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.


Smarter Schools helps secure Straight A Fund grant for Milford and Cincinnati schools

Ohio’s new education innovation fund has awarded 24 grants for funding next year as part of the state’s unique effort to seed school districts with innovation. The Straight A Fund Governing Board selected from 570 initial grant applications these requests totaling more than $88 million.

As an education philanthropist at KnowledgeWorks Foundation, I was supportive of the state’s proposal to create the education innovation fund by designating $250 million over two years for that purpose. (See my previous blog post on the Straight A Fund.)

Now, as an education architect and founder of Smarter Schools, I am pleased to join Milford Exempted Village Schools, Cincinnati Public Schools, Partners for Innovation in Education (PIE), and others in receiving a $1.1 million grant from the Straight A Fund to further an innovative approach to teach STEM fields in elementary grades.

“There was tremendous competition to receive a Straight A grant,” Dr. Richard A. Ross, superintendent of public instruction, said in a news release yesterday. “All of Ohio will look to the winning proposals for ideas to reduce costs and transform learning in our state.”

This project for Milford and Cincinnati builds on a promising case-based method of teaching STEM in elementary schools that was piloted by PIE at the Kilgour Academy in the Cincinnati Public Schools last year. In the pilot, teachers worked with the non-profit organization to develop a case-based, vertically integrated curriculum that featured the development and application of critical thinking skills using authentic STEM content. Aided by technology, students solved the challenge by applying concepts in math, engineering, business development and financial literacy.

Kilgour students were asked to solve a challenge requiring the development of new products and services. After reviewing relevant facts, figures and data, students learned key concepts, such as the product life cycle, SWOT analysis, and the “5P’s” of marketing. To apply these skills, students developed an accompanying “app” and became the first public elementary school to launch an app available globally via the Google Android Store. With every $0.99 download, the “Cash Cow Lemon Smash™” app provides revenue to the district. (Link here to see the Enquirer story on the pilot.)

This project will repeat the pilot at Kilgour and expand it to 11 other Cincinnati Public School buildings. Milford, the lead applicant on the grant, will implement the project in six elementary school buildings.

Another unique feature of the project is the use of the case method of teaching, which is a teaching approach often associated with business schools. Harvard Business School, for instance, teaches most of its classes using the case-based method. Typically, the case method places the student in an active, decision-making role. The case presents facts and context but relies on the student to actively pursue a solution, with the instructor serving as facilitator and guide.

Mary Welsh Schlueter, the founder and CEO of PIE, is a graduate of the Harvard Business School and helped adapt the case-study method for elementary school students to explore STEM disciplines.

That’s important because Ohio needs to encourage more students to develop skills in science, technology, engineering and math. In five years, Ohio will demand a total of 257,800 jobs requiring STEM skills, and 90% of those jobs will require postsecondary education, according to a study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

However, Ohio and other states struggle to graduate enough students in STEM disciplines. Only half of all students who start college with a STEM major graduate with a STEM degree; thus only 19 out of every 100 students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree are in the STEM fields.

Researchers are more recently focusing on ways to harness the natural curiosity of elementary school students to generate interest in pursuing STEM fields. According to the National Center for STEM Elementary Education, a third of students lose interest in science by the fourth grade. By eighth grade, almost 50% have lost interest. “At this point in the K-12 system, the STEM pipeline has narrowed to half. That means millions of students have tuned out or lack the confidence to believe they can do science.”

One of the problems, the center notes, is that elementary school teachers often lack the background and the confidence in STEM fields to teach the subjects effectively.

This consortium, which includes non-profits PIE and Smarter Schools, will further refine and test this novel approach to STEM education and develop a scalable instructional model available for widespread use. Other partners include the Mayerson Academy and the Northern Kentucky University Center for Applied Informatics.

The recommendations from the Straight A Fund Governing Board need final approval from the State Controlling Board on Dec. 16. The grant period begins in January 2014.

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