10/30/2012 03:07 pm ET Updated Dec 30, 2012

The Need for Practical PD for Blended Learning Educators

Virtual Schools Symposium has once again come to a close this year. There were many sessions, talks, and workshops on a variety of subjects including curriculum and instruction, virtual school models, and competency-based pathways. One of the overarching, as well as focused subject, was around this question: How do we prepare educators to teach effectively in the blended learning environment?

This is not a new question. There have been concurrent sessions at past conferences, and there were sessions on the same subject at this year's conference. Yet, educators are still looking for answers. There are some things we already know about the role of the teacher in the blended classroom in terms of best practices. We know the teacher becomes the facilitator. No longer is the teacher the sage on the stage in the blended learning classroom, but the guide on the side. We know teachers need training on the technology tools as well and innovative ways to use them. We know that teachers need to know the content and standards to target for instruction and assessment. We know teachers will need to look at data to best meet the needs of their students. However, there is a better way to address all of these concerns, in more holistic and synthesized way.

We need to provide teachers with practical professional development in learning models. When we focus on the model, we focus on all the concerns and best practices articulated above. When we teach these best practices in "silos," teachers may or may not see how all the best practices and tools work together. Consider Project-Based Learning as an example.

Project Based Learning is a model that provides teachers with practical strategies to engage students. Teachers who are doing PBL in the blended learning environment carefully pick the digital tools to use with their students because these serve a purpose within the PBL project. They use it for collaborative purposes or as performance assessments, rather than simply using the tool for engagement. They learn best practices in management of the classroom that support the PBL learning environment. They differentiate instruction based on the needs of the students within the project. When teachers learn PBL and use it, it ties all the best practices of blended learning "in a bow" (for lack of a better term). More importantly, PBL contextualizes how to teach with practical steps and strategies. All the work that the blended teacher does with students makes sense.

Of course, there are other practical learning models out there, from authentic learning to game-based learning. If we invest in professional development for teachers on these practical and engaging models, teachers will learn all the best practices needed to facilitate a blended classroom. Let's create a practical context for teachers to be the best blended learning educators.