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Implementing a Blended Learning Approach to Professional Development

July 19, 2014
Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 1.05.00 PMAs an administrator with responsibility for providing professional development (PD) for certificated and classified staff,  I had the opportunity to be part of a team that implemented a blended model approach to PD the last few years. Working with a county office of education, I had staff located throughout a 50 mile radius. In addition to the challenges that come with being separated by so many miles, staff also had different areas of expertise. While there are many similarities to good teaching across specific student populations, there are also distinct differences to be found in best practices for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, visually impaired, emotionally disturbed or diagnosed with autism. By implementing a blended learning approach to professional development, staff were able to engage in more personalized learning focusing on skills and curriculum that would best support the success of their students. Additionally, this provided staff with greater flexibility to engage in learning and developing their individual areas of expertise at times that worked best for them. It also provided staff who were interested in engaging in further development, resources to guide their learning.

This blended model of professional development incorporated the study of online modules, video, Google presentations, Google forms and Google documents. Teachers and classified staff whose expertise was being developed in supporting students with moderate to severe handicaps chose evidence based practices to study from AIM (Autism Internet Modules. Teachers chose two practices a year that all staff would study and one to two evidence based practices (EBPs) that they would study individually. This course of professional development was supported by two monthly in person meetings.

One meeting was a presentation style lecture led by a guest speaker, expert in developmental disabilities, and the other meeting was a small group gathering with a specific monthly format that allowed teachers to share what was working and not working within their practice in addition to sharing examples and materials from EBPs being used in their classrooms. This approach allowed for a shared base of instructional knowledge on the part of all staff while also allowing teachers the opportunity to develop expertise in areas that were of specific interest to them. Classified staff were provided with the access to the same materials as certificated staff, were invited to the larger monthly meetings and were provided with follow up training by the classroom teacher that focused on the specific implementation of evidence based practices that supported their classroom instruction.

As individual teacher expertise began to grow, a coaching component was added to this model. When a teacher would develop an interest in an area that a colleague had expertise in or encountered a student or situation that would benefit from a another teacher’s area of expertise, release time would be provided for the two staff members to conduct observations of each other’s classrooms and to work together to incorporate the new evidence based practice into the classroom’s instructional model.

In addition to the internet modules, Google presentations and videos were created and presented via an online format. For example, staff studied the evidence based practice of video modeling this past year. The video modeling presentation was was made available for all staff to view and review as per their preference. The presentation  was easily modified to offer suggestions applicable to general education classroom instruction and to provide a guide to consider when creating video models. This presentation was supported with researched based articles for staff to read as well as steps to guide the process of creating a video model for students. The unit ended with a brief reflective assessment and submission of videos that were shared with all staff to use as fit their needs.

The outcome of implementing a blended learning model was a highly skilled and motivated staff who had confidence in their specific areas of expertise, foundational knowledge in over 30 evidence based instructional practices as well as in person and digital resources to access to supplement further learning. Teachers engaged in higher order thinking skills as they evaluated which evidence based practices their students would benefit from the most. They synthesized their knowledge to design instructional programs that incorporated these strategies into the curriculum while creating materials based on the practices they had learned. Additionally, staff began to create video models to support increased student learning.

The blended approach solved several of the logistical challenges of having staff spread across such a significant geographical area. It engaged staff as adult learners, provided flexibility for staff to engage in learning at their convenience while also capitalizing on their professional knowledge of their students’ needs and interests. This supported the implementation of instructional strategies to maximize student’s individual success. Added bonuses to using 2.0 tools and having materials available on the web were that parents and substitute teachers started to access the resources as well. This allowed for greater than expected fidelity of instruction when substitute teachers were in the classroom, particularly when staff was out for coaching. All in all, the implementation of the blended learning model to support professional development proved to be a resounding success with a positive impact on student learning.

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