Across Raising Blended Learners (RBL) sites we have experienced the significance of innovators at all levels – pilot teachers, instructional coaches and deans, campus leaders and district officials – developing the mindsets and behaviors necessary to transform to sustainable personalized blended models. A powerful contributor to this accomplishment is the power of “seeing is believing” as a fundamental design principle of the RBL initiative.
The power of “seeing is believing” experienced in the RBL sites is highly aligned with a recent Christensen Institute blog post, “Belief – The First Key to Blended Learning Success.” In this piece, Tom Arnett applies motivation theory to blended learning implementation. He posits the need for educators interested in blended learning innovation to embrace two components of motivation: subjective value and efficacy. Arnett writes, “No one pursues a change if he doesn’t believe it has [subjective] value, or if he doesn’t believe in his ability to make it happen [efficacy].” In our experience, providing repeated opportunities to help educators “believe” traversing the journey is worthwhile and achievable seems to further the breadth, depth, and pace of initial implementations.
Studying national examples of personalized blended learning initiatives prior to launching RBL, led us to pay particular attention to how best to oblige the strong desire of innovative educators to see what personalized blended learning “looks like” and hear directly from like-minded educators about their journeys with these new models. We understood this to be especially important during pre-launch and early-stage implementation. With exposure, pilot team participants, especially teachers, seemed poised to more readily make the critical mindset shift toward believing personalized blended learning would help mitigate against the problem their site self-identified during the competitive phase of the grant initiative.
Throughout the first year of RBL, we provided multiple opportunities for pilot teams to visit other sites in person and through virtual means to make their attempts at classroom, school and district transformation more believable. Each of the efforts described below provided pilot participants with concrete examples to motivate and inspire them to continue working toward change within their respective purview.
- We exposed the RBL vertical design team in all five demonstration sites to virtual examples of blended learning environments early in the design process.
- We thoughtfully curated showcase site visits among RBL sites throughout the year. A number of RBL pilot teams also joined prearranged tours at personalized learning schools within Dallas ISD (an NGLC participant). Here is an example of one of the Tulia ISD school leader’s talking about what her team was able to immediately implement as a result of visiting a fellow RBL site, Clear Lake City Elementary.
- As strong implementations emerged, we created playlists of short video clips of students, teachers and administrators “demonstrating” a personalized blended learning strategy. The playlists are organized around each site’s Student Experience Design Pillars like Student Agency, for example. This allows other RBL sites seeking to design, pilot and evaluate their progress toward implementing Student Agency strategies to “see” what this can look like in another year 1 classroom across the state.
The favorable impact of “seeing is believing” strategies reaffirms the powerful influence on educators attempting to innovate of observing personalized blended strategies and talking with other educators working toward similar outcomes.
Further, we found this need to extend well beyond the initial stage of pilot design and early inception to a continuous cycle throughout the year. This was to accommodate the variation in pilot team participants’ motivations and propensity for change, and to support continued iteration. For example, after initial exposure for the district’s grant team, some pilot teachers and campus leaders were quick to make mindset shifts and begin to adapt behaviors and structures.
Here is the KIPP Blended Learning Coach talking about the mindset shift happening among even non-pilot teachers once they see the pilot teachers implementing blended learning down the hall! Others believed the new blended approach might prove valuable in their context, yet lacked the confidence to forge ahead with implementation. Still others remained skeptical. As we continued providing opportunities to illustrate what new classrooms and schools look like throughout the year, motivation and support for the work grew and helped buffer against the inertia of traditional school cultures to maintain existing conditions.
Many RBL participants talk about their work in terms of changing the DNA of their current systems, and making this happen within the constructs of an ongoing traditional culture is a monumental undertaking. They recognize the need to sufficiently shift the mindsets of students, teachers, school leaders, district staff, board members, family and community members to the point that they will not revert to status quo. Attempting to shift mindsets and behavior to begin developing and embracing a culture of innovation rather than accomplishing a prescribed programmatic goal made this especially challenging for the RBL year 1 innovators. For many, past efforts underscoring improvements in student outcomes derived from a traditional approach of district directives and standardized programmatic implementations. In contrast, the RBL approach challenges sites to transform culture. They are endeavoring to build new cultures which embrace the constant use of multiple measures of data from the classroom to the superintendent and empower teachers, campus leaders and district staff to become expert instructional designers to re-think how time, space and resources are used in service of rigorous personalized blended learning.
Going forward, it remains essential to provide every single member of a district community with ongoing opportunities, resources and support to determine if in fact they believe that this work is both valuable and achievable. It is from this place of confidence in the value and efficacy of their personalized blended learning efforts, that teams become and remain motivated to achieve the necessary mindset shifts to embark on the behavior changes that ultimately lead to progress and momentum in their new schooling paradigms.