5 Tips for Principals Shifting Their Schools to Blended Learning
As education leaders devise plans to potentially reopen schools in the fall, logistics are still unpredictable at best. In many states it’s still unclear when—or whether—students will return to school and how schools will operate when they do reopen. And even if they do open on time, safety and social distancing requirements, as well as alternative schedules and blended learning, will require time, planning, and a willingness to try new things. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the 2020-2021 school year, principals will play a pivotal role in the roll out and management of whichever instructional approach is selected. Either way, it’s time to transition from crisis mode to a more strategic approach.
Prepare teachers, students and parents for the types of blended learning your school will offer.
Blended learning has various implementation options and it’s very likely that a single school or district may implement more than one at any given time. The three most popular blended learning methods are the traditional classroom model, self-paced asynchronous learning, and synchronous virtual web conferencing.
Blended learning in the traditional classroom is characterized by 75% or more of the instruction is delivered in the brick-and-mortar classroom. Students have access to online platforms, like learning management systems (LMS), and options to participate in live online sessions via web-conferencing. The asynchronous tool—typically the LMS—is used for homework, individual assignments, and even some assessments.
The asynchronous blended learning approach relies on self-paced online instruction—up to 80% of the time. In order to provide students with a more complete learning experience, this method is often paired with live synchronous web conferencing in a virtual classroom or in-person summative assessments.
Blended learning that utilizes mainly live, synchronous web conferencing allows for more interaction between students and teachers, similar to the traditional classroom experience, but not dependent on location.
No matter the approaches you choose to implement, be prepared to be flexible and available to answer questions. There is no right or wrong way to transition to blended learning, but it’s a more positive experience for everyone when all stakeholders know what to expect.
Invest in training teachers, parents, and students on your LMS and other technology.
After several months of distance learning in crisis mode, the necessity for more thorough training across the board is evident. Teacher professional development needs to include more direct instruction on using the LMS and teaching technology tools in the classroom and from afar. For students, LMS training should be part of setting the stage at the beginning of the school year, with follow-up lessons as needed. Parents also need to learn how to use the technology their students use, especially if they are to be part of the blended learning experience. This can be done in the form of virtual parent classes or video tutorials.
Address equity and technology concerns.
In order for any type of blended learning to be effective, we need to begin by addressing equity issues related to internet access, devices, software, even technical support. Because technology has become relatively ubiquitous, some education leaders may not realize just how many students lack equitable access away from school.
By identifying access challenges, obtaining additional resources, and encouraging teachers to create universally accessible assignments, school leaders can have better insights on how to combat the inequity in their communities. And oftentimes, bridging the digital divide requires more than just the school or district, it requires support from the entire community. Partner with local businesses, enlist the help of local libraries—there are myriad ways to build a more equitable learning environment.
Be a source of information.
It’s likely that online learning will continue to be a significant piece of the puzzle moving forward whether students are able to attend school in person or not. For many families, blended learning will be a new concept. Sure, we were all thrown into distance learning during a time in which we simply had to figure it out, but how do you—as principal—continue to support families as we shift to yet another operational model?
Well, for one, talk about it. Foreground communication as much as possible. Be an open source of information that teachers, staff, students, and parents can rely on to lead the way and make good decisions for the school community. It’s important that you’re up-to-date and ready to share accurate and timely information as the global situation rapidly unfolds. It may require a bit of extra work on the front end, but tailoring your message to different audiences—parents, students, teachers, staff—is well worth it.
Lead with positivity and patience.
If there was ever a time to promote positivity, it’s now. Students, teachers, and parents are craving calm and strategic leadership more than ever. Emotional and mental health should be top of mind in your interactions, but keeping it positive doesn’t mean just telling people what they want to hear. Listen, be empathetic, and emphasize that we’re all learning how to navigate this together.