The Key to Quality Blended Learning? Ongoing Professional Learning

| By Minna H. Heilpern

This summer, the DigitalJLearning Network enjoyed the distinct pleasure of taking 16 educators, from 16 different schools, to the 2014 ISTE Conference in Atlanta, GA. We asked each participant to share what they learned with you, our readers, here on our blog. Minna H. Heilpern, Assistant Principal of General Studies in Grades 3-5 at Yavneh Academy, shares her reflections in this fourth installment of our blog series.

Attending ISTE 2014 in Atlanta, GA was an extraordinary learning experience and I am grateful that I was able to be part of it. We were exposed to so many incredible ideas and inspiring educators from across the country. My mind is still spinning from it all!

Having the opportunity to explore blended learning (BL) through the ISTE experience reinforced for me how interconnected it is with project based learning (PBL). When dynamically utilizing it as part of one’s teaching methodology, as well as a way for students to ‘show what they know,’ the opportunity for deep learning grows. But it must be employed thoughtfully and skillfully.

In Alan November’s session, “Learn to Learn: First 5 Days of School,” he highlighted six key questions a teacher should ask themselves in order to create authentic, learning experiences for students that inspire their passion to learn:

  1. Did the assignment create capacity for creativity on the web?
  2. Did the assignment reach new areas of teaching students to develop new lines of inquiry?
  3. Are there opportunities to broaden the perspective of the conversation with authentic audiences from around the world?
  4. Is there an opportunity for students to publish, across the various media, with an opportunity for continuous feedback?
  5. Is there an option or focus for students to create a contribution (i.e. purposeful work)?
  6. Were students introduced to who is "the best in the world" for content and skills?

To me, the next question is, how can we, as leaders in our schools, ensure that BL will be successfully incorporated into our school’s culture? I believe that in order for BL (or any other teaching strategy that is introduced to teachers) to be effectively utilized, professional development must occur. 

What might this kind of professional development (PD) look like?

  • Training and ongoing support for teachers:  both in-house, as well as attendance at conferences and seminars. It cannot be a ‘one and done’ PD experience.
  • Training and support for the administrative team so they are adequately equipped to assist their teachers.
  • Frequent opportunities for teachers to share their successes and frustrations with each other. When done with the guidance of the school’s tech team (if the school has one), teachers can receive immediate feedback and support, as well as be directed to apps and websites that will enhance their teaching and student learning.
  • Visiting each other’s classrooms within a school to observe how their colleagues are incorporating BL, with dedicated time to debrief their learnings.
  • Building a network of other BL teachers in other schools by visiting their classrooms to see BL in action. Meeting with the teachers both, face to face as well as virtually, to share their experiences and learn from each other.
  • Sharing good websites for self-guided learning like Graphite.org, a free service for educators from Common Sense Media. It provides “unbiased and rigorous reviews of apps, games, and websites and digital curricula rated for learning potential.” They also offer PD videos, which are self-paced online tutorials for teachers.

I am sure there are additional ways to ensure the successful integration of blended learning. It would be great to hear what others are doing to support their teachers in effectively incorporating it in their teaching.

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