Now is the time when districts start crafting budgets for the upcoming school year. For those embarking on personalized blended learning, or those already underway, serious consideration should be given to the time, funding, and strategy devoted to professional development (PD) because blended learning is a fundamental shift in strategy and pedagogy, not a tactic or some extra technology.
Technology can amplify great teaching, but great technology cannot replace poor teaching. Properly implemented and fully leveraged by schools and districts, PD can help teachers become efficient and effective implementing blended learning, and student outcomes can be significantly improved. That is, if blended learning PD is prioritized and emphasized over a sustained period of time.
But some educators believe that blended learning is merely traditional, face-to-face learning that incorporates digital resources. This misconception inhibits teachers from fully realizing the benefits of technology for more effective, engaged learning, which makes it essential to offer PD for teachers to succeed in blended environments.
As Dr. Ken Eastwood, an accomplished blended learning leader as superintendent of New York’s Middletown school district said, “unfortunately, all too often when blended learning is introduced into classrooms, we continue to focus on things rather than on the process – on devices instead of on good pedagogy.”
Effective PD can be defined as producing change in teachers’ classroom-based instructional practice (like blended learning) that results in improvements in student learning. As one researcher noted, “One constant finding in the research literature is that notable improvements in education almost never take place in the absence of professional development.” (Guskey)
To be sure, there is much deserved criticism of the large amount of ineffective PD, including a recent report by TNTP. Part of the problem is scattershot approach to PD, where there is a new ‘flavor of the month’ all year long; another part of the problem is the ineffective ‘sit-and-get’ approach to delivering PD. However, there are a number of examples of successful blended learning PD, as well as resources outlining the teacher competencies to be professionally developed, that point to a more hopeful future.
Schools and districts implementing exemplary PD:
Resources on blended learning teacher competencies and other assets:
- iNacol’s Blended Learning Teacher Competency Framework
- The Learning Accelerator’s list of PD resources
- Personalized Learning Playbook by Anthony Kim
- TNTP’s Reimaging Teaching in a Blended Classroom
In addition, the new Elementary Secondary Education Act, called the Every Student Succeeds Act, has provisions that emphasize initial and ongoing PD for personalized blended learning.
A recent report about the state of blended learning in Ohio shows the need for more systematic focus on PD by districts and schools. While nearly three‐fifths (58%) of survey respondents are implementing blended learning, a whopping 42% of those did not provide PD to the educators implementing it.
For those who did provide PD, half of all respondents provided 12 or fewer hours of training to their blended-learning instructors. While there is no magic number of hours, this is clearly not enough PD for such an important shift in teaching and learning. There is simply not enough time devoted to PD in most blended learning implementations; the examples of Middletown, Rocketship and others demonstrate that it takes differentiated, phased, year-over-year blended learning PD to achieve successful teaching and learning.
As the Ohio report’s authors presciently note, moving to blended learning requires “new practices and new teacher roles [that] may initially be inconsistent with the predominant structures and practices of districts and schools.” This underscores the importance of educator buy-in, collaboration, communication, and PD for strong blended learning implementation.
The report’s authors also noted that “[a]lthough a majority of survey respondents are using blended learning … many could improve how they plan and implement blended learning, collaborate with other implementers, and provide educators with the skills they need for taking on new roles in blended-learning programs.”
So how much should district set-aside for PD in their budgets? It is hard to say precisely because needs will vary, but also because of district budgeting practices. Most studies agree that a typical district reserves between 5 and 15 percent of its budgets for PD. The challenge with these estimates is that districts often don’t actively manage all of their dollars together and don’t have a strategy to focus and integrate professional development spending around improving student performance and strategic initiatives like personalized blended learning.
To understand what districts will need to spend on PD, they must first know what PD they are currently providing, how much this costs, and whether it is improving school and teacher performance. With this information, districts then can organize more deliberately around a strategy for improving schools like personalized blended learning.
Written by Doug Mesecar
Posted by Blended Learning Facts