When I think of Cindy Hayden, a veteran teacher at St. Philip Neri Catholic School with 36 years of experience, I think of sunshine. Cindy exudes positivity, enthusiasm, and love in everything she does, especially when she interacts with her first-grade students. When I entered her classroom for the first time last year, I saw smiling students working hard on meaningful assignments–a sure sign of leadership by an outstanding teacher.
What had been absent from Cindy’s classroom before this year is the use of personalized learning programs. Cindy’s principal, Remick Leadership Program graduate Kari Buchinger, knew that Cindy had the instructional expertise she needed to make blended learning a rousing success in her classroom, but she worried that the new technology and the new approach to teaching would be more than Cindy would take on after so many successful years in the traditional classroom. True to her character, though, Cindy answered the call to implement a blended-learning program in her classroom this year with a resounding yes. She did not deny being nervous, but she was willing to put her own fears aside in order to do what was best for her students.
Cindy joined her fellow Blended Learning Advancement & Strategy Team (BLAST–such a better acronym!) members for a week of training this summer, during which she explored the programs, learned about data-informed instruction, constructed a model for her classroom, learned about best practices to make it a success, and sharpened up her computer skills along the way. Her nervousness had not subsided by the week’s end (particularly about accessing and reading the data), but her excitement was evident: on Friday of the training week, Cindy arrived at school at 7 a.m. to create themes and visuals for each of her groups, rearrange her classroom, make goal-setting sheets, and more.
Fast-forward to the second day of school, more than a month later. Cindy was admittedly scared to jump in, but she was the first teacher at her school to administer the initial diagnostic assessment–an adaptive test designed to pinpoint each student’s strengths and weaknesses in math or reading–and get started. The same day her student’s completed their diagnostic, Cindy went straight to her principal’s office and announced, “I think I’m going to like this.”
Now, a little more than a month into the school year, Cindy’s classroom looks as though blended learning has been the norm for years. During daily 90-minute math and ELA blocks, her 27 first-grade students use ST Math and/or i-Ready for about 20 minutes each while small groups of their classmates work independently on the carpet or engage in instruction with their teacher. Cindy has not abandoned whole-group instruction, but she is now more selective about the material she presents to all students at the same time in the same way and opts to save some concepts each day for small-group instruction.
“Now you know how nervous I was to get started,” Cindy told me during our most recent meeting, “but I’ve got to tell you, I really love it.” Her favorite parts? Having immediate data about how her kids are doing, how well she has already gotten to know her students, and how fast the day goes by. “In all my years of teaching, I cannot remember a day that has gone by as fast as my days pass now. I get to spend so much personal time with each of my students and so much less time doing the boring things. I love it!”
We are so proud of Cindy for challenging herself to try something new and for the excellence she and her students are already displaying. If you are a veteran teacher and are nervous about making this big change in your classroom, take it from Cindy: it’s worth it! Stay tuned to learn more about how Cindy and her students progress throughout the year.
And a quick aside: shoutout to Ed Bowers, ACE grad and professor at Clemson University, who helped us wave goodbye to one of the worst acronyms of all time (BLLT) with his suggestion of the Blended Learning Advancement & Strategy Team (BLAST). Thanks, Ed!