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Blended Learning in the Mix: The Engaged Administrator

Jeremy Shorr

Director of Innovation and Educational Technology at Mentor Public Schools
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Editor's Note: Megan Kinsey, Principal of Ridge Middle School in Mentor, Ohio, is the co-author of this post.

Innovate. Differentiate. Teach with rigor. Implement with fidelity. These actions required of today's teachers can seem almost impossible and potentially counterproductive to reaching our missions of getting students ready for "their" future. From the perspective of an administrator, it is challenging to determine where to begin and how to bring your team along with you.

It's very easy to find yourself drowning in the monsoon of educational research available. But one piece of educational research that is hard to dispute is that students learn best in small, targeted instructional groups. As we look further at current research, we see that schools want students to leave their educational program as problem-solvers, collaborators, and effective communicators. As Will Richardson often says, "We want our students to be learners, not learned."

Through a 1:1 program, focusing on the concepts outlined above, our students' educational experience can be new, exciting, and creative. That being said, it all begins with an administrative belief that teachers are the ones who make things happen, and it is the sole responsibility of the administrator to remove barriers and let teachers do what they do best -- teach.

To quote Ohio State's legendary football coach Woody Hayes, "You win with people." Time and time again, initiatives fail and disappear due to trying to get everyone on board and with the same enthusiasm. We believe in cultivating change and innovation in small batches. Getting the right people in the right positions to capitalize on their strengths will ensure implementation. Our teachers "opted into" our blended learning project. This one decision and action proved to be critical in the success of the program and contributed to its expansion in a short period of time.

Removing Barriers

School districts, much like other organizations, can be top-down with mandates and requirements. Going into our program, we had to make a few administrative agreements in order to help this take off. When you're a building-level leader, it can be hard to let go, especially because you are often in the middle of doing what the central office wants you to do and working in the best interests and within the strengths of your staff.

1. Find Out What Barriers Exist

After a pilot program and with the introduction of our vision for student learning, we spent time talking with teachers about what they saw as things that could impede their ability to teach in this environment. Out of these discussions, we discovered that teachers needed time in their day to meet. They needed flexible furniture, they needed IT support -- and they feared failure.

2. Develop and Support a Loose-Tight Framework

Rick DuFour often speaks about the "loose-tight framework" -- choosing those things that can't be compromised (student learning) and not mandating others (how to reach this end goal). Teachers feel empowered when you let them make decisions about what happens in their classrooms. One example is in the area of district-wide common formative assessments. We are firm believers in CFAs and find great value in the information gleaned from these. That being said, if our students regularly engage in self-paced units, how do you stop everything and assess them all? CFAs can't be compromised -- but when, how, and in what form they are given is strictly up to the classroom teachers.

3. Say "Yes" as Much as Possible

A staff full of empowered, motivated teachers is a great problem to have, even if what comes with it are continual requests to do more and change things up. Giving the teachers the go-ahead -- even when it results in more paperwork, going to battle for reprieve from a district mandate, or finding a few more funds or additional evenings -- is always the right thing to do when it's in the best interest of students and innovation in the classroom.

4. Embrace Failure

Our teachers were really afraid of failing and falling flat on their faces with this blended learning initiative. It is our belief that the best learning comes from our failures. Besides, if we didn't do things because of the possibility of failing, none of us would ever do anything new. When we encountered stories of failure and lack of success, we simply responded with, "OK, now what?" The only consequence for failing was not quitting.

The Engaged Administrator

Making the leap into administration can be a very scary thing for a multitude of reasons. The main fear is having teachers say, "You have no idea what it's like to be a teacher." Vowing to never be "that administrator," it was important, especially in this time of change, to get our hands dirty in the trenches alongside our teachers.

1. Walk the Talk

We do not ask teachers to do things that we are not also doing. The most basic example of this was our switch from PC to Mac. Teachers rid themselves of their desktop computers and moved to MacBooks, so it was only fitting that we did the same. This small act can send a powerful message to your team, and it furthers a relationship founded in the belief that we are all in this together.

2. Be Present

Our team has participated in an intensive professional development program. We hold weekly grade level meetings. We're all over Twitter. We do these things in order to share, collaborate, and learn from each other. We remain active participants because we too have much to learn. In order to provide support and implement new ideas with our teachers, it is critical to the process to actually know what we are talking about.

Do you have a 1:1 or blended learning program in your school? How involved are your administrators? Please tell us about it in the comments.

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edJobber's picture

For school leaders to be engaged and support blended learning and encourage teachers to use it, they must have a common understanding of what it is. As well, in order to implement blended learning effectively, administrators must gain a thorough understanding of the best tools, training, and processes necessary for teacher and student success. Having a good understanding of blended learning and a strategic plan for implementing a blended learning program; simply illustrates that the administrator is at the forefront.

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