[Editor’s Note: This story is Part 1 of our April series on Blended Learning. Check back every Thursday this month for the next installment!]
Too often, educators who are considering investing in blended learning pull back after hearing horror stories of good programs gone bad. Whether it’s botched rollouts, network snafus, or general apathy that kills an initiative, many telling signs can be traced back to the planning and initial support stages.
We won’t pretend that our district has everything figured out, but after seven years of blended learning, going 1:1 at our four secondary schools and all fifth grades, and having our model elementary school recognized by the International Center for Education and Learning, Meriden Public Schools has seen rising graduation and attendance rates, and we are better off than we were before our blended journey began.
As we have discovered through trial and plenty of errors, without staff and community buy-in, many otherwise well-intentioned programs hit the skids before they’ve really gotten up to speed. We are proud to share some of the challenges we’ve encountered, along with best practices for ensuring that your program remains on the road to success.
1. Some programs start too fast.
Creating a successful blended learning program isn’t a race, and ours has taken nearly a decade to achieve. When we began our foray into blended learning about seven years ago, nobody was even talking about a device program, and the thought of going 1:1 seemed light-years away from where we were. Instead of jumping in feet first, we laid the groundwork and did the small things we thought we could accomplish.
We upgraded our WiFi, making it more robust than ever, and prepared for future growth. Then we implemented a district-wide BYOD program where kids as young as kindergarten were bringing in devices to share with their class. But as a district with a large free-and-reduced meals program, we knew BYOD was leaving gaps in access that were best addressed by going 1:1.
Now, all secondary students are issued a Chromebook that is theirs to keep—even during the summer. We use Chromebook carts for K-5 students and offer iPad carts that teachers can check out on demand.
2. There’s no staff buy-in.
Teachers are understandably wary about fly-by-night initiatives that take time and attention away from their teaching and give back little appreciable benefits. We wanted to make sure our teachers would embrace the change, see its benefit, and be comfortable with what we were asking them to do.
In response, we created a tech team from among our staff to help advise the teachers and students with questions as they came up. We also used students as on-site coaches to help teachers and peers with any tech issues. Providing that on-site support allowed us to offer tiered interventions for our staff.
We were clear and upfront with sharing the data collected. We want our teachers to see the success. By sharing this information openly, we showed teachers that students really were progressing at higher levels.