PD in a Blended World

Educators would agree that completing a teacher credential program is only the beginning of the training necessary to become a skilled classroom teacher. It takes ongoing instruction and practice to develop and perfect teaching skills. Most classroom teachers engage in professional development to hone their teaching skills and stay current with their profession. With the proliferation of online learning a new set of teaching skills has been identified as being essential to good online teaching. For instance, communication is crucial in both learning environments but communicating virtually looks quite a bit different than communicating face-to-face. For instance, how do you develop working relationships with your students when you don’t see them on a daily basis? How do you ensure that the student is grasping the concepts while studying online? What type of tactics do you employ to properly assess and individualize the learning program for each student in a digital setting? In the Blended Learning Model, teachers need to be proficient in both the face-to-face environment and the virtual environment. This means Professional Development in a Blended Model program must address the face-to-face and virtual teaching skills such as instructional strategies, communication, subject matter content, parental engagement, motivation, how to use online teaching tools, study skills and more.


A proven model has been to provide an extensive orientation to prepare teachers to use the virtual tools and understand the curriculum prior to the launch of school. Follow up trainings will include monthly or bimonthly sessions to cover identified topics as they emerge.


The most successful Professional Development sessions are those that engage the teacher in meaningful learning opportunities that are directly related to key aspects of their job. The paradigm shift from teacher-centered learning to student-centered learning has infiltrated Professional Development making teachers less interested in listening to the “sage on the stage” and more interested in discussing topics of direct relevance to their job. The only exception is if the “sage” is speaking directly to those topics most important to the teacher’s job. Not only does meaningful Professional Development need to be learner centered, it also needs to provide teachers with the opportunity to collaborate with their peers in curriculum development, data collection and evaluation, problem-solving, decision-making and more. When Professional Development allows for both program development and collaboration it becomes a powerful tool for school growth.


Six Rivers began in August 2010 with three classroom teachers who had over 15 years of combined teaching experience. Each had previously worked for the district in other capacities. One teacher had even taught a semester-long online course at a university prior to joining the SRVA staff. Principal Chris Hartley selected his teachers based on the strong recommendation of other administrators in the district. They were eager to be involved in this new program and eager to be part of this new team.


Six Rivers delivered their first professional development two weeks prior to the start of the school year. Soliciting the help of Integrated Educational Strategies (IES), the leadership team provided an intensive orientation that included a primer on virtual education, program logistics and a hands-on tour of the online school. Teachers then spent the remaining two weeks before the start of school becoming familiar with the courses they planned to teach and creating the necessary reporting forms for student
accountability.


In an interview with lead teacher, Ginni DeLong, she reflected that more time prior to the launch of the school year for further training and planning would have been ideal. Since she was relatively new to the world of virtual learning she found the information given on its proliferation in education the most valuable aspect of the orientation. During the midyear assessment and professional development interview, Ms. DeLong noted that one of the changes to her teaching style in the blended program was that she had to re-align her teaching strategies to be more student-centric. She also had to learn to use assessments and evaluation to drive her instruction which meant she adapted learning assignments to meet the needs of her students.

 

Upon launch, the most immediate goal for the teaching team was to learn the content of the new curriculum and how to use the virtual tools. They were on a steep learning curve and each did a fabulous job in providing an excellent learning experience for their students. Creating a collaborative work environment was critical to the success of the program. Each quarter they met with Principal Hartley to discuss program challenges and program successes. It was during their time together that they further refined,
problem solved, and made decisions related to their program. While Mr. Hartley was also new to virtual education, his experience as an administrator was crucial to the development of the program. He had the wisdom and insight needed to know when to
stay the course, when to alter it, and when to consult with others with more experience than himself.


In addition to quarterly meetings with Principal Hartley, during the spring semester, the teaching team attended frequent Professional Development and coaching sessions provided by IES. These hour long coaching sessions were initially intended to cover the topics the teachers felt was of greatest interest to them. It eventually was pared down to a few topics that were of the most immediate need. The sessions were informal with a significant time devoted to discussing their questions and concerns. The result of the coaching and training was that the teachers felt valued, supported and equipped to embrace their new role. They understood that they were pioneering a new work, and therefore unforeseen challenges were part of the territory. However, with their dedication and entrepreneurial spirit, these teachers enjoyed the opportunity to not only branch out from the traditional classroom, but to be a part of a swelling movement in education.