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Supporting Teachers Shifting to Blended Learning

Cisco ISD uses its resources flexibly to ensure its blended teachers have the support they need

Overview

Cisco recognizes that teachers must understand and believe in the “why” behind a practice shift in order for them to persevere through a challenging change process and sustain change over time. Thus, Cisco provides intensive and deliberate initial and ongoing supports to pilot teachers who are transitioning to student-centered blended learning. Teachers receive formal and informal supports aimed at helping them shift both their mindsets (beliefs about blended learning) and behaviors (blended teaching practices).  

Cisco is investing heavily in the development of pilot teachers through 1) modifying existing professional development structures; 2) participating in new approaches (e.g., online offerings through Texas Tech University’s School of Education and Relay Graduate School of Education); 3) opting into off-site learning opportunities (e.g., site visits to other personalized blended schools); and 4) hosting other educators to showcase Cisco’s work and exchange ideas and learnings.

Prior to the launch of the initial blended learning pilot, Cisco leaders excused pilot teachers from traditional professional development and authorized them to follow a blended specific agenda under the direction of Cisco’s blended learning director. Initially, pre-launch activities including a site visit to a Dallas ISD’s personalized learning campus, working sessions led by CA Group (Cisco’s implementation partner), and online learning through Relay Graduate School of Education’s blended learning modules. Eighteen months after the initial launch, Cisco continues to emphasize blended-specific professional development. They have developed a broader range of learning options and a systematic process for onboarding and supporting additional pilot teachers new to the work.

Highlights of current teacher supports are:

  • Direct Support from Blended Learning Director and Campus Leaders. Given the small size and strong community culture within Cisco, teachers enjoy daily access to their leaders and to the blended learning director. Pilot teachers reach out regularly for support and the blended learning director routinely cycles through classrooms to provide real-time support and feedback. Furthermore, school leaders remain mindful of morale and watch for teacher burnout. As needed, they provide pilot teachers extra time, either on or away from campus, to work through a particular challenge.
  • CA Group Design Studios and Working Sessions. Cisco pilot teachers participated in design studios and working sessions prior to implementing blended learning, and continue to do so on an ongoing basis. For new teachers, these sessions provide a systematic approach to onboarding and help ensure teachers begin making both mindset and behavior shifts. Teachers are exposed to design thinking activities to root their thinking in the initial problem and underlying causes that Cisco’s blended program is attempting to mitigate. They also spend time internalizing the vision for the student experience, and its design pillars, before developing plans for their classroom design. For teachers already blending, these sessions provide a forum for continued collaboration and iteration, and also for mentoring their colleagues who are newer to blended instruction.  
  • Teacher-to-Teacher Support. The district’s culture of collaboration fosters shared learning and collaborative approaches to refining blended learning strategies. Pilot teachers have built on their personal connections to create informal learning communities amongst themselves to share ideas and topics for blended learning. Blended teachers report considerably more collaboration across subject areas and grade levels than in the past, when traditional structures kept their focus subject- and grade-bound.
  • External Blended Learning Professional Development. All four of the first year blended teachers are participating in a two year, online graduate certificate program offered through Texas Tech University. Cisco teachers, along with 26 other blended teachers and coaches (from Dallas ISD and the Raising Blended Learners initiative) comprise the first cohort to experience the program, which began in fall 2016. A fifth Cisco pilot teacher joined a second cohort, starting the program in fall 2017. Cisco teachers have found value in the coursework and report an enhanced capacity to lead data-driven instruction and implement other blended-related strategies in their classrooms.
  • Site Visits to Other Raising Blended Learners Campuses. Understanding the power of “seeing is believing” as a strategy for teacher mindset and behavior change, Cisco makes sure pilot teachers have opportunities to see examples of, and interact with, other practitioners doing similar work. As part of a statewide initiative, Cisco teachers have the opportunity to visit other Texas-based sites at a similar stage of transition to blended learning. Most visits are structured with classroom observations and a question and answer style teacher panel. These visits are often followed by a guided working session for teachers to process what they have seen and consider what they might apply to their own classroom models.  
  • Hosting Site Visits and Participating in the Raising Blended Learners’ Rural Cohort. Through hosting other educators within Cisco, blended teachers have had multiple opportunities to showcase their classrooms and develop the ability to communicate their blended journey. These events have also served as learning opportunities for the pilot teachers themselves. In particular, while Cisco has hosted several convenings of the Raising Blended Learners’ rural cohort (which includes two other rural sites piloting blended learning), exchanges and learnings have been beneficial to all participants. Recognizing the considerable benefits of hosting others, Cisco plans to continue offering showcase visits for rural and other interested districts, including districts nearby. They also intend to travel to regional locations to share their learnings.