After spending seventeen years of my career as a classroom teacher, four years ago, I was hired for my first administrative position. Nevertheless, I continue to find that at the core of my being, I am a teacher. Having had the chance to mentor both new and experienced teachers in my administrative role, I have become aware of the skills and insights that I have as a part of my repertoire and how to share these with other educators. I am also highly cognizant of the fact, that once out of the classroom we, as educators, must stay knowledgeable with current as well as innovative practices that have the potential to be “disruptive” to our profession. Disruptive is used here to reference the work of both Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn, both of the Christensen Institute, who have collaborated to explain how new technologies can enter a market such as education. Through success with a previously untapped base, “disruptive” technologies and practices can grow to introduce effective innovations in a market that previously may have been inaccessible.
Online and blended teaching models have been a “disruptive” force in education. These models have tapped into students who have experienced struggles with the more traditional brick and mortar school system and traditional lecture style approaches to education. Online programs tapped into the market of students requiring credit recovery to graduate from high school. Given the opportunity to learn at their own pace, at a time that worked for them and with access to a computer and the internet, online learning made a significant impact in assisting students to earn their high school diplomas. This same approach was used by students who were receiving home school instruction or who required accelerated course work.
The successes did not go unnoticed and educators began to incorporate online learning within the more traditional education structure. Thus the blended learning model was born. As I reflect on how I might incorporate a blended model of instruction into my own practice as an administrator in the field of education, I see the opportunity to use this pedagogical structure to enhance professional development opportunities for staff and model how to incorporate a blended approach to a previously more traditional classroom.
Let the days of boring staff meetings be gone. Let those of feelings of our time as educators being wasted disappear. Welcome, the blended model of teacher professional development and staff meetings. I believe face to face time with staff and as a group continue to be essential components of site based communication and identity, however, using a blended approach, similar to the rotation model of a blended learning environment, could allow staff to more effectively use their preparation and professional development time. Let’s give staff access to announcements via video (and let’s make those videos entertaining), engage in discussions through a Google+ Community and focus on personalized learning to enhance individual teaching practice via internet modules and readings. In-person meetings and professional development or guest speakers via Skype or Google Hangout can be enhanced through back-channeling via Twitter discussions or by using Today’s Meet to comment and ask questions. Staff can comment, ask and answer questions for one another and share resources without ever interrupting the flow of a presentation. The level of engagement increases dramatically when the learner has the opportunity to actively engage in a presentation. These approaches offer a more effective method than the previous, “Write your question down on a piece of paper so you don’t forget it and wait until the end of the presentation,” expectation.
In order to engage staff in a blended approach to staff meetings and professional development, it is essential that the staff know how to access and use each of the technologies that will be incorporated. This requires planning and training in addition to well prepared materials to present to staff. It was not uncommon in my teaching experience to hear from the principal during lunch on a staff meeting day that the agenda for the afternoon had not yet been set. This led to the perception that administration did not place a high value on the opportunity to meet with the staff which was often reinforced by overly general agendas with a lot of “discussion” topics being made available at the time of the meeting. By incorporating a blended approach to staff meetings and PD, administration has to engage in thoughtful planning. Creating a rotation to include activities such as meeting as a large group, taking on online courses, creating an innovative lesson to share in an online community or reading an article and discussing it in a community create opportunities for increased engagement and personally relevant PD.
The intention would be that by modeling the skills and strategies used in an effective blended model of staff development and communication, staff would feel positive about their higher level of engagement as well as feel increased respect for their personal expertise within the profession. This would allow for discussion on how students could share in the same experience. Using the tools of the blended model, part of the PD would be to learn, discuss, create and share lessons and ideas for relevant, rigorous and engaging learning.