Two weeks ago, I mentioned that we are expanding blended learning to two additional Notre Dame ACE Academies in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis this year: Central Catholic School and St. Philip Neri Catholic School. And this should be no big deal since we’ll just repeat what we did at Holy Angels this year, right?
Wrong! I recently wrote about two key changes we will be making to move the needle forward with blended learning next year, but I also want to share additional findings from our pilot program: three critical lessons we learned that shaped our vision for expansion.
- Leadership is key. We were unbelievably fortunate to work with a principal who was a champion of blended learning from the beginning (shoutout to Matt Goddard). Matt participated in our first week of training for the teachers–guiding discussions about goals for blended learning, digging into the data, and setting school-wide operating norms for technology use. He worked with me to integrate the student information system with Clever, administer the first diagnostic test on i-Ready, and monitor student progress. He welcomed us to his school every other week for almost the entire year. In short, the school leader of Holy Angels had a deep understanding of blended learning and was able to advance the program with his staff as well as communicate issues and points of interest to us.
Reflecting on the success of blended learning at Holy Angels only increased our already great appreciation for Matt’s willingness to learn and steadfast dedication to the program. This year, we learned just how important it is to work with a school leader who will effectively and whole-heartedly advance the school’s blended-learning program. When choosing schools to work with in the future, we will seek high-quality instructional leaders who are willing to invest time and effort into making the school’s blended-learning program a success.
- Don’t move too fast. The blended learning training at Holy Angels took place one week before the 2016–17 school year began, which gave teachers very little time to explore the software programs, adjust lesson plans, create artifacts for their classrooms, and more. The teachers were enthusiastic about using the blended-learning model to improve student learning and were willing to dive in headfirst, but the mid-year survey showed that almost every teacher felt overwhelmed at the beginning of the year.
Those survey results were an indication that we may have moved too fast at Holy Angels. Our first reaction was that the training should have taken place earlier in the summer to allow teachers more time to think and work before the school year began. But even more importantly, we believe we should not have tried to get the whole faculty on board at the same time. There is great value in having a whole faculty adopt the blended-learning model together, but teachers have different levels of comfort with technology, small-group instruction, data analysis, and other practices integral to blended learning’s success. Moving forward, we want to identify willing early adopters to launch the program and prepare them earlier in the summer, giving them ample time to plan for the upcoming school year.
- Develop institutional capacity and expertise. Finally, though it was a great joy to contribute in a wide variety of ways to the blended-learning program at Holy Angels this year, my high level of involvement with the day-to-day functioning of the program was not good for the school or for our efforts more broadly. I would not be able to simultaneously offer multiple schools the same level of support I provided to Holy Angels this year and, realistically, Holy Angels would not be able to maintain the quality and scale of it’s blended-learning program without more internal capacity, support, and expertise. Ultimately, we need to focus on building the knowledge and capacity of teachers and leaders in schools to implement and develop blended learning in their own schools so that the model may have a long-lasting and sustainable impact.
With these learnings in mind, our implementation plan looks quite different for Central Catholic and St. Philip Neri than it did for Holy Angels. Stay tuned to learn more about it in our next post!