Professional Development as a Key to Blended Learning Success

In my last posting, I reflected on the last eight years of our one to one journey. As we prepare to enter our ninth year, we are focusing in new ways on one of the most important facets of this program and of all educational initiatives; professional development. There is a diverse set of learners in each school district that need professional learning support. These include district and building level leaders, teachers, technology department staff and more. Each group has specific professional learning needs to allow them to be successful.  This posting will focus on teacher professional development and the blended classroom.

When we started on this journey, none of us realized the importance of a district-wide commitment to professional learning for all staff.  As educational leaders, we need to walk the walk and lead by modeling so that expectations are well articulated.  My personal mantra is ‘change is a process and not an event’ and it helps me to set realistic expectations for our professional learning community even as I struggle to set realistic expectations for my own personal learning.

In a one to one environment with all users having 24x7 ubiquitous access, the possibilities for student and teacher content creation become endless. Our culture of personalized learning provides each of our student learners with a voice to create their content. So how do we then support the teachers in this migration?  We revisit their needs when planning our professional learning opportunities.  We have teacher trainers who conduct turnkey training within their own discipline and content area.  

For the last couple of years, we have had teachers dabbling in the many flavors of blended learning.   We began the process of familiarizing ourselves with the concept of the flipped or blended classroom by taking some of the turnkey trainers to a workshop given by the flipped 'guru', Jonathan Bergmann at the NYSCATE (New York State Association for Computers and Technologies in Education) workshop in White Plains, New York.  We purchased the book, Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day. We then debriefed on take-aways from the workshop and discussed best ways to customize the message for our teachers. Our turnkey trainers began researching the work of other teachers online through TeacherTube, YouTube, Khan Academy and school websites. We then created a network share and made it available to all users through Windows Direct Access. Our teachers could then post and share their videos and resources with students and staff easily on the network. Some excellent resources for educators can be found on the Flipped Learning website. There is a free short course on the pillars of the flipped classroom among many other resources that are posted for all interested educators.

There is good content on the web for meeting learning objectives with students. However, many students have noted that they do prefer hearing the content from their teachers.  Another observation from students is that they enjoy ‘rewinding’ their teachers in an asynchronous mode.

We discovered that there cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to a blended classroom and that blended learning is not the way to deliver direct instruction for all classes. Our teachers have embraced that it is another tool in the toolbox to be used as needed. Some teachers have found excellent content created by a sharing colleague on the web.

The success and dedication to our professional learning opportunities is directly the result of the support of our Superintendent and the Board of Education.  They have created a culture of support and risk taking through the commitment of training, time and funding for our professional learning.

In my next post on professional development, I’ll share our plans to address the needs of the content areas and to personalize the learning for our educators in the upcoming year. 

Marianthe Williams has been a district level administrator supporting teaching and learning with technology and professional learning for the past 15 years. Most recently, she has supported the River Dell Regional School District in the implementation of their one-to-one computing initiative which is about to enter its ninth year at the high school. In addition, she supports technology infusion into the middle school’s learner-centered environment. Williams created an elite team of technology turnkey teacher trainers within each discipline who provide ongoing, personalized options through face- to-face, on-demand and flipped professional learning opportunities to their colleagues. She is active in several state and local technology director associations and she currently serves on the technology committee for the New Jersey Association of School Administrators.

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