Sunday, September 12, 2021

Four Practical Ways to Blend

When it comes to blended learning, it is essential first to have an underlying understanding as to why this pedagogical strategy is valuable in the classroom. Let’s take a step back before diving into the nuts and bolts. Over the years, I have written a great deal about personalization, which is basically a shift from “what” to “who” as a means for students to demonstrate more ownership over their learning.  What is taught or on the test has little value if the diverse needs of learners aren’t addressed. The same could be said if all kids are learning the same thing at the same time in the same way.  

The path to equity begins with a vision where all learners get what they need when and where they need it, regardless of the learning environment.  This is the essence of personalization. While there are many strategies to personalize, blended pedagogies represent the most practical means.  While you don’t need technology to personalize, it is required to blend. Here is my definition shared in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms that makes a distinction between instruction:

Blended instruction is what the teacher does with technology. Blended learning is where students use tech to have control over path, place, and pace.

Over time through my extensive work with schools, I have identified the four most practical ways to personalize through blended learning.  These include station rotation, choice activities, playlists, and the flipped approach. While each has unique benefits, they all help move teaching and learning from a state of equality to equity. The image below is my attempt to capture these significant changes.

I realized that I have separate posts and images on all four of these blended learning strategies and thought it might be a good idea to curate this information that educators have found valuable to create a resource. Below I have briefly summarized each approach and encourage you to click on the link for more detailed information.  

Station Rotation 

Students are grouped based on data and move through a variety of set activities typically consisting of targeted instruction with the teacher, collaborative exercises, independent work, and online tasks that are personalized for individual learners. The teacher establishes a block of time for each station, and students visit each one during a class period followed by some sort of forma¬tive assessment.

Choice Activities 

These allow students to select a set number of activities to complete from numerous options. Typically, they are arranged in a choice board or must-do/may-do format. Often a teacher will differentiate by having different versions. Students do not complete all of the activities.


A series of individualized assignments that students work through at their own pace while following the path of their choice. As students complete a task, they either color in the corre¬sponding box on a digital sheet next to their name or check off each box on a paper worksheet. Unlike choice activities, all tasks are completed. 

Flipped Approach

Students watch a short, direct instruction video or consume other forms of content outside of school at their own pace while communicating with peers and teachers using online tools. While in school, students work to actively apply what they have learned through concept engagement and empowering learning activities with assistance from the teacher.

All the blended learning strategies listed above allow educators to better use their time with students while opening the door to more significant equity through personalization.  It is important to remember that instruction still plays an important role, especially in terms of setting up the blended pathway of choice. It is up to the teacher to determine when and the extent to which each strategy is implemented.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Trust is a Leader's Best Friend

When I began the journey to become a school administrator many years ago, I took the typical courses that were required.  These focused on topics such as school law, instructional leadership, change management, school finance, and curriculum development, among many others. While I felt adequately prepared when I finally became a building leader, I quickly realized how valuable the on-the-job training was to my growth. Truth be told, no book or course can replace authentic experience. 

Leadership is hard. Initiating and sustaining change is even harder. Below are some thoughts I shared a few years back:

It is difficult to adequately prepare any leader for the challenges they will face as well as the decisions that will have to be made.  There are so many unique variables that just cannot be taught.  It’s tough work knowing that difficult decisions will have to be made at times, including letting staff go.  Making decisions in a time of crisis is also a topic that is regularly explored in leadership courses.  The solutions addressed always sound great in theory, but their application typically isn’t very practical.   Talking the talk must be accompanied by walking the walk. That’s the hard part. It’s relatively easy for people to tell others what they should do. However, true leaders go through the challenging work of showing how it can be done. Accomplishments and success are earned through the actions that are taken that result in evidence of improvement.   Leaders know that it is not the work of one person that moves an organization in a positive direction but rather the collective efforts of all. 

Knowing the inherent difficulties in leading, it is critical to developing an understanding of what can stymie or ensure success.  Relationships are of utmost importance, but these do not materialize out of thin air.  Trust is a leader’s best friend. Recently my publishers Jeff Zoul and Jimmy Casas, shared their views on the topic.  I encourage you to give the piece a read, as it contains some valuable insight.  As I work as a leadership coach in schools, the topic of trust comes up all the time.  The following seven elements are critical in building and sustaining trust: empathy, delegation, consensus, transparency, autonomy, feedback, and communication. 

Empathy through kindness, compassion, and gratitude is fundamental to creating powerful relationships.  Whether it is a simple thank you, consoling a staff member, or handwritten notes of appreciation, using a consistent empathetic lens pays dividends ten times over.

Delegation builds capacity by empowering others to take a leadership role. If a leader tries to do everything by themselves, the result can lead to mistrust.  Look for opportunities to develop the leadership potential in your staff.

Consensus values the input of others when implementing large-scale initiatives. When warranted, use a committee approach or create a district or school-based leadership team that contains a wide range of staff to garner input. 

Transparency validates major decisions using research and data. When there is clarity as to why decisions are made, the seeds of trust begin to take root. Transparency also infers personal accountability by a leader if things don’t work out, as a unilateral decision is made when needed.

Autonomy creates a culture that promotes the freedom to take risks and fail forward. In Disruptive Thinking, I highlighted how autonomy helps educators move beyond their fears, which leads to a pursuit of innovative practices.  Additionally, influential leaders know when to get out of the way of their staff and let them flourish. 

Feedback that is timely, specific, consistent, actionable, and focuses on a dialogue sets the stage for growth. Trust develops when leaders are always looking for ways to help their staff improve or avoid pitfalls. 

Communication, when done effectively, relies on getting the right information out at the right time using the right medium.  While disseminating information consistently and with clarity is critical, non-verbal means such as listening and body language are just as, if not more, necessary.  As I shared in Digital Leadership, you won’t find an effective leader who is not an effective communicator.

All of the elements above help a leader build trust amongst staff resulting in a positive school culture. While there is no single silver bullet, consider where there is an opportunity for growth and the actions that need to be taken to either build or strengthen relationships through trust.