February 9, 2016
“We grew the blended program by solving one problem at a time”
Last week Fuel Education held a Blended Learning Leaders Forum in Portland, Oregon, that featured two excellent speakers: Tres Tyvand of Bend La Pine Schools, and Bryan Wood of the Crater Lake Charter School.
Both gave inspiring presentations, and one element that stood out for me was that both gave similar answers to how their programs had grown. Each emphasized that their programs expanded by focusing on a problem faced by the district or by individual students, solving that problem, and in doing so showing how blended learning can be a critical element of success for students and schools. Then they moved on to the next problem, solved it, and in doing so the programs grew.
This approach, emphasized by two successful school leaders, demonstrates several important points. First, both programs have grown (Bend’s blended program serves 3,000 of the district’s 17,000 students; Crater Lake has an expanding waiting list to get into the school), by addressing specific, solvable issues. This contrasts with plenty of other blended learning programs that begin with large but vague expectations of what they intend to accomplish—and expectations of hockey-stick growth.
Second, although Bryan and Tres touched on common and somewhat vague terms such as “personalized learning,” their stories were grounded in real, and in some ways seemingly small-scale, problems and solutions. They have a student in mind for every story that they tell.
Third, these are successful programs that have been driven by dedicated people within the district administration, not at the top. As such these successes are not driven by a top-down approach. Certainly the support of superintendents and school boards is critical in some cases (such as in Washington, DC and Middletown, NY). But in many cases we see the most successful programs being driven by leaders similar to Bryan and Tres.
In her presentation Tres discussed success. She believes that to measure success, an organization should:
- Define what it is trying to do
- Devise metrics & methods for gauging success
- Consider the frequency and timing of when to implement & review metrics
- Reassess 1-3 on a regular cycle
She is also the first to admit that the regular re-assessment means that blended learning at Bend La Pine is a journey with a constantly changing destination. I expect that Bryan, who talks of replicating the Crater Lake Charter School, would agree.