Blended and personalized learning has excited more and more schools. If a school is intrigued but finds itself on the outside looking in, where can it start? Thinking strategically about the investment of time and money along with the need for sustainability (fads are very frustrating to everyone), it can be daunting to choose an approach. Our experience at LearnLaunch MassNET, working with a group of 100 teachers, 2,400 students, and ten urban schools, has found a few key principles that we have seen to be successful.
Principle 1: Recruit motivated teams of teachers, including a point-person, with principal support.
Starting small, with teachers most eager to change, means that the investment of time and effort is more likely to focus on what can work rather than what doesn’t. In addition, when teachers desire change rather than feeling a mandate imposed from above, they feel empowered and intrinsically motivated to explore new possibilities in their instruction. A point person is key because we want a lot of communication, but don’t want to burden teachers. Finally, it is important that new practices are supported by the principal’s leadership.
Principle 2: Offer software products aligned to instructional objectives that address school priorities.
It is important to remember that the point of instructional software is not the software itself, but its possibilities for improving student learning. We have all heard examples of districts investing in devices and software without a clear idea how it will help students to learn. So, we work with schools to identify learning goals before choosing a product. We also want those goals to fit within the existing school/district strategy, so they aren’t just adding another “priority” for everyone.
Principle 3: Provide professional development and ongoing support to teachers as issues emerge.
We hope and believe that personalizing instruction through technology can represent a major change in how teachers work. This means that it can take a lot of teacher planning and reflection focused on instruction, along with perhaps even more problem-solving around practical challenges. So, teachers benefit from ongoing support to help make things run smoothly and to rethink what they are doing, both in the form of professional development and open communication lines where they can reach out for help by email, phone, or through their point person.
Principle 4: Highlight the role of teachers as evaluators of products to engage their expertise.
“Implementation” can be an ugly word in school reform if it means “teachers must do as they are told.” In our model, we do not tell teachers what to do, but rather seek to learn along with them, and from them, about how products prove useful (or not), in their classrooms. We research product usefulness by giving teachers multiple ways to describe how products are proving useful to them (or not), as well as observing classrooms in action.
Principle 5: Evaluate products on multiple measures including the Net Promoter Score as a summative metric.
Since technology is always changing, schools need to know how to pilot and evaluate software. We recommend using multiple outcome measures that assess the conditions needed for a product to be useful and whether it has evidence of improving student learning. Among these measures, the Net Promoter Score is a simple, global measure of a teacher’s enthusiasm for a product, and we found that it matched whether schools wanted to continue with their products.
These principles have guided our work but aren’t the only way to move towards blended and personalized learning. For those trying different approaches, we hope they can highlight key issues that everyone needs to address. Take a look at our Research Brief: Insights on Software Piloting in an Urban School District for more information on this approach and visit www.learnlaunch.org/massnet for more information on our project.