One of the biggest mistakes The Learning Accelerator sees districts and schools make is adopting technology for technology's sake. Successful implementations have clear statements for why they are pursuing change through blended and personalized learning. They ground all of their work in this “why,” referring back to it again and again.
As we visited schools and teachers making blended and personalized learning headway, we heard repeatedly from leaders that one of the most important steps was defining a clear and compelling “why” for change. This “why” - grounded in problems they wanted to solve and visions for teaching and learning - was foundational to setting goals, building buy-in and support, identifying strategies and approaches, and changing tactics as they iterated and improved.
Examples from the field
At Pleasant View Elementary, a turnaround school in Providence, RI, school leaders grounded their blended work in gap-closing, both in terms of achievement and equity. Pleasant View students were struggling in mathematics, so the staff started there. This clear focus helped PVES grow the work over time, setting the stage for greater levels of personalization later. Hear more from former principal, Gara Field, in the video linked here.
Prior to moving to blended and personalized learning, West Belden was one of the high-performing elementary schools in Chicago. However, in staff-wide conversations, the team realized they needed to keep pushing to help students develop all of the skills they needed to succeed, beyond just test scores. Staff rallied around three big “why”s:
- Despite strong scores, educators were feeling like student growth was stagnating. They needed to find a way to meet each student’s needs more effectively, individually.
- Leaders wanted to increase student engagement and ownership for learning, which meant they needed greater flexibility and opportunities for students to make choices and have input.
- Teachers were excited and ready to grow their skills and approaches.
West Belden used these “why”s as the jumping off point for designing their new approach for change (the “how” process as well as the “what” outputs). They also used these “why”s as a means for engaging their community along the way.
Find your "why"
So, for anyone interested in blended and personalized learning, why? If you find yourself grappling for an answer, here are a few ideas we’ve heard people offer as starting points:
Look at your data. For both Pleasant View and West Belden, leaders grounded the conversations in their data, identifying specific problems to solve.
Shadow a student. Aylon Samouha, the co-founder of Transcend, suggested the best way to figure out needs for change is to pick a student and follow them around for a whole day. As adults, we often have blind spots, so where better to start than from the perspective of the end user? Authentic Education offers a helpful shadowing guide here.
Brainstorm with your team. Talk to teachers about pain-points. What do they wish they could do better, and why? The Christensen Institute has a helpful brainstorming sheet in the BLU for developing what they call a "rallying cry," which you can use to identify opportunities and establish goals for improvement. They have developed a series of worksheets you can use with your team.
It's also helpful here to both pay attention to opportunities at the adult level as well as for students. What might make their jobs better and more sustainable, and how might a blended approach help? The team from BetterLesson recently identified four key “whys” that their master blended learning teachers found from the work:
- The availability of more digital content helped teachers better meet each learner’s individual needs without being unsustainable from a planning perspective.
- Automated digital assessment data made it easier for teachers to analyze progress and plan.
- Teachers can spend more time in small groups or one-on-one, guiding and coaching rather than trying to meet the needs of the whole class at once.
- Blended approaches allowed teachers to be more dynamic and creative, fostering enthusiasm and greater ownership of student learning and growth.
P.S. Don't forget to communicate
Finally, don’t forget to communicate your “why” consistently as you go into the change process. Stakeholders both inside and outside the school need to understand your vision. We've included a few resources - examples and tools - to get you started.