Guiding – and Recognizing – Blended Learning Educators

This post was written by Britt Neuhaus, Director of iZone’s Blended Learning Institute.

At iZone Share, a big end-of-year celebration for our community, keynote speaker Heather Staker of the Clayton Christensen Institute expressed something we all know intuitively: not hating your job does not mean loving your job, and there are factors that create the conditions for each. Decent salary, safe work environment, good relationships with colleagues– these all keep you sane. But what about the things that make you love your job? According to Heather, these fall under a different list of factors: the motivators. Motivators like responsibility, feeling accomplished, and feeling recognized and valued are what make you love your job.

When we talk about changing a 150-year-old teaching and learning model and better preparing our students for the demands of today’s economy, we should also talk about motivating and preparing teachers to make this shift. Adjusting to a 21st century classroom requires more than a one-off PD, or a one-time purchase of a class iPad set. It often involves developing a new mindset, skill set, and philosophy around teaching and learning. There is a need to professionalize these 21st century skills and create a path for teachers to obtain them, and ultimately increase their sense of accomplishment and value in the profession.

In 2013, the iZone launched the Blended Learning Institute (BLI) to provide teachers an opportunity to gain skills deemed essential for the 21st century classroom, and concurrently gain recognition through a university-issued certificate. The goal is not to provide participants one model or “right way” to blend learning in their classrooms, but rather to provide an opportunity for them to think critically about when technology creates new possibilities within a specific task or lesson (i.e. the smart use of technology), and when it inhibits them.

One of our BLI fellows recently shared his take on blended learning, and I think it aptly describes the benefits of this approach for students, as well as for teacher participants in the BLI. Referring to the old saying that if you give someone a fish, you feed them for a day, but if you teach them how to fish, you feed them for life, the traditional model of education involved teachers “spewing” (his word, not mine) content at their students, providing them with what they need to be successful in that moment (whether it be that class, that day, or to pass a test that year). This model, however, does not necessarily develop the skills students need to be successful in life, namely to take ownership of their learning, think critically, self-assess, and manage their time. A blended classroom that employs multiple learning modalities and allows student choice over when, how, and where they learn integrates skills that will serve students beyond that moment.

At the BLI, our goal is to not to give participants a fish (i.e. train fellows on one great digital tool, online curriculum, or tech product), but rather to support them in thinking critically about the smart use of technology, and how it can support meaningful data-driven interactions with their students on an individual and small group basis. We want participants to be critical consumers of the edtech market, willing to constantly prototype, reflect, and improve upon their use of technology – based on what’s working and what’s not. We want participants to be innovators and problem-solvers. And above all else, we want them to feel valued and motivated to take on the challenge of change.