Getting the Talent Right
Through our experience in implementing personalized, blended learning in schools over the last few years, we have learned at least a few best practices for implementing such a technology-enabled learning platform in a way that provides a higher degree of faculty and parent engagement, as well as achieving student growth and improved performance.
As innovative school leaders might expect, getting the Talent formula right is the most critical element to successfully implementing personalized, blended learning. For us, using such technology-enabled instruction is not a strategy to replace teachers or reduce head count. Instead we recognize that the teacher is still the central part of designing the learning experience in the classroom. Because of this, we have identified in our hiring practices specific characteristics common to teachers who have been most successful in implementing such a program of instruction. Below are the top traits.
The teacher has to be a learner
There are constantly moving parts in the classroom: new and improved technologies, learning standards, instructional strategies, assessments, evaluation, etc. Teachers who have to be persuaded or cajoled to participate in professional development opportunities should probably seek out a different profession. As an innovative school leader, wouldn't you rather have teachers with whom you literally struggle to keep up with their pace of learning?
Implementing blended learning requires a significant learning curve, and it is therefore vital that teachers are fully committed life-long learners who bring energy, dedication and devotion to the table. If you can get the right people in place it can be a game-changer for your school. If you don’t it will impose a major roadblock.
The teacher must have grit
I’m from the South and I don’t mean grits - the word is grit! Teachers with grit have perseverance, the ability to overcome barriers, and an attitude that let's them see beyond those things that would keep them from achieving their goals. Such practical intelligence is a tremendous blessing to any school leader, and is a fantastic example for students.
One way we identify this characteristic in the hiring process is by looking for teachers who worked to pay their own way through college. Not all the time, but often those people have a stronger work ethic. They’ve had to struggle through the challenges of life and tend to be able to handle the difficulties of working through the learning curve of implementing blended learning.
(Professor Duckworth gives a talk on grit - definitely worth checking out.)
The teacher must be coachable
The best teachers are humble enough to seek and receive feedback. They want to improve their practice of teaching, especially within a supportive and predictable process of improvement.
In our implementation of blended learning we have developed a coaching process that is intense. This may sound crazy to some, but the teachers in our schools are observed about every seven school days--over a full year that equates to approximately 40 observations. Using this data, they have an instructional coaching session every two or three weeks, and a career coaching session that is offered each quarter. To support this teacher improvement process, two blended instructional coaches work in each school to provide real time feedback through genuine conversations and data review.
The teacher must be generous
We look for teachers that are willing to share. They don’t want to keep their lesson plans and "secret recipes" to themselves. They want to make everyone else better and be part of a team and a system. They want to givehelp as well as seek help, building a culture of collaboration and support.
This isn't an exhaustive list, but it's a good place to start. Having clear expectations of your teachers and a firm grasp on why you are implementing blended learning is very important for you and your school.
It is worth noting that the success of teachers in this environment is not predicated on their experience or age. We’ve had teachers who were brand new out of college be able to implement this, as well as teachers who have been in this most excellent profession for 30+ years. Some of the more experienced teachers that we have seen really get excited for student-centered learning speak about the freedom that it gives them and how it enables them to do what they felt called to do when they chose to become teachers in the first place.