Building a blended-learning leadership pipeline

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Aug 12, 2015

By definition, blended learning incorporates the human touch. In an effective blended-learning environment, students benefit not only from the flexibility and individualization that educational software can offer, but also from new and varied interactions with adults in the classroom. As more and more schools consider going blended, are we paying sufficient attention to the human side of the blended equation?

As with most instructional reforms, there’s a relatively high degree of consensus that we need to focus on effectively training teachers to run high quality blended-learning classrooms. But less has been written about how to build the leadership pipelines that will effectively support blended-learning systems. Here are some of the strategies and activities we’ve heard about from the field on emerging change management and leadership development efforts:

Focus on early adopters that “pull” innovation
Rather than trying to convert whole systems or “push” change, some systems focus their attention on early adopters who can be groomed as blended-learning leaders—principals and teachers who are already enthusiastic about implementing education technology and are willing to lead new approaches from the ground up. For example, at Highline Public Schools in Seattle the district focused its initial blended-learning efforts on two of its 39 schools—Midway Elementary School and Cascade Middle School, where principals were looking to incorporate technology into their curriculum. Likewise, principals may focus on their early adopter teachers to get a blended-learning effort off the ground. As Lois Yount, a principal in Galt Joint Union Elementary School District in California, said in an interview for our white paper, Schools and Software: “I have put lots of time and energy into the [teachers] who are buying into the change, then they share it out… They become the leaders of your change.”

Invest in blended principal training and development
Doubling down on a few leaders already primed to integrate technology may make sense in some settings, but not every school system has leaders ready to take the reins. To get there, we need more targeted professional development that brings leaders up to speed on the high-level vision and day-to-day tactics of an effective blended environment. One promising example of this is the Friday Institute’s Leadership in Blended Learning program. The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University developed the program in conjunction with the North Carolina Principal and Assistant Principal Association (NCPAPA), with funding from The Learning Accelerator’s human capital portfolio. It takes a capacity building train-the-trainer approach: facilitators from local organizations are trained to deliver blended-learning leadership training to local principals and support them as they create and implement the blended-learning plans.

The training occurs in a blended-learning environment that provides principals with direct experience with the sorts of instructional models they are building for their students. The program director Mary Ann Wolf said that through the curriculum, “principals explore how to develop a shared vision, leadership, and culture and then begin to plan and implement the critical elements of blended and digital learning to meet the needs of each student in their schools.” A number of forward-looking systems, including Ohio Blended Learning Network in partnership with Mentor Public Schools, Rhode Island Association of School Principals, Oakland Unified School District in California in partnership with Rogers Family Foundation, Fulton County Schools in Georgia, Greeley-Evans in Colorado, and LEAP Innovations in Illinois, have all signed on to the Leadership in Blended Learning program. Based on the first cohort, Wolf said, “I have seen principals move from their often isolated roles to being a part of a true cohort of leaders in their states and districts.”

Include teachers as leaders in the blended-learning design process
Another common approach to building a clear leadership base is to expand leadership decisions to involve teachers in the design of the new instructional model from the start. As I wrote about last week, who sits around the design table can have lasting impact on a blended-learning design. One district, Minnetonka Public Schools in Minnesota, used an online crowdsourcing platform called SPIGIT to collect ideas from across teachers, leaders, and community members as they were building out their blended approach. Similarly, in Milpitas Unified School District in California, Superintendent Cary Matsuoka involved teachers in the early design teams who contributed to what would become a district-wide, blended-learning effort. Matsuoka attributes the resilience of their innovation with getting teachers invested in the vision. “If this were a district-sponsored plan, the teachers would have abandoned ship by the end of October. But the teachers were proud of their plan,” Matsuoka said.

Leadership, in other words, may impact not just the design of a blended-learning implementation, but also its staying power. These are just a few strategies and programs we’ve heard about from districts and schools leading this work. What is your school or district doing to ensure that current and future leaders are armed with the vision and skill to push blended-learning designs to their fullest potential?

 

Julia is the director of education research at the Clayton Christensen Institute. She leads a team that educates policymakers and community leaders on the power of disruptive innovation in the K-12 and higher education spheres. Be sure to check out her new book, "Who You Know: Unlocking Innovations That Expand Students' Networks" https://amzn.to/2RIqwOk.