Letter to School Leaders: Blended Synchronous Learning Model

September 16, 2020


Dear Leaders,

I have the great privilege of working closely with so many of you; this summer and early fall, I have watched you discover, strategize, and execute finely-tuned plans — all through unbelievable circumstances. Aside from addressing the health and safety concerns around reopening our schools, you have taken on the tremendous task of understanding how to best teach students during this difficult time.

Who would have thought a year ago that the focus of many of your conversations, internally and externally, would be about public health protocols and hybrid education? Now, as your younger students prepare to return to school campuses, we all recognize that this will bring on new challenges and will call for increased training. It is important for our community to realize that teachers, who have already learned, shifted, and accomplished so much, will be called on to make constant adjustments.

It’s worth taking stock of where we were, nationally, with hybrid learning before this moment:

Hybrid Approach: Asynchronous and Synchronous Engagement

Our teachers, students, and families are quickly gaining familiarity with the concepts of “synchronous” and “asynchronous” learning. Prior to the pandemic, most of us thought of synchronous engagement as strictly teaching and learning in person, but now we are familiar with virtual synchronous instruction as well. Asynchronous learning, which includes pre-recorded online instruction and materials students can access when it fits into their schedules, was more often associated with virtual learning. As we move into a hybrid form of teaching and learning, school leaders will be challenged to continue to think through ways for synchronous and asynchronous learning to occur, with flexibility, in in-person and remote settings.

The Blended Synchronous Learning Model

With the start of on-campus learning quickly approaching, I know many of you are implementing innovative hybrid education designs that really go beyond the basic concept. Schools and teachers are working together to find ways to deliver lessons to both in-classroom and online students simultaneously. Some are using traditional, synchronous online models; others are using a blended model of synchronous and asynchronous, in person and off-campus learning.

Some schools will utilize the Blended Synchronous Learning (BSL) Model. This model is unique and calls for concurrent instruction for classroom and online learners. The BSL model is rarely used among higher education and K-12 settings. Using this approach will come with challenges and it will require patience on the part of students, teachers, and families.

This more complex BSL model may not work at every school and in every classroom. Leaders should thoughtfully consider the needs of everyone in their community to find the hybrid model that is right for them. Those that do choose the BSL model may need to upgrade technology to properly live stream lessons. Keep in mind that teachers will need ongoing training and feedback sessions, and ideally, a co-teacher or paraprofessional supporting students either in the classroom or online.

If you are interested, I have compiled a few articles and resources on virtual, hybrid, and blended synchronous learning approaches.

Adjustments

In order to fully embrace our new normal, we are faced with tough questions. How does one teacher teach both in-person classes and students learning from home? If teachers are using microphones to do so, how will they check-in with struggling students? Can they see their students’ faces on Zoom at the same time they’re looking at the faces in front of them? Can we ensure the online learners’ education is as high-quality as those we teach in person? Is there support staff available to assist teachers?

As you revisit, reimagine, and revise your school-level professional learning plans and virtual education plans, many leaders are thinking about how synchronous and asynchronous learning will fit into your school day, and what teachers will need to know and do to make it work. Leaders are coming up with creative solutions. Some schools are planning to have paraprofessionals and co-teachers assist lead teachers, while others are finding ways to creatively design middle and high school schedules.

Our Role

Our team wants to help however we can. Before the start of the school year, NSNO partnered with expert curriculum and instruction organizations that worked to support leadership teams as they developed their hybrid learning plans for this school year. This was an important first step as leaders and teachers began to tackle the complexities of planning for this unique year.

NSNO has also partnered with an organization, AXI, that specializes in instructional technology training, and we have offered their supports to all public schools citywide. So far, 36 schools have signed up for this support by joining our AXI collaborative. Over 100 teachers have already logged on to access the live and asynchronous support during the collaborative’s launch. If you weren’t able to register your teachers when we opened that process, and you are thinking about this level of support for the educators on your team, please feel free to reach out.  

A number of you have already shared what your teachers have asked for, in terms of support. Educators requested foundational training on using virtual platforms, while others wanted help with more nuanced instructional delivery methods. NSNO is committed to helping teachers and leaders through this process. I am reaching out because there are resources available to support you, and we want to continue to hear what you need. 

We know that, as leaders, you seek real-time feedback within your communities — now, of course, it’s especially important. This is also a great moment for cross-city collaboration. You can connect with other leaders to see how they are implementing their learning models and share best practices. Our Talent Team at NSNO is working to facilitate this collaborative experience in the following ways:

Our Hope

As you weigh your options and make your plans, I often think about what I would have considered and would have wanted, as a school leader, in a moment like this: a clear, concise look at the models, resources, and folks from other spaces that understand how to do virtual instruction well. I am eager for your thoughts and expertise – what has been working for you? What questions you might have? What additional approaches make sense? In the coming weeks and months, my hope is that our team will continue to hear from you and that we are able to share leader insights.

While scientists and public health experts work to find a solution for COVID-19, our hope is that students can continue to receive a quality education. We know that right now, you are grappling with all of the changes this moment has required. I am optimistic that over the course of this year, leaders and teachers will be able to take the best practices of this moment and use them to innovate. I look forward to learning with you – now and going forward.

Please, as always, do not hesitate to reach out.

Best,

Jawan

Jawan Brown-Alexander, Ed.D
Chief of Schools
New Schools for New Orleans
504-284-0456
jawan@nsno.org

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