Statewide Implementation of Blended Classrooms: Four Keys to Success
When I taught in a large public school district, the first meetings after a short summer break were often full of surprises. Staff members, instructional coaches, and curricula frequently shifted, often within the context of leadership changes and new instructional initiatives. At times these initiatives felt unsupported, with one-and-done professional development sessions meant to sustain a year’s worth of practice. Perhaps more damaging, they could seem disjointed from one another and disconnected to the instructional challenges at hand. It became all too easy for teachers to disengage as the year went on and we awaited the next new thing.
Our statewide work in Pennsylvania demands deep consideration about these types of experiences as teachers and students manage the transition to blended learning for the first time. The Pennsylvania Hybrid Learning Initiative (PA HLI) spans 14 schools across several school districts in the central and eastern parts of the state. We work with Dellicker Strategies, a Pennsylvania-based strategic consulting firm, to coordinate support for schools through Pennsylvania’s Intermediate Units as well as Harrisburg University. It’s the type of project that maximizes the strengths of each organization, but also carries the danger of overlaps in implementation or gaps in support.
So how do we ensure that teachers are invested and supported in making a meaningful, sustainable shift to a blended classroom?
- Clarify Roles and Responsibilities – The first step is to understand who does what. Before we’re at a point where the various organizations engage with schools, it’s critical to know where responsibilities lie. Across the many organizations involved in PA HLI, we have clear guidelines about support for each school pertaining to design and content selection, setup processes, teacher professional development, ongoing instructional and technical support, and program evaluation. Above all, it’s critical that all stakeholders are aligned on the roles and responsibilities on both the school side and our side.
- Engage Early and Think Deeply About Design – Blended learning is not simply about integrating technology into the classroom. It’s a pedagogical shift that can impact everything from classroom setup to bell schedules to how schools analyze data. It’s critical to invest PA HLI partners in these conversations with school leaders and teachers long before school lets out for the summer. In other words, no August surprises – our design work wraps up early so that school leaders have the time to make the necessary infrastructure, scheduling, and professional development investments that prepare teachers for success on Day 1 and beyond.
- Train Efficiently, Train Effectively – There is nothing more frustrating for a teacher than 8 hours of professional development with 2 hours of useful information. Through PA HLI we’ve supported the design of professional development sessions with Intermediate Units, Harrisburg University, and content providers to try to provide relevant, engaging sessions that prepare teachers for success. And we’re using what we learned this summer to continue to refine our collective approach.
- Support, Support, Support – Once students arrive, even the most carefully planned implementation will bring forth many unforeseen challenges and opportunities. We keep in consistent contact with school leaders to handle questions as they arise, with the Intermediate Units and Dellicker team on the ground gathering teacher input as well. Through webinars, in-person sessions, and an online community, we maintain a constant feedback loop in order to inform ongoing improvements in our work with schools and PA HLI partners. This commitment to reflection and continuous improvement keeps engagement high and thinking fresh.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of working on a collaborative initiative like PA HLI is learning from the various partners as we continue to refine our approach to supporting effective classrooms. In the last few months we’ve had the opportunity to assist schools with student surveys and focus groups, facilitate conversations with Intermediate Units on classroom management strategies, and provide the Dellicker team with data that informs a comprehensive program evaluation framework so schools can gauge the impact of their investment in blended learning. Kevin Dellicker wrote a great article on our collaborative efforts to integrate innovative technology and teaching methods in over a dozen Pennsylvania schools.
But with every action we take as a collective I find it helpful to keep two partners and one question at the forefront – how will this be experienced by teachers and students?