7 ways to prepare incoming teachers for blended learning

Expert tells teachers it’s not about technology; blended learning is a mindset

teachers-blended-learningIn keeping with the recent professional development reform of focusing less on technology skills that are constantly changing and more on mindset and 21st century pedagogy, the key to training incoming teachers for a school utilizing blended learning is not how to use the software, but more ‘what does the school hope to accomplish with blended learning?’

“What you’re basically training pre-service teachers to do is plan schooling backwards,” explained Dr. Tim Hudson, senior director of curriculum design at DreamBox Learning and former K-12 math curriculum coordinator and district strategic planning facilitator at Parkway Schools.

According to Hudson, there are eight things incoming teachers should consider for the implementation and use of blended learning in schools, and none of them have to do with Step 1: Turn on computer.

(Next page: 8 ways to prepare incoming teachers)

1. Know the school’s mission and the “unspokens.”

It’s important to know what the school’s mission is because, ultimately, the teacher’s mission is the school or district’s mission, said Hudson.

However, it’s equally important to know any unspoken associations with that mission. For example, many times when the school’s mission is “to ensure success for all students. We will do whatever it takes to ensure their success” the unspoken is: “…provided we don’t have to change the schedule, modify any of our existing practices, or adopt any new practices.”

Or, if the school’s mission is “It is our mission to help all students,” perhaps the unspoken is “…if they are conscientious, responsible, attentive, developmentally ready, fluent in English, and come from homes with concerned parents who take an interest in their education.”

“It’s important to know these bad habits before entering a school, so that way a teacher will know in what context blended learning might be used,” explained Hudson. “For instance, blended learning could be a way to change the schedule or existing practices and the school may be both excited and uncomfortable with this prospect.”

2. Know the school’s structure.

For Hudson, who wrote his thesis on why new teachers often leave teaching after five years, one of the biggest reasons new teachers leave quickly is because they don’t know how the school is structured and what their teaching practices mean on a larger scale.

“An ideal school structure would be a pyramid, with mission and vision as the base; followed by learning principles; then curriculum and assessment systems; then progress monitoring and instructional practices; then evaluation and PD; followed by personnel and hiring; with policies, structures, governance and resource allocation at the tip,” he described, “but for many schools, this pyramid is flipped and policies and resources come first.”

Hudson recommends that incoming teachers know what the school’s structure is like and how blended learning, as well as how much emphasis is placed on blended learning, fits into the structure.

“Schools should see blended learning as a means to an end to help accomplish the school’s mission, not as just another practice for technology’s sake.”

3. Know that pedagogy never goes away.

Many times, teachers and school leaders see blended learning as a way to give teachers free time, since the software included with blended learning often is both interactive and adaptive; however, this doesn’t mean students don’t need teachers.

“Blended learning means the pedagogy doesn’t disappear, it just transforms. Teachers become more of a facilitator rather than lecturer, and while that may save time, it doesn’t mean you don’t teach,” noted Hudson.

(Next page: Ways 4-7)

4. Technology doesn’t automatically mean personalized.

Not all blended learning programs are created equal, emphasized Hudson, with some software still relying on antiquated assessment systems.

“One example of this is some gradebook software,” he explained. “The software monitors progress only in percentages and final grades, rather than measuring progress over time or qualitative feedback. Pre-service teachers should know that just because there’s tech doesn’t make it a great program.”

5. Ask yourself these 2 key questions:

A. In what ways do your students control when they learn (time of day), when they learn (pace), where they learn, and how they engage with their learning?

“Be thoughtful of student scheduling of other classes and extra-curriculars,” said Hudson. “Spending big chunks of time on one subject or activity is not always best for everyone.”

B. What happens in your classroom that students cannot get on the internet (or anywhere else)?

“An example of this is by teaching the quadratic equation: Why should a student have to sit in class to hear a lecture on the equation’s definition when they can watch a video on the explanation and use class time to discuss the equation with the teacher and practice the equation?” said Hudson.

6. Know the different blended learning models.

Technology skills can be learned over time, but it’s the mission of blended learning, as well as its forms, that will help incoming teachers the most, noted Hudson.

“Do you prefer a flipped classroom or an enriched-virtual? What kind of model does your school most often support? Does this model fit best for the goals of your students?” he said.

[Read “Four must-read blended learning models.” http://www.eschoolnews.com/2013/10/22/blended-learning-models-186/]

7. Focus on the principles and outcomes of learning, not the bells and whistles.

“Again, always keep in mind that blended learning is a means to an end, and it’s one of many mean to an end,” said Hudson. If the model isn’t working, or if it’s not reaching the school’s desired mission goals, it may be best to try another model of learning.

“Too often contemporary school reform efforts focus on various means: structures, scheduling, PD, curriculum, and instructional practices [such as cooperative learning, blended learning, iPads, et cetera],” concluded Hudson. “Certainly such reforms serve as the fuel for the school improvement engine, but they must not be mistaken as the destination, which is improved learning. Student needs as an individual must come first.”

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