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Blended Learning Requires New Human-Resources Strategies, Group Contends

Dig-Kids-Desktops.jpgTeaching in "blended" classrooms requires a different set of skills than teaching in traditional classrooms, and district's human-capital processes need to shift accordingly, argues a new report from teacher-recruitment and policy-advocacy group TNTP.

"The role of the teachers is no longer one-size-fits-all, so recruitment and selection must adapt," reads the paper, titled "Reimagining Teaching in a Blended Classroom" and released earlier this month. 

Methods for developing and evaluating teachers must also shift to better support blended environments that mix in-person and virtual learning, the report contends.

TNTP, formerly known as the New Teacher Project, is a New York City-based nonprofit known for its alternative-certification program and sometimes-controversial work challenging the way teachers are currently prepared and evaluated.

The new research effort, funded with a grant from the Cupertino, Calif.-based Learning Accelerator, a nonprofit that promotes blended-learning strategies, involved visits and observations of more than 20 schools across the country and interviews with 60 teachers and school leaders.

Not surprisingly, TNTP found that successful teachers in blended environments occupy roles that differ from those of their more traditional colleagues. 

Some are "researcher and developers," piloting and testing new approaches and technology tools and software, the group found. Others are "integrators," merging new tools and techniques with existing content and approaches into codified strategies.  And the bulk of teachers in blended environments, TNTP contends, are "guides," executing the instructional approach that others design and using data to adjust their instruction and personalize students' experiences.

For teachers, those new roles involve a new focus on skills such as collaboration and effective use of student data.  It also often means team-teaching in collaborative environments. Classroom planning tends to be longer term, incorporating a greater variety of resources tools, and requiring greater need for flexibility and adaptability. 

Classroom management looks different, too, when students are working simultaneously across a wide variety of activities, targeted to different skill levels and preferences, in often-noisy environments.

Those are all significant changes. For school and system leaders, though, the shift might be even more pronounced. 

Administrative realities have not yet caught up to blended classrooms, even in systems with mature blended programs, said Ben Jackson, a partner at TNTP.

"You don't need to have a single job description for a teacher any more," said Jackson, an author of the new report, in an interview.

"But while schools and districts are starting to think about what they need to do, and starting to make changes in some places, there has not yet been a complete shift away from traditional ways of recruiting, selecting, evaluating, and retaining teachers," he said.

Potential strategies recommended by TNTP include more robust partnerships with alternative-certification programs, digital-era job postings that target new types of teacher candidates in new ways, and modified messaging.

Jackson said that younger and non-traditional candidates might be particularly drawn to new types of "blended" classroom environments—a stance that will probably not be surprising to TNTP critics who have in the past disagreed with the organization's pushes around performance-pay, new teacher-evaluation approaches, and other hot-button issues.

"The value proposition for teaching in a blended space includes things like allowing for innovation and collaboration, the use of data, and the integration of technology, all of which are things that millennials care about," Jackson said. "But this is also a way to reinvigorate people who have been in the profession for a long time and are looking for new ways to exercise their skills."

In its new report, TNTP also calls for new ways of evaluating blended-learning educators, including a greater focus on teachers' "off-stage" activities such as "teacher collaboration, data analysis, and planning."  Student and teacher surveys can help, Jackson said, as can greater attention to collection of teacher-generated artifacts such as lesson plans.

Overall, Jackson said, such work on shifting human-capital processes to better fit the rise of blended classrooms is in its infancy.  But the work is critical, he maintained, even in the new digital age.

"No matter what, schools and districts are still going to spend 80 percent of their dollars on people," Jackson said. "While new technology is exciting, it's important to remember that the heart of any great classroom is great teachers."


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