Leading Learning in a Blended Environment
By Eileen Belastock
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, blended learning is a style of education in which students learn via electronic and online media and traditional face-to-face teaching. As stated by Ann McMullan, Project Director for CoSN’s EmpowerED Superintendent Initiative, the world that we have been living in for over the last year or so looks very much like a combination of both.
In a recent edWebinar, sponsored by ClassLink and co-hosted by CoSN and AASA, the presenters talked about leading learning in a blended environment. They address the four critical areas that school leaders must address as outlined in the Leadership for Digital Learning Initiative—technological platforms, human platforms, program management, and communications with all internal and external stakeholders.
School systems need to prepare both their technology and human platforms for new ways of doing things and for continual, ongoing improvements for maximum impact. In Meriden Public Schools (CT), they are committed to promoting anytime, anywhere learning. Educational content needs to be available outside of the classroom and easy to access. According to the district’s superintendent, Dr. Mark Benigni, their cloud-based solutions, including ClassLink, supports students spending additional time online learning.
Winchester Public Schools (VA) has taken a scaffolding approach to technology. According to Dr. Jason Van Heukelum, Superintendent, “You don’t want to stifle that creativity and innovation with your teachers. It is important to foster that exploration of other digital tools by teachers on their own and then scale up when specific tools are practical and have a lot of momentum.”
The superintendents agreed that one of the challenges of leading in a blended environment is navigating human platforms. In Salem City Schools (VA), in which Dr. Alan Seibert is Superintendent, by honoring diverse content areas and levels, they have built a strong pedagogy around teaching strategies and knit it to the larger district goal. Dr. Van Heukelum concurred. “We are a people-intensive business, and many teachers all come at it with their flavor. If you do not invest in the professional development and the professional learning of teachers, you’re not going to get the most bang for your buck.”
McMullan said, “I think if we’ve learned anything in this pandemic year, it is the importance of communication and being sure that the right message gets out to the right people.” Dr. Seibert’s district gave a lot of thought to who the communication is intended for and uses classroom teachers to communicate messages to parents as often as possible. For Dr. Benigni’s district, the survey mechanism and some face-to-face open forums have been beneficial.
Lessons learned from the three leaders highlighted the positives that have come out of the pandemic. Dr. Van Heukelum said the pandemic accelerated the learning curve for his teachers in many respects, and pedagogically they are in a better place than they were a year ago. Dr. Benigni reflected that what he learned was not about the device itself but how it supports education in the classroom. “The products that work best for us are the partners we’ve always had.” All concurred with Dr. Seibert, who said that building relationships by any means necessary is highly critical, “Some of life’s best lessons are learned at the worst times, and I think we all can say, ‘Oh my gosh, yes, and could we learn it at not the worst times?'”
About the Presenters
Mark D. Benigni, Ed.D.
Mark D. Benigni, Ed.D. has been an educator for over twenty years and begins his eleventh year as Superintendent of the Meriden Public Schools. Dr. Benigni served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and Mayor of the City of Meriden. In addition to leading the Meriden Public Schools to its highest academic scores in district history, Dr. Benigni has presented at national conferences, taught doctorate classes, and published a book and numerous articles. He was recognized as CoSN’s and AASA’s 2019 Empowered Superintendent, a 2015 Education Week Leaders to Learn From, and as one of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce’s Ten Outstanding Young Americans. The Meriden Public Schools has received awards from CoSN, the Learning Counsel, NSBA, Digital Promise, District Administration, and Edutopia. Dr. Benigni is currently the co-chair of the Connecticut Association of Urban Superintendents, as well as the President-Elect for the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents. Dr. Benigni serves on the CoSN Superintendent Advisory Panel.
Dr. Alan Seibert
Dr. Alan Seibert is a New Jersey native who attended Virginia Tech and did his student teaching at Salem High School, where he was hired as a science teacher. Over the past 30 years, he has held leadership positions at the high, middle, and elementary levels in Salem City Schools and is currently in his 15th school year as Division Superintendent. Dr. Seibert is currently serving as president of VASCD, is a past president of VASS, a former subcommittee chair on the Virginia Standards of Learning Innovation Committee, co-author of a book, The Ninth Grade Opportunity: Transforming Schools from the Bottom Up, and in 2015 was named Virginia’s Curriculum Leader of the Year by VASCD. Dr. Seibert is married to Dr. Michele Seibert, a member of the research faculty at Virginia Tech where she directs Virginia Career View, the Commonwealth’s Career Information Delivery System. They have three sons, Chad, Logan, and Tyler.
Diane W. Doersch
Diane W. Doersch serves as a Technology Director for the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools Program at Digital Promise. She came from a career in public education, first as an elementary school teacher, then a middle school computer applications teacher, and finally director of technology in a Wisconsin school district with approximately 6,000 students. She then served as Chief Technology and Information Officer in one of the five largest school districts in the state. In that role, Diane helped develop a statewide data warehouse consortium for school districts, worked to transform her school district with laptops for educators and 1:1 devices for students, and earned her Certified Educational Technology Leader (CETL) certification. Diane serves on the boards of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and #EquityEDU, and is on ClassLink’s Senior Advisors Group as well as an officer of Women in Technology (WIT) Wisconsin.
About the Host
Ann McMullan is Project Director for CoSN’s EmpowerED Superintendents Initiative. Ann served as Executive Director for Educational Technology in Klein ISD, near Houston, Texas until September 2013, when she and her family moved to Los Angeles, California. For 16 years Ann led the district team that provided professional development on technology and 21st century instructional strategies to 4,000 educators serving 50,000 students. She was co-chair of the Texas Education Technology Advisory Committee which developed the Texas Long Range Plan for Technology.
Today, Ann works as a public speaker, writer, and education consultant focused on leadership to meet the needs of today’s students. Ann serves on the edWeb.net Advisory Board, ClassLink’s Senior Advisors Group, and is a founding member of ERDI’s Alliance for Education Impact Advisory Council. She also volunteers as a leadership consultant with Executive Service Corps of Southern California, serving non-profit associations. Ann is the co-author of Life Lessons in Leadership, available on Amazon.com.
Join the Community
Super-Connected is a free professional learning community on edWeb.net for school superintendents, district leadership, and aspiring district leaders.
CoSN (the Consortium for School Networking) is the premier professional association for school system technology leaders. CoSN provides thought leadership resources, community, best practices and advocacy tools to help leaders succeed in the digital transformation. CoSN represents over 13 million students in school districts nationwide and continues to grow as a powerful and influential voice in K-12 education.
ClassLink empowers your students and teachers with instant access to their learning resources. ClassLink® OneClick® includes a library of over 5,000 single sign-on apps and instant links to file folders at school and on Google, Office 365, and Dropbox cloud drives. ClassLink Roster Server easily and securely delivers class rosters to any publisher using open technology standards. ClassLink Analytics gives decision makers the usage data they need. Accessible from any computer, tablet or smartphone, ClassLink is ideal for 1to1 and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiatives.
Eileen Belastock, CETL is the Director of Technology and Information for Nauset Public Schools, MA, and also works with edWeb.net to write articles on their professional learning edWebinars. You can follow Eileen on Twitter @EileenBelastock.