Big Picture Learning’s 10 Distinguishers

Our school is designed around Big Picture Learning’s 10 Distinguishers.

One Student at a Time

Shafer Museum Books“The entire learning experience is personalized to each student’s interests, talents and needs. Personalization expands beyond mere academic work and involves looking at each student holistically.”

Personalization is at the core of what we do at ILC. Each of our students has their own learning plan, written by the student with support from their advisor and family members. The learning plans outline their visions for the short and long term future and goals to support these visions. Students then design projects and activities to support their goals. This process requires a high level of ownership of learning, which students develop deeply over time.

Advisory Stucture

Independent Learning Center Advisory“Advisory is the core organizational and relational structure of a Big Picture Learning school, its heart and soul, often described as a “second family” by students. Students stay with an advisor and a group of fellow classmates for two years, building close personal relationships that last a lifetime.”

Students are split into two Advisories at ILC. These groups meet at least three times weekly to design learning plans and projects, share about “leaving to learn” experiences, strive to understand the world outside of school, build culture, and prepare for life after high school.

Learning Through Interests and Internships (LTIs)

Independent Learning Center - Pinetooth Press Visit“Real world learning is best accomplished in the real world. Big Picture students intern–often twice a week for an entire school day–with experts in their field of interest, completing authentic projects and gaining experience and exposure to how their interests intersect with the real world.”

ILC students are supported in a variety of Leaving to Learn activities, from job shadows and internships to group adventures to internships. The Internship Coordinator assists students in exploring their interests and engaging with community mentors. We’re fortunate to have a broad community of mentors working alongside our students to provide learning opportunities in diverse areas of interest.

Parent and Family Engagement

Blum Family“Parents are welcome and valued members of the school community and play a proactive role in their children’s learning, collaborating in the planning and assessment of student work. They use their assets to support the work of the school, and often play an integral role in building relationships with potential LTL mentors.”

ILC parents and family members meet with students and Advisors to provide feedback about learning plans, attend exhibitions to contribute to assessment, and are welcome to share expertise with students through Leaving to Learn activities.

School Culture

Independent Learning Center - Project Car“In Big Picture schools, there is palpable trust, respect and equality between and among students and adults. Students take leadership roles in the school, and teamwork defines the adult culture. Student voice is valued in the school decision making process and visitors are struck by the ease with which students interact with adults.”

As a community, ILC students and staff take part in culture building activities on and off campus, these are often led by students. We respond to conflict and harm using Restorative Practices. Student voice and choice guide many of the activities in Advisory. The implementation of Restorative Practices has improved school culture by enabling healthy conflict resolution and relationship building. Our internship program connects students with caring, knowledgeable mentors for projects, internships, and life beyond high school.

Authentic Assessment

Independent Learning Center - Student Motorcycle Project“Students are assessed not by tests, but by public displays of learning that track growth and progress in the student’s area of interest. Assessment criteria are individualized to the student and the real world standards of a project. Students present three exhibitions each year and discuss their learning growth with staff, family members, peers, community members, and mentors.”

Throughout each learning cycle, students collect evidence of their individual growth, both personal and academic. Through thoughtful reflection, they prepare to present their growth. This growth can be through student led work, teacher led workshops, and experiences in the real world. These assessments, called Exhibitions, take place three times each year.

School Organization

“Schools are organized around a culture of collaboration and communication. They maintain flexibility with time and space, modifying the use of buildings, schedules, bells, and calendars. There is an interdependence between school and community.”

Students show growth through interest based and internship projects, integrating academic pursuits with passion based learning. An important development in the course of our journey is the waiver from credits we were granted by the State Board of Education. This waiver allows us to graduate students based upon their growth in competencies, rather than earning of credits. This is a unique opportunity afforded to us by the state, and has allowed us to really explore what innovation looks like. ILC students and staff advocate for student centered education in a variety of ways.


ILC State Capitol Tour“Leadership is shared and spread between a strong, visionary principal; a dedicated, responsible team of advisors and other staff; and students. The community functions as a democracy. A pervasive sense of shared ownership drives a positive culture dedicated to ongoing improvement.”

At ILC, leadership is shared between a part-time principal who also serves as an advisor, a teacher leader, and student leaders. All staff engage in the visioning and continuous development of a program that meets the needs of all students.

Post-Secondary Planning

“Students develop plans that contribute to their future success–be it through college, trades, schools, travel, the military, or the workforce.”

A focus on post high school opportunities exposes students to a variety of options for life after high school. We take students on one to two college tours a year, and spend significant time in Advisory exploring post high school pathways.

Professional Development

Independent Learning Center Staff“Regular advisor PD is conducted at each school by principals, other school staff, and BPL staff and coaches. A Big Picture School is a community of lifelong learners who embrace continuous improvement.”

All ILC staff engage in regular professional development supported by Big Picture, as well as use staff Learning Plans for individual goal setting and development. Staff consider feedback from students and families to revisit school programing and assess the quality of student experiences at ILC.

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