A student doing the online part of blended learning on her tablet in class.

6 lessons our district learned from our move to blended learning

Follow this district's example and your students will be empowered to take ownership of their learning

Collaboration is a key element to the design-thinking process, but our pilot teachers couldn’t collaborate because their subject areas were too different. This year, we adopted a grade-level cohort model. Every school principal was responsible for creating their cohorts and ensuring those teachers had a common planning time during the day to collaborate. As a district, we also created opportunities for teachers and administrators to collaborate across campuses. Blended learning can require a large time commitment for teachers; the cohort model allows them to share ideas, test instructional models, and reflect on their findings.

Lesson 4: Teachers want feedback sooner than you think.

After training teachers this fall, we encouraged them to implement the models they learned and assured them that the district office was there to support and help them if they needed it. We didn’t want them to feel pressured like they were being evaluated, so while the campuses conducted their own observations, we did only one set of learning walks.

In December, we conducted a survey to gather teacher feedback on the implementation. We were surprised to read that educators wanted more face time with my team. They wanted to see us often and they wanted us in the classroom to help them problem-solve. While I thought we would be pressuring them by coming around too often, they wanted assurance that they were on the right path much earlier than we thought.

Lesson 5: Build capacity in your support staff and other campus team members.

We focused on blended learning with core teachers first and wanted to incorporate our directors of special programs—like the director of bilingual ELLs and director of special education—at a later date. However, we realized they needed to come along on this journey. To help them come on board, we created a “learning series.” This is a mixture of different PD methods, including onsite sessions led by experts who excel in a particular blended-learning practice and collaboration sessions to allow our administrators to learn from each other. The learning series was opened to all our leaders (specialists, central office administrators, principals, and assistant principals) because when people learn together, they come together to support the overarching goal.

We also invited everyone to participate in what Education Elements calls “learning walks” where participants go on-site to observe the blended-learning methods and technology working together. We hosted reflection sessions to discuss how the implementation was going, what we were struggling with, and to outline our next steps. Next year, we plan on implementing a facilitator boot camp to further build capacity for our leaders.

Lesson 6: Open your doors and share your journey.

When we first launched this initiative, families were confused because their children were having a different learning experience than they had had as children. To bridge the gap between their perceptions of education and how it’s been changed and adjusted, we hosted showcases for parents and for our school board so the entire community could see blended learning in action.

Related: Leave little to chance with a discovery-driven approach to blended learning

To share our process with neighboring districts who could benefit from starting similar initiatives, we partnered with Education Elements and Google for Education Texas to host a one-day PD event in December called The National Academy for Personalized Learning. About 60 education professionals representing 17 different entities, including school districts, charter schools, and education service centers attended the event. Google led a session on design thinking and Education Elements demonstrated a “station rotation” blended-learning model and discussed how to foster innovation. I participated in a panel that included our superintendent, our technology director, one of our pilot teachers, and one of his students. Attendees had the opportunity to ask questions about the challenges of blended learning and the strategies we used to overcome them.

Our blended learning journey has been underway for several years and we’re happy with the growth we’ve seen to-date, and look forward to learning more as we continue with our blended learning initiative.

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