community Focused on ILPs

One way to support the development of a whole-school ILP implementation plan is to create a professional learning community among individuals identified to represent the key stakeholder  groups.xxv The purpose of the professional learning community is to generate a rich discussion about the scope and sequence plan described above as well as to develop an implementation plan.  Professional learning communities create a ground-up approach to encouraging the implementation of innovative educational strategies that promote improved student outcomes because the impetus for change is coming from educators, not administrators.  Characteristics of an effective professional learning community include: xxvi

  • Establishing a shared definition of the issues and challenges that need to be addressed and a collective understanding of how all educators are responsible for addressing those issues and challenges;
  • Maintaining focus on improving student learning outcomes;
  • Creating opportunities for reflective dialogue; and,
  • Establishing a collaborative enterprise of activity between and among educators.

A professional learning community may be started as an ILP leadership team.  The ILP leadership team should a) develop a common perspective and ILP definition, b) generate the grade-level career development competencies and curriculum, and c) create an implementation plan.  The key challenge of any professional learning community is changing the norms and traditional beliefs in ways that improve student learning outcomes.  While the leaders who initiate the ILP implementation plans may have excellent ideas and may generate innovative strategies, the strategies are likely to stall or fail in improving student learning outcomes unless the leaders gain buy-in from other stakeholders in the ILP process and involve others in generating the action plans.

Using a Project Management System

The ILP leadership team may find it helpful to use a project management system.  A project management system is a strategy designed to help the professional learning community identify how ILPs can support their school goals, establish a plan for gaining buy-in among other educators or organization members, develop innovative action plan strategies, implement the strategies, and evaluate the results.  The System involves four phases:

  • Defining the problem;
  • Designing action plan strategies;
  • Implementing the action plan strategies; and,
  • Evaluating the implementation impact on student outcomes.

In addition, change management associated with communication plans and resource needs are considered for each phase.  Change management refers to two essential elements of the project: communication plans and resource needs.  Communication planning is necessary to initially gain buy-in by other key members of the school or organization.  Communication is vital for keeping all members aware of activities, successes, and changes to the project.  Resource needs refer to the technical resources, time allocations, and financial needs of the project.  Technical resources refer to the professional development needs, software, computing, analysis, and/or report writing aspects of the project. 

The Project Management System is designed to address five areas of resistance to change:  needing a shared vision, requisite skills, resources, incentives, and an action plan.xxvii  To support creating a common vision for using ILPs, the system directs educators to define the problem as to why engaging in ILPs will support the school goals, establish SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely), and create a communication plan to share with other educators, parents, and administrators about the nature of the project and provide implementation updates.  Professional development needs address possible concerns about skills related issues to implementing ILPs such as how to use an online career information system and career development overview, and being aware of roles and responsibilities related to conducting ILPs.  Addressing resources helps the team think about how and when ILP planning and implementation will occur during the school year.  One issue related to scheduling is the use of the computer lab for schools that use online career information systems.  Sometimes there are budget needs related to teacher release time for training or planning.  The team also needs to think about the range of incentives that may be necessary to motivate educators to become involved.  Finally, the action plan needs to articulate the implementation schedule, breakdown the actions into steps, and articulate a regular meeting schedule.

Facilitating School-Wide Discussions Using the Guideposts for Success

Use Common Language:  A common framework is useful for the community of practice to use when developing and implementing plans of action.  Schools or districts can create their own framework or tap into one available from national sources.  To gain buy-in for engaging in whole-school ILP efforts, teachers need to become aware of how they are preparing high school graduates to successfully navigate through post-school challenges and opportunities.  Becoming college and career ready goes beyond the content of a given course and provides an impetus to think about how the curriculum outcomes in each course prepare students to be successful in college or in seeking occupations that offer livable wages. One national framework, the Guideposts for Success, can help educators make the connections between academic preparation tasks and other key areas of student development. Based upon evidence-based research and vetted by over 100 national education and workforce development organizations, the Guideposts for Successoutlines what all youth need to transition to adulthood through examining five critical areas: school-based preparatory experiences; career preparation and work-based learning; connecting activities (e.g., health, mental health, transportation, social services and other community supports); family involvement and supports; and youth development and leadership. All of these areas are essential for helping to make young people college and career ready.  While each teacher may not feel responsible for all areas, it is important that the school as a whole adopt a collective perception of the value in creating learning opportunities that incorporate all five areas of the Guideposts for Success.

One way the Guideposts for Success framework could be used is to divide teachers into small groups and ask them to identify how the school or organization is currently engaged in the various activities described within each of the five Guideposts areas as well as new activities that should be considered.  Once it is clear that there is a collective understanding of how high school education needs to be more strongly connected to college and career readiness outcomes, it is expected that the ILP plan will be more easily accepted. This is because the scope and sequence that was generated will clearly describe both the skill that will be learned and the ILP artifact that will be used to measure whether the skill was learned.

Tracking ILP Progress and Outcomes

In order to know whether students are completing ILP activities, tracking progress is very important.  Commercial career information and college readiness systems often offer tracking as part of their system.  The Universal Encouragement Program is a free access system that enables counselors and other education professionals to collect, report, and analyze key guidance data on students in grades 6-12.  Extensive encouragement services use student self-reports to inform guidance programming, intelligently target student sub-populations, identify students at-risk, and measure the effects of guidance interventions. 

The program generates four types of reports:

  • Individual reports summarize a student’s assessment responses. 
  • Parent/guardian reports foster informed parental involvement by providing a copy of the individual report to parent/guardian(s), when requested by the student. 
  • Group reports summarize student responses for the school or program, providing guidance professionals with group summaries that inform and provide rationale for guidance interventions, program development, and advocacy. 
  • Advanced reports provide disaggregated, factor-based data reports and comparisons between different groups of students.

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xxv Vescio, V., Ross, D., & Adams, A.  (2008).  A review of research on the impact of professional learning communities on teaching practice and student learning.  Teaching and Teacher Education, 24(1), 80-91.  doi:10.1016/j.tate.2007.01.004

xxvi DuFour, R., DuFour, R., & Eaker, B.  (2009).  New insights into professional learning communities at work.  In M. Fullan, M. Fullan (Eds.), The challenge of change: Start school improvement now! (2nd ed.) (pp.  87-103).  Thousand Oaks, CA US: Corwin Press.  Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

xxvii Knoster, T., Villa R., & Thousand, J.  (2000). A framework for thinking about systems change.  In R. Villa & J. Thousand (Eds.), Restructuring for caring and effective education: Piecing the puzzle together (pp.  93-128).  Baltimore: Paul H.  Brookes Publishing Co.

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