According to the Oxford English Dictionary, blended learning is a style of education in which students learn via electronic and online media and traditional face-to-face teaching. As stated by Ann McMullan, Project Director for CoSN’s EmpowerED Superintendent Initiative, the world that we have been living in for over the last year or so looks very much like a combination of both.
In a recent edWebinar, sponsored by ClassLink and co-hosted by CoSN and AASA, the presenters talked about leading learning in a blended environment. They address the four critical areas that school leaders must address as outlined in the Leadership for Digital Learning Initiative—technological platforms, human platforms, program management, and communications with all internal and external stakeholders.
School systems need to prepare both their technology and human platforms for new ways of doing things and for continual, ongoing improvements for maximum impact.
In Meriden Public Schools (CT), they are committed to promoting anytime, anywhere learning. Educational content needs to be available outside of the classroom and easy to access. According to the district’s superintendent, Dr. Mark Benigni, their cloud-based solutions, including ClassLink, supports students spending additional time online learning.
Winchester Public Schools (VA) has taken a scaffolding approach to technology. According to Dr. Jason Van Heukelum, Superintendent, “You don’t want to stifle that creativity and innovation with your teachers. It is important to foster that exploration of other digital tools by teachers on their own and then scale up when specific tools are practical and have a lot of momentum.”
The superintendents agreed that one of the challenges of leading in a blended environment is navigating human platforms. In Salem City Schools (VA), in which Dr. Alan Seibert is Superintendent, by honoring diverse content areas and levels, they have built a strong pedagogy around teaching strategies and knit it to the larger district goal. Dr. Van Heukelum concurred. “We are a people-intensive business, and many teachers all come at it with their flavor. If you do not invest in the professional development and the professional learning of teachers, you’re not going to get the most bang for your buck.”
McMullan said, “I think if we’ve learned anything in this pandemic year, it is the importance of communication and being sure that the right message gets out to the right people.” Dr. Seibert’s district gave a lot of thought to who the communication is intended for and uses classroom teachers to communicate messages to parents as often as possible. For Dr. Benigni’s district, the survey mechanism and some face-to-face open forums have been beneficial.
Lessons learned from the three leaders highlighted the positives that have come out of the pandemic. Dr. Van Heukelum said the pandemic accelerated the learning curve for his teachers in many respects, and pedagogically they are in a better place than they were a year ago. Dr. Benigni reflected that what he learned was not about the device itself but how it supports education in the classroom. “The products that work best for us are the partners we’ve always had.” All concurred with Dr. Seibert, who said that building relationships by any means necessary is highly critical, “Some of life’s best lessons are learned a