Our Blended Learning Journey
Our blended learning journey started in the fall of 2016. We attended the iNacol Conference in San Antonio, Texas. We attended several sessions about blended learning. One was truly inspiring. A district in California was doing great things with blended learning - not just putting kids on computers to let software teach them, but truly using the model to personalize learning and meet the needs of students. If that meant having night classes for high school students, then that is what they did.
We were truly inspired and started our journey to bring high-quality blended learning to Region 11. We spent the 2016-2017 school year doing research, having brainstorming sessions, and visiting blended learning schools. The more we saw and read, the more we realized that blended learning was not just a cut-and-dry model that we could quickly train our teachers on in a few hours.
By the 2017-2018 school year, we had developed our first rendition of the Blended Learning Academy. We wanted to be innovative, meet the teachers' needs, and use what we knew about PD to make this a great learning experience for our teachers. Our first cohort of teachers came through the academy in the spring of 2018. We tried out a few new things in this academy. First, we included a field trip to a blended learning school as a part of our second meeting date. How can we expect teachers to do something in their own classroom if they have never seen how it should look. Second, we left about 2 months between day 2 and day 3 of our academy so that we could include time for the teachers to practice and apply what they had learned on the first two days. Both of these innovations were a huge success, and we received lots of positive feedback.
After this first academy took off, the word spread. We held a second academy in the fall of 2018 and it was full to capacity with a waiting list. We took what we learned from our first academy and made this round even better. By popular demand, we held the third academy in the spring of 2019. This academy was also filled to capacity.
Although it seemed that our blended learning journey was well on its way, we soon found out that there is a great need for blended learning support. Many of our participants expressed the need for their principals, assistant principals, and counselors to have training and support so they can support the teachers on their campus who are doing blended learning. They asked and we answered. We developed a Blended Learning Academy for Administrators with the first session in June 2019. When the session opened for enrollment, it filled in a matter of days. A second date was added to address the needs of our region.
Things were going great until COVID-19 hit and we realized that just like the rest of the world, we had to pivot. In a matter of days, we were able to start offering virtual sessions to aid teachers in teaching in the new virtual world and it wasn't long before we took blended learning virtual as well. Throughout the summer of 2020, we trained over a thousand educators on blended learning through our Engage by Design blended experience.
Although things have opened back up and we are able to return to face-to-face training, we are pleased to have a large arsenal of session types with different modalities of delivery available to not only the educators of Region 11 but to the entire state of Texas.