As a teacher leader or department chairperson in my English Department of 14 teachers, upon implementing any new initiative I begin my quest with the question—how forced is the intimacy among my colleagues?
Teachers are similar to students in that we too have our comfort zones or areas of expertise. We often self-segregate based on a variety of issues. We all know that the days of teaching behind closed doors are gone. We might still get away with collaborating behind our screens, but ultimately, face-to-face collaboration works best if we can break down our walls of comfort as we face all of the new initiatives here in “Education Land”.
Traditionally, we have found ourselves forced into a model for professional development where we sit in an uncomfortable room on an uncomfortable chair, trying to focus, as we think about all of the “important” things we COULD be doing instead. We all have our own opinions and approaches to new initiatives and professional development. I often muse over how I, as a leader, can juggle them to the benefit of each professional learning community (PLC).
Which leads me to the real question: to what extent do we as educators allow ourselves to fall victim to mediocrity in an effort to promote a false sense of collegiality? How does a teacher leader push the envelope to create new boundaries within a safe, positive learning community?
My answer is simple: Blended learning.
The support and implementation of intentional modeling has helped significantly in tearing down these walls of comfortable individualism. I approach blended learning the same way I use learning targets in my classroom— not only as a focus, but as a method of survival in the land of New Learning Standards. Why not approach my PLCs with a specific learning target in mind to remove all the emotional baggage?
I had to take a step back and truly evaluate my own role, asking if I had been promoting mediocrity to keep the appearance of peace in my PLC. Had I been doing my very best to support my own teams?
Blended learning is one way to encourage your teacher teams. Professional development comes in all shapes and sizes, but the blended learning model truly helped me to create a safe, engaging environment where my teachers could have true reflective, professional dialogue. Just as our students genuinely become invested in non-evaluative formative assessments, my teachers have started to do the same.
Think about it. How reflective is our professional dialogue in a traditional setting? Are we really honest with ourselves when a colleague brings up a new concept? Or do we bring in all the excess emotional baggage attached to the individual or to the setting? Are we superficial in our reflection? Does it ever really foster a change in our classrooms?
The blended learning approach facilitates a deeper, more meaningful and ongoing dialogue with my teams. We make it personal to our subject, grade level, lessons, and assessments.
With the support of our administrators and our team leaders, the idea of blended learning will become a staple in our professional development as we consistently meet in our teams. The combination of a building principal, department chairperson, and individual team leader creates an amazing structure to facilitate a continual blended learning approach. It provides us with a reflective environment where teachers and leaders alike come together, checking their emotion and bias at the door. No more need to unintentionally encourage mediocrity to promote a false sense of collegiality. Real reflective collaboration is a natural result of a blended learning approach to professional development.