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4.0 Takeaways from BLiCSS 4.0

Monday, May 10, 2021 by Brian Scully

Blended Learning in Catholic Schools Symposium 4.0

For the fourth year in a row, our HPL team convened and planned a national gathering of leaders and practitioners in blended and personalized learning. We love learning from the wonderful speakers at this conference (online this year) that we call the Blended Learning in Catholic Schools Symposium (BLiCSS). BLiCSS gave leaders and practitioners in Catholic education the opportunity to gather, share best practices and experiences, and tackle some problems of practice in blended learning. There were too many wonderful nuggets of wisdom to share from all of our incredible speakers, but we thought we’d give you our four major takeaways (in honor of our 4th annual gathering!) from BLiCSS 4.0, Post-Pandemic Pathways: From Surviving to Thriving!

1. Our New Reading List

Our speakers offered many resources to help reflect on this tumultuous year. They noted the clear and present need for strong academic leadership, informed intervention to promote justice in schools, and individual-focused teaching relationships. We’d particularly like to highlight:

2. “Personalized Learning” is More Than Academics

Tricia Menzhuber - Principal St. John Paul II School

In the blended-learning world, we have a tendency only to focus on personalization in the “academic” sphere. Tricia Menzhuber, principal of HPLP school St. John Paul II in Minneapolis, reflected on lessons in personalizing for the socio-emotional experiences of students which surfaced during the pandemic.

“The thing that really jumped out for me were the kids that ‘popped out’ out of the blue online. They were real quiet, they were sweet, you just never worried about them; they weren’t on your radar. And all of a sudden, you see their personalities, and they start coming out through chats and quirky little emojis. It was so great to get to know those kinds of students that came out in a digital world that we didn’t ‘see’ before… As we came back to in-person we continued to use things like Classkick, Flipgrid, and GoGaurdian in the classroom to continue engagement with them... so they didn’t lose that online presence coming back into the classroom. It’s really reorganized how we do collaborative and individual work time in these classes.”

“We have found giving time to talk has been the biggest thing [in response to racial and social unrest], and that can happen on any platform. Space and time for voice has been really important; what we need to work on is being ready for agency. Once they have their voice and they’re starting to use it, how do we support their agency and desire to do something about it? We personalize academics so much and we focus there, but we haven’t done enough to personalize that social-emotional side of schools.”

3. “We’re in the same storm, but not the same boat.”

Mike Miele - Higher-Powered Learning BlogMany have said that this year as we're all experiencing the pandemic that “we are in the same boat.” Speaker Mike Miele, an Educational Strategies Specialist at the Highlander Institute in Providence, used the modified quote above to show how schools were affected unequally by the pandemic.

“Our schools were all in very different places. The pandemic has held a mirror up to those inequities, and one thing we know about systemic inequity is that it breeds disengagement, underdevelops our students’ natural cognitive skills, and undermines their confidence. We know that we can restore those skills through the best [pedagogical] strategies, rooted in culturally responsive and sustaining pedagogy… Instead of starting with the strategy, like ‘station rotation,’ we started first with building some awareness of what students are talking about [with regards to social issues/justice], our own awareness and biases… The school we’re opening in 2021 is not the same school we opened in 2019.”

“We can help you set up your Google Classroom, but if you don’t know the instructional ‘whys’ behind it you’re going to have the same issues over and over again. If you’re not working towards developing students’ cognitive skills, then you’re just putting a list of stuff on virtual paper versus putting it on paper.” 

4. What Really Matters

betsyraffertyThe recurring theme of BLiCSS 4.0 was “building back better:” how will we use the lessons we’ve learned and maintain the new practices that have been working the past year? Betsy Rafferty, the assistant principal at St. Malachy Catholic School in Philadelphia, contested that the pandemic revealed what is truly important in our schools.

“There’s no ‘magic’ in blended learning, there’s no ‘magic’ in the computers. It allows teachers to do what they do better and faster and more efficiently. It is an emphasizer. It will emphasize bad instruction as quickly as it will emphasize good instruction. Investing in our students, investing in our teachers–the role that blended learning can play in that is exciting.”

“Each person has a different sphere of influence, but they have this same thread of ‘what actually matters for students, for teachers, for families, for communities, and making intentional choices about what we carry forward.’ We need to think about what things mattered and what things didn’t. What do we need to do between now and next fall so we’re not just spinning our wheels about, ‘That was really crazy, right?’ Let’s use an invitation-only approach to what’s in our schools, and think about what we’re inviting forward into next year.”

Thanks so much to our amazing speakers! Please let us know in the comments if any of these thoughts resonated with your school experiences this year!

Learn more about Higher-Powered Learning and BLiCSS at ace.nd.edu/hpl.

About the Author

Brian Scully

Brian Scully

Brian Scully serves the Higher Powered Learning Team as the Associate Program Director. 

Brian earned his undergraduate degree in Psychology and Pre-Health Studies from the University of Notre Dame in 2014. He returned to Notre Dame to join ACE Teaching Fellows, earning his M.Ed. in 2017 as a member of ACE 22 in Biloxi. In 2020, he earned another M.Ed., this one in Student Affairs in Higher Education from the University of West Alabama. 

Brian previously taught Chemistry and Physics at Resurrection Catholic School in Biloxi, Mississippi, and Performing Arts at Holy Spirit Preparatory School in Atlanta, Georgia. He is originally from Gainesville, Georgia.

Brian will support coaching efforts at one of our new Higher-Powered Learning schools, Sacred Heart in Milwaukee, WI and assist in our schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. He will play an integral role in managing operational tasks, like helping plan our Blended Learning in Catholic Schools Symposium.