COVID-19, The Game-Changer
The events of March 2020 changed the world of education tremendously. Many school districts across the state of Texas went on Spring Break on March 9, 2020, never to return to the buildings for in-person learning for the remainder of the school year. In 2018, the Texas Education Agency, the governing entity for Texas public schools, published the State Board of Education's Long-Range Plan for Technology, 2018-2023 (PDF) to provide recommendations to support district and campus planning. In 2016, Mike Morath, Commissioner of Education, and Governor Greg Abbott established the Classroom Connectivity Initiative to assist school districts and charter schools to improve connectivity in Texas public schools. This included increasing access to broadband networking and expanding the use of Wi-Fi in classrooms across the state. Districts all across the state, in turn, created their respective, long-range technology plan. However, no one could plan for the world pandemic of coronavirus, COVID-19.
COVID-19 has been and is a disruptive force for school instruction delivery. With the need for social distancing, proper ventilation, and the wearing of personal protective equipment, it became no longer "safe" to deliver in-person instruction forcing local education agencies to scramble to get online instruction up and running for students while providing training for teachers regarding learning management platforms. In August 2020, António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, stated, "The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the largest disruption of education ever." It is my personal belief that Secretary-General Guterres is correct. How we respond to this moment will influence our education system and educators' professional development for years to come.
Truthfully, COVID-19 has also had a major impact on the way organizations and companies go about "doing business." As the largest local educator association in the DFW-area, we are no longer able to provide in-person informational "union" meetings, professional development/retirement seminars, one-on-one coaching/legal support, legislative updates, or attending local school board meetings. Therefore, we had to do something different. We had a long-range plan, but we had to accelerate everything, and we had to get everyone on board.
So, what if...
For over 25 years, United Educators Associations (UEA) has been a local Education Association successfully representing 45 school districts and serving 26,000+ members in the DFW western metroplex. Our motto, "Right Here, Right Now," is the driving force and the heartbeat of our association. We provide liability insurance and district advocacy/representation. UEA affords members with 24/7 access to local staff and attorneys. However, when it comes to training and coaching, in light of COVID-19, we fall short of being "Right Here, Right Now."
In June of each year, the United Educators Association presents a Summer Academy. The Summer Academy consists of four 6-hour days of in-person training and serves up to 35 participants per session. UEA is limited to accommodating and engaging less than 1% of the membership base using the current in-person learning model. UEA must undergo a new phase of innovation and transformation to ensure that all members have 24/7 access to training and coaching opportunities. I suggest the creation of an innovative blended learning academy called UEA University.
Blended learning is an approach to learning that combines face-to-face and online learning. Blended learning will benefit our association and membership in the following ways:
It provides 24/7, on-demand, remote access to UEA's professional/personal development regarding education law, Texas Teacher Retirement, pedagogical best practices, and local education agency advocacy updates.
Blended learning allows our members control over the topic and time of their training and coaching learning opportunity. Blended Learning gives the participant power to personalize their course path, flexibility in when and where they are learning it to take place, and receiving support in self-reflected needed areas.
Lastly, blended learning and its 24/7online availability is more cost-efficient than face-to-face individualized coaching. UEA will be able to provide more coaching services to our members and future members. Now required in classrooms, our online training can serve as a visual model of blended learning, thereby keeping us relevant in the 21st century.
So how can we do this? To create and sustain UEA University, I propose the following:
Transform current training face-to-face training and seminars to virtual remote learning using the Teachable Learning Management system (LMS).
Expand our website and social media platforms to include short videos to introduce varied courses and webinars available in the LMS. I will also be working with the communications to use social media for advertising and "push" these exclusive members-only learning/coaching sessions and redirect them back to the UEA website.
Sessions will include additional readings, small projects, assessments, and course evaluations with best practices and district-specific highlighted educational trends.
Many of our members are experts in their subject/field and education fellows chairs in their district. The utilization of these members to provide relevant training enhances our viability and expands to include a broader knowledge base.
Innovation Overview and Timeline
Professional Development: Blended Learning For Teachers
Review of the Literature
In public education, professional learning or professional development (PD) opportunities for educators are often in-person instruction, driven by the local education agency or school district needs. PD should be relevant to the teachers and model best practices to improve teacher effectiveness to produce more significant student learning (Darling-Hammond, Hyler, & Gardner, 2017). School administrators reactively design individualized PD for educators as remediation or support plans utilized and designed to address an educator's deficiency. Blended Learning may provide a more proactive approach to delivering PD. Blended Learning is a formal education program in which individuals learn partly online and have some control over time, place, path, and/or pace of instruction. (Horn, Staker, & Christensen, 2015). This paper reviews literary support for Blended Learning benefits regarding teacher learning ownership, authentic engagement, and efficacy through cost-effectiveness.
Teacher Learning Ownership
Using Blended Learning for professional development allows adult learners to take ownership of their learning experiences. Blended Learning will enable participants control over the topic and time of their training and coaching learning opportunity. Blended Learning gives the power to personalize course path, flexibility in when and where Learning occurs, and support in self-reflected needed areas.
Professional development is most effective when it occurs in the context of an educator's daily work (Mizzell, 2010). According to the Institute of Education Sciences, the most prevalent PD activity chosen by 85% of the surveyed educators pertained to the teacher's content area. The survey revealed that educators spent eight or fewer hours on each type of professional development in which they took part, except content area PD, in which they spent up to three times more hours (Rotermund, DeRoche, & Ottem, 2017).
Benjamin Franklin once said, "Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I remember. Involve me, and I learn." Often educator PD consists of the "sit and get" or "sage on the stage" method, limiting participant engagement to watching or observing the presenter. Authentic engagement is critical to all learners, whether educators or children. Engagement strategies are as important as content standards—or perhaps even more critical when pursuing learning depth (Wolpert-Gawron, 2020). Schlechty's model of the levels of engagement suggests authentic engagement consists of learning collaboratively with peers (Cosmopolitism Learning Theory) and through interaction with the world (Enactivism Learning Theory) (Pinel, 2017). Blended Learning allows PD participants to collaborate and share real-life professional experiences. "Online environments that facilitate discussions, collaboration, etc., may increase the amount of clientele-to-clientele interaction. This may, in turn, enhance their engagement with the subject matter and provide motivational benefits from the increased social interaction (Dromgoole, Swift, Cummings, Dewald, & Payne, 2019)."
Providing PD through multiple blended learning modalities can allow 24/7 access to on-demand, remote access learning opportunities. Blended Learning promotes collaboration and interaction pedagogical richness and allows immediate access to knowledge to make it more cost-effective in the long run (Bin Mubayrik, 2018). Research consistently finds that in-person professional development requires a significant amount of teacher time, which is expensive (Darling-Hammond, Wei, Andree, Richardson, & Orphanos, 2009). However, using a virtual or blended learning session can be more cost-efficient by reducing the building overhead, travel cost for a presenter, and recording to allow the participants to review or be retrained.
Currently, more districts and local education agencies are utilizing Blended Learning to provide professional development. Using Blending Learning for educators' professional development opportunities allows for teacher learning ownership, authentic engagement, and efficacy through cost-effectiveness.