We hear the term "blended learning" regularly these days. The idea of integrating technology into the classroom to improve teaching and learning is an idea that almost everyone can support. When you find an idea in education that nearly everyone supports, you have a real find. You need to run with that idea quickly before someone remembers that agreeing is not the norm.
As often is the case, agreeing in theory is the easy part; making a real difference in the classroom is much more challenging. People are fine with change- until they realize they will be expected to change as well. Stephen J. Valentine and Dr. Reshan Richards in their book Blending Leadership- Six Simple Beliefs for Leading Online and Off state, "People...being asked to adapt to a new feature or a new tool often begin with resistance..." (148). Why do people immediately default to resistance? Is it a fear of the unknown? What drives these insecurities?
While we may never fully answer any of those questions, there is hope. In the very next paragraph, Valentine and Richards continue with, "Over time, if the new tools are truly better than the old tools, these same people will develop some buy-in that may even be marked by enthusiasm" (148). Huh? How did we go from resistance to enthusiasm so quickly? Is it possible to sway a stance so quickly? I believe it is.
Blended leadership is the key to that change. I believe blended leadership is not only a blended approach, but a blended movement as well. Let's take a look at both facets.
If we agree that instruction should be blended, should we not be blending our leadership approach as well? Raise your hand if you have sat through a meeting that could have been resolved via email instead. Easy...you did not stretch, and that is how muscles get pulled! Now, how many of you have driven to a meeting/conference that could have been attended via Skype/Lync instead of you spending half of your day driving to and from that meeting? I think that has happened to too many of us too often. If we expect our teachers to change, we have to change as well. We must make a concerted effort to value people's time and maximize our efficiency through the use of technology. Tools such as email, collaborative documents, group discussion boards, and social media give us the opportunity to harness the power of others without demanding their physical presence. If we want to knock down the walls of the classroom, we must first knock down the walls of the lecture hall. Utilizing the appropriate tools to improve teaching and learning is the approach we are working towards with blended learning.
Now that we know what we need to do, who is going to do it? Administration? Yes, they must set the example. Administrators should show the teachers, through their own leadership approach, what they expect to see in the classroom. What about those teachers? Yes, they must participate in the blended approach fostered by their administrators, and they must lead their classes in a similar fashion. Teachers should value the student's time. Is there a more efficient way to show mastery? What is the goal of homework? Are we preparing students for the world they are entering, or are we using the same approach our teachers used for us decades ago? What about those students? Is this being done to them? Blended learning should be done with, not to, the students. In a truly blended setting, both the teachers and the students develop the curriculum, the educational approach, and the assessment of the standards and skills in the classroom. When we have all three groups (administration, teachers, and students) working together towards blended learning, we now have a blended movement.
If we want blended learning to become the norm, we must combine a blended approach with a blended movement to move our building from resistance to enthusiasm.
Jeremy Hill has worked at Richmond Community Schools for 19 years- he taught English for 18 years, was English Department Chair for 8 years, and became the eLearning Specialist this year. He is also the AD for the RCS intermediate schools, and the assistant AD at Richmond High School. He earned his Bachelors from Indiana University East and his Masters from Earlham College. Jeremy is married to Tiffany Hill and they have a daughter, Sophia. Jeremy enjoys spending time with his friends and family, fishing, and attending sporting events when he is not at school.