Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Building Teacher Capacity Through Low-Hanging Fruit

image credit: www.istockphoto.com
As schools open again, we often usher in new practices along with our returning student masses. Perhaps this year finds your school going blended in a new way. If that is the case, there is a good chance August faculty trainings included a heavy dose of training to jumpstart classroom practices and spark the imagination of teachers in implementing digital learning. But as we have seen and research supports, dousing teachers with a fire hose of information in August is insufficient to produce impactful and sustainable change.

In Blended Learning inAction, we discuss the importance of building teacher capacity through systems of ongoing faculty training and support. One way to do this is to look for early opportunities of success, the low-hanging fruit we can use to plant seeds of more systematic growth. Such bounty can be found along the following branches:

Teacher Trailblazers
Who is lighting it up in the class? How can you help reflect that light and spread it? Within every school, there are teachers pushing the edge of innovation. However, they often innovate in silos within a more traditional culture. These teachers are typically connected educators engaging in Twitter chats and idea sharecropping within robust PLNs outside the school, but they remain relatively unknown in this light within their own school communities. Sending a quick survey via Survey Monkey or Google Forms can gauge excitement and proficiency levels around the targeted practices. School leaders can use this data to identify and empower teacher trailblazers to try out new practices and share them with others within the school.

Digital Curriculum Salves
Where is the pain-point in instructional prep? What tool can relieve this pain?
Blended learning involves not just technology integration but the ability for students to learn and demonstrate learning via a digital curriculum tool. These tools are adaptive substitutes for teacher instruction and paper-based resources like textbooks and workbooks. Digital curriculum can reduce prep for teachers stressed to differentiate instruction for various skill levels. Low-hanging fruit can be found in leveraging digital learning to this end. By posing these questions to teachers, school leaders can not only engage teachers in the process but can also help teachers relieve specific pain-points via a digital tool.

Model-to-Model Alignment
What do your classes look like now? Which blended model looks most similar?
The instructional flow of a class can be among the most difficult to change. Teachers and students accustomed to certain class choreography can easily become confused and frustrated in a new sequence. To avoid stepping on toes, it’s helpful to select a model of blended learning closest to the existing practice. The ultimate goal may be a different model, but the low-hanging fruit lies in the incremental.

Project-Based Learning
What existing projects are highlights and points of teacher pride? What are the opportunities to make those connected, collaborative, and more innovative through digital tools?
We as teachers become attached to favorite projects more than anything else in our curriculum. Many projects already tap into creativity and collaboration within the class group; however, it is possible to find opportunities to make them connected beyond the classroom via online discussions, perhaps even with peers from another class or school or country. Further, there is opportunity to create more authentic audience and purpose via digital tools.

Early success found via low-hanging fruit provides opportunity for community celebration and recognition of success at a critical point in the change initiative. This momentum fuels teacher confidence and community sharing, leading to augmented teacher capacity as schools progress through early stages of a blended learning implementation. Share where you have found low-hanging fruit in your classrooms via #blinaction!

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