The Importance of Teachers, Time, and Training
“Blended learning” is one of those buzzwords that flies around the edu-sphere. Done right, the combination of in-person and online education, often spread between time in school and time at home, has real potential to aid in helping each student learn at their own pace. Done incorrectly, it turns into a frustrating waste of time and money. A pilot project at a handful of schools in Oakland, CA, recently got some attention from Education Next. The story highlights key areas that districts considering blended learning should remember.
The first of these is the central role of teachers in making a pedagogical shift of any kind happen. In the Oakland blended learning example, according to Education Next, “all the teachers within the schools that implemented blended learning were “early adopters” who wanted to try something new.” It’s tough to overstate the significance of voluntary adoption in place of top-down mandates for creating positive changes in teaching. If a change is successful, those early adopters can become local experts, helping other teachers who have become interested master the new approach (especially in schools and districts that prioritize local, teacher-led professional development).
Time is another critical consideration. The roll-out of blended learning in Oakland wasn’t a rush job. It certainly wasn’t the kind of massive, district-wide technology purchase like the $2 million iPad boondoggle in Los Angeles or the bulk iPad purchases many Minnesota districts have made or discussed. Instead, different schools in the Oakland pilot tried different tools, learning from each others' successes and failures. This is the kind of deliberate pacing that allows teachers, principals, and district administrators to learn and make informed choices as they work for change, rather than betting big on one fast, big purchase.
Finally, the Oakland experiment realized the importance of training. Teachers spent at least an extra hour a week on training and collaboration. The foundation footing the bill made specialists available, especially to schools that struggled the most. The current goal is to adapt the early lessons into training and coaching support for expanding the approach.
The importance of teachers, time, and training aren’t just important for blended learning. They’re important to all major changes in how teaching and learning happen in schools. We need a school system that trusts teachers as leaders and gives them the time and training they need to make education better.