Guest Blog: The Journey begins for Ohio educators in the Leadership in Blended Learning Program

Editor’s Note: The Ohio Blended Learning Network kicked off its first session of the Leadership in Blended Learning in June with a gathering of principals and administrators in Central Ohio. Guiding that group is Stephanie Hollar, a facilitator trained in the program to bring skills and knowledge to principals so they can lead blended learning initiatives in their buildings. We asked Stephanie to share her thoughts about the program, blended learning, and the challenge these principals face as they begin to work through this program.

By Stephanie Hollar

Blended Learning. Is it just the new buzz-term in education? Another form of educational jargon that will prompt us to spend more money, more time and more resources toStephanie Hollar take us down yet another dead end path to nowhere? If not strategically implemented, it might be, and leading Central Ohio administrators taking part in the first ever national Leadership in Blended Learning cohort know it.

The transformation from traditional to modern education (currently deemed Blended Learning) has reached a tipping point that necessitates an overhaul in how we educate students and set up the systems, schedules, and functions of daily school life as we know it. This is no small change for our education system. If not purposefully and strategically implemented, money, time and resources can be wasted.

That’s why this group of forward-thinking central Ohio administrators, whose schools are members of the Ohio Blended Learning Network, jumped at the offer from Andrew Benson, executive director of Smarter Schools and the Ohio Blended Learning Network to join a six-month intensive blended course developed by the Friday Institute of North Carolina State University. This course, Leadership in Blended Learning (LBL), was developed by the Friday Institute in conjunction with a partnership with the Learning Accelerator. It was designed to support principals and other building leaders who are leading the transition to blended learning environments in their buildings and districts. Originally piloted across North Carolina, the LBL course is now a pilot running nationwide.

I was honored (along with about 12 others from the state of Ohio) to be sent to NC State by the Ohio Blended Learning Network and the ESC of Central Ohio to be trained as a facilitator of this pilot course. Nearly 75 leaders from across the country assembled to become trained to facilitate the LBL course.

I was able to spend the week not only learning the intricacies of the course but also collaborating and networking with participating leaders from my own state as well as those from California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, and Rhode Island. Once trained, facilitators were charged with coming back to their home states to organize and facilitate the pilot course. Because the program was piloted in North Carolina last year, we are benefiting greatly from what they learned from that experience. Additionally, as we take part in year two of the pilot, our cohort members will also be providing the Friday Institute with valuable feedback to continue to improve the quality of the experience and value of the take-away for participants.

By the completion of the course, all participants will come away with a road map that defines their vision, and next steps for implementation of quality blended learning. As participants think through and create plans to move the work forward they focus on five major areas: defining blended learning, creating a culture for blended learning, shifting teaching and learning, supporting teachers through professional learning and implementing and sustaining blended learning.

For me, the opportunity to connect with others across the country makes the LBL course a powerful learning experience. Not only do I have continued access and networking capabilities with those in attendance from the facilitator training, but all participants in the course have access to hundreds of participants across the country from which to learn and collaborate.

The Friday Institute has designed a powerful blended course that allows the participants to experience first hand the role of the “student” in quality blended learning. Participants take part in 5 full face-to-face days over the next six months and are required to complete online pre and post work for each session in addition to communicating and collaborating online. The responsive, highly qualified team of educators at the Friday Institute provides facilitator support and mentorship for me, and maintains an online presence with course participants. Their commitment to preparing and connecting principals and other building leaders is commendable and exciting to me.

I see so often in my work that districts are quick to assume principals don’t need support in how to implement and sustain high quality blended learning. If support is provided at all, it’s usually for teachers. However, I’ve found that principals who don’t have an educated vision of what quality blended learning looks like and don’t have the opportunity to learn from other districts about what is working and not working, severely limit the opportunity and ability to build capacity and sustain the implementation of quality blended learning in their building.

I commend the principals and other building leaders involved in this cohort for making this a priority. In their position of leadership time is scarce, and taking part in this cohort speaks volumes about their commitment to their students, teachers and all other stakeholders.

In our central Ohio cohort, the stage is set to promote innovation and creative problem solving. The leaders in our cohort have met twice and each time I’ve been energized and excited about the potential the LBL program has to impact the quality of education in our state and in our nation. We harness the power of varying levels of experience, knowledge and wisdom of our cohort members to collaborate and push one another in thinking differently about the design and delivery of educational experiences. As Henry Ford is once rumored to have said, “If I would have asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. We’re charging the members of our cohort to rethink the way we do school. Innovating means being vulnerable to failure. However, if we do not step up and meet the challenge of change before us we will fail our students and our future.

As a leader of this cohort, my goal is to see members grow and learn to be better able to support those that look to them for leadership around this work so blended learning becomes more than just the new “buzz-term” in education. Strategically approached and implemented, blended learning will actually save us time, money and resources while we improve educational experiences for students in the 21st Century.

Stay tuned and follow us on Twitter at #LBLOH and through the Ohio Blended Learning Network.

Some Highest Hopes and Greatest Fears identified by Central Ohio Cohort Participants around implementation of quality blended learning. Do any of these resonate with you?

 

Hopes Fears
●      Have a positive impact around student learning

●      Ultimate success of full blended learning with data driven differentiation

●      Teachers will find success and feel excited about building growth this year bcs of blended learning

●      This will be a great vehicle for moving vision forward

●      Teachers will begin to use technology to design instruction more than drill and kill

●      We should have been doing this two years ago

●      Limited Time

●      Our current systems will crush the implementation of blended learning

●      We put cart before horse

●      Momentum for blended learning will push the pace of change faster than teacher buy in

Stephanie Hollar is logging her second decade in blended learning, having founded a blended learning school in Ohio in 2000 – before blended learning was really “a thing.” She is co-founder of connectingEd, a Columbus-based professional development consulting organization serving schools and other educational organizations in professional development, instructional coaching and educational consulting. She serves as a facilitator of the Leadership in Blended Learning in Ohio for the Ohio Blended Learning Network and the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio.

 

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Ohio on cutting edge of blended learning practices

OBLN grant puts Ohio as one of seven in new national blended learning pilot

This month, more than 70 educators from 16 Ohio school districts will begin six months of a program that at its completion will put them ahead of their peers in knowing how to advance blended learning.

These principals and administrators are part of the Leadership in Blended Learning program provided by the Ohio Blended Learning Network through a grant from the Friday Institute at North Carolina State University. An additional three Ohio school districts will get started this fall with the Mentor Public Schools, which is a partner on the Ohio grant. In all, more than 100 Ohio principals and administrators will have started or gone through the program by the end of the year.

This job-embedded professional learning experience was developed by the Friday Institute, which had previously created and delivered a similar professional development program for principals in North Carolina. The Learning Accelerator (TLA), a national non-profit shepherding high-quality blended learning, saw that the work of the Friday Institute filled a gap in the development of blended learning, that being having principals who could support and lead on blended learning initiatives in their buildings.

TLA funded the Friday Institute to develop curriculum for this national pilot. OBLN was one of seven to receive the grant, valued at more than $300,000, and joins educators across the country as they advance blended learning.

The other six organizations that received Leadership in Blended Learning grants are as follows: Fulton County Schools, GA;
Greeley-Evans School District 6, CO;
LEAP Innovations, Chicago, IL;
Rhode Island Association of School Principals, RI;
Rocketship Education, CA, TN;
and Rogers Family Foundation, in Partnership with Oakland Unified School District, CA.

Facilitators from each of the grantees received intensive training in Raleigh, N.C. earlier this year. The facilitators from the Ohio Blended Learning Network were already experienced technical assistance providers.

In Southwest Ohio, the facilitators are Lynn Ochs, Senior Learning Designer at the Mayerson Academy, and Trisha Underwood, Curriculum and Instruction Supervisor at the West Clermont Local Schools. In Central Ohio, they are Stephanie Hollar and Sarah Folzenlogen, consultants at connectingEd. Mentor Public Schools has several facilitators as well.

The course, delivered in a blended learning format, is rolled out in five modules over five to six months, resulting in an action plan for principals to use in their buildings to advance blended learning.

The key questions that will be addressed in the learning experience include:

  • What is blended learning?
  • How do I establish a culture for blended learning in my school?
  • What support do teachers need to transition to blended learning?
  • What systems need to be in place for a successful blended learning transition?
  • How do I plan for sustainability of the blended learning initiatives?

My hope is that the course and ongoing technical assistance to participating schools and districts will result in building significant capacity in the state to begin to deliver at scale high-quality blended learning in the state.

The participants represent a cross-section of school districts across three regions, each with differing levels of experience in blended learning.

In Central Ohio, 42 participants are from Delaware City Schools, Gahanna-Jefferson Local Schools, Grandview Heights City Schools, Marysville Exempted Village Schools, Olentangy Local Schools, Reynoldsburg City Schools, and Worthington City Schools.

In Southwest Ohio, 30 participants are from Batavia Local Schools, Deer Park Community City Schools, Forest Hills Local Schools, Loveland City Schools, Madeira City Schools, Mariemont City Schools, Milford Exempted Village Schools, West Clermont Local Schools, and Wyoming City Schools. Most of these school districts are members of the High AIMS Consortium.

An additional participant is from the Hamilton County Educational Service Center.

Later this year in Northern Ohio, nine participants from Vermilion Local Schools, Perkins Local Schools, and Antwerp Local Schools will get underway with the principals and administrators at Mentor Public Schools.

In all, this first round of professional development includes districts representing nearly 100,000 students. A second cohort beginning in December is being planned by the Ohio Blended Learning Network, and we will bring forward more details soon on how to be considered for that cohort.

In the end, Ohio will be able to provide a significant advantage to students in those buildings where the principals and teachers can make the shift to high-quality blended learning. That shift can result in teachers being able to use existing resources more effectively, resulting in greater personalization of learning for students.

Ohio already has great examples in some districts and some classrooms. Now, the state is poised to build an infrastructure that can support and scale blended learning to the building and district level in most several regions.

Stayed tuned.

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Time for state to take the lead in blended learning

The popularity of blended learning – and the use of the word, “blended learning” – has risen tremendously over the past five years, (though the term was coined some 15 years ago.) Today, blended learning holds the promise that teachers can reach every student with what he or she needs by extending that teacher’s reach through the use of technology.

Most have settled on a version of the following definition of blended learning:

“Blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control over time, place, path and/or pace, and at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home.”

That leaves a lot of flexibility in how a school or district or teachers approach blended learning, which is a good thing, but it also leaves a lot of room for flexibility, which can be a bad thing. Since there are no Blended Learning Police, lots of programs that merely provide computers are being called blended learning, but some educators haven’t really figured out how to integrate those computers into instruction.

That’s because high-quality blended learning posits a shift in teaching and learning from the traditional model of lectures, worksheets, occasional projects, a pop quiz, and more worksheets. That shift, done right, results in students starting to move at their own pace, starting to select what they learn, and seeing their progress through skills and competency and not just through course completion.

Making that shift, though, can be hard work, and it can take some time. Just ask Reynoldsburg City Schools, which has had consultants in several buildings (including blended learning experts Education Elements) over the past two-plus years helping teachers make that shift. This suburban Columbus school district has visionary leaders and the attention and resources of the national blended learning advocate, The Learning Accelerator.

But not all schools and districts in Ohio can get that kind of help right now. Even with the $250 million Straight A Fund in Ohio funding innovation over the past two years, only 21 of the 61 funded innovation projects incorporate some aspect of digital learning, and it remains to be seen whether these projects have the expertise that will result in high-quality blended learning leading to personalization.

Ohio has been, however, taking incremental steps to encourage blended learning. Senate Bill 316, passed in 2012, offered a new definition of blended learning, allowed for districts to operate all or part of a school using a blended learning model, required the State Board of Education to revise operating standards to allow blended learning classrooms exemptions from certain rules, like student-teacher ratios, and permitted schools to be classified as blended learning schools. (Disclosure: I was part of a team to put some of these elements of SB316 into place.)

The draft operating standards being considered by the State Board of Education hold great promise of spurring meaningful personalization on the ground. The draft standards would set the stage for student-centered learning through blended learning – if districts have the capacity to deliver it.

But the state seems largely passive right now in providing technical support to schools and districts as they clamor for more blended learning. High turnover at the Ohio Department of Education and a need to ramp up blended learning expertise leave the state not quite ready to take the lead in supporting the growing interest in blended learning.

But there is a path the state can take to provide that support in a just-in-time approach, and there are organizations that are laying out the steps the state can take to be the supporter that schools and districts need to do blended right.

The Learning Accelerator, a California-based non-profit, has made its mission to support high-quality blended learning demonstrations, and it just released its state framework to help guide the discussion around what states can and should do. Rhode Island, with support from TLA, is an early adopter state to make all its classrooms blended learning.

These steps call for setting out a comprehensive vision for blended and personalized learning, and assessing that vision against the policies and regulations governing the work of educators. They also call for demonstration projects on the ground to show how it can be done.

Others have called for creative solutions to the lack of state capacity around innovation. Andy Smarick and Juliet Squire in April 2014 released a report in which they advocate that state education agencies (SEAs) outsource the management of crucial reforms.

They write,

“SEAs were designed—and evolved over decades—to address a relatively narrow set of tasks: distributing state and federal dollars, monitoring the use of these funds, and overseeing the implementation of federal and state education programs. They were not created—nor have they developed the core competencies—to drive crucial reforms. Accordingly, we argue that despite the best efforts of talented, energetic leaders, SEAs will never be able to deliver the reform results we need.
“But there is an alternative. We should view the SEA through the lens of Reinventing Government (1993), the path-breaking book by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler. In short, Osborne and Gaebler call for state agencies to “steer” more and “row” less. Here, we call for federal and state leaders to apply their thesis to SEAs, scaling back the tasks SEAs perform and empowering nongovernmental organizations to take up the slack.”

The notion of the state creating a public-private partnership to oversee the a shift in teaching and learning through blended learning, competency education, and other student-centered policies holds promise for Ohio going forward.

Ohio earned a “D” on the last report card from Digital Learning Now. But it has the pieces and tools to do much better for its students, if only it could stitch together those pieces into a comprehensive reform effort.

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