A Conversation with Dr. Catlin Tucker

Hybrid Learning: The Gateway to Reopening Schools

DESCRIPTION

Although distance learning has been the primary instructional model for many LEAs during these past eight months, hybrid learning has always been the next step along the pathway to offering in-person instruction. To maximize students’ learning experiences in this new era of online and blended learning, educators continue to reimagine teaching and learning through an equity lens.

Dr. Catlin Tucker, a bestselling author, international trainer, keynote speaker, course creator, and blended learning expert, defines blended learning as “the combination of active engaged learning online and active engaged learning offline” (Tucker, 2019). Dr. Tucker joined Executive Director Tom Armelino and Dr. Michelle Magyar, Assistant Director of Business, Operations, and Strategic Engagement, in a conversation on supporting educators with hybrid learning. The trio discuss how various blended learning models can be effectively integrated in a hybrid schedule to enhance student engagement and create genuine moments of connection, while also maintaining instructional momentum.

The discussion is summarized in a three-part series, with each part providing the Q&A text, video/audio clips, and resources.

INTERVIEW PANEL

Dr. Catlin Tucker

Tom Armelino, Executive Director, CCEE

Dr. Michelle Magyar, Assistant Director of Business, Operations, and Strategic Engagement, CCEE

PART I

Many teachers understand the flipped classroom model — where traditional lessons are delivered via video for students to watch at home while class time is reserved for students to collaborate and apply their learning. Can you share how in a hybrid schedule, flipping the classroom can serve as a great way to maintain instructional momentum?

Embracing Flipped Learning

Tucker: More teachers are like, oh, yes, I’ve heard of flipped classroom. And I’ve actually moved away from flipped classroom as a label to flipped learning kind of where just with the flipped classroom, there was this idea that we’re going to send video instruction home with kids. That will be what they do for homework, so they can control the time, the place, and the pace of their learning.

And then, like you said, when they come to class, we can do that really rich work of digging in and applying and practicing and extending on what was learned in the video, but within the context of the classroom, where teachers are there to support students who have your subject area expert in the room.

You also have this beautiful community of peers, with whom students can lean on and ask questions and problem solve and troubleshoot and there’s a lot of beauty in that model.

But more and more as I play around with video, you know, when I was teaching and now in my work as a coach, video is an incredible vehicle to just create more time and space where we as teachers can really tuck in next to kids and be that facilitator coach. So instead of always thinking of it as the classroom and we’re sending video content home with students. Really, how do we lean on video, even in the context of the physical classroom, once we’re on a hybrid schedule or once we’re lucky enough to be back in schools with kids to free ourselves from that pressure to be at the front of the room, whether that’s orchestrating a lesson, providing instruction, giving directions. Teachers, there’s so much time spent in that “expert at the front of the room” role that I’d love to see spent in direct work with groups or individual students. And so I think video can really free teachers in a way that’s exciting, regardless of whether they’re working online with kids, on a hybrid schedule, or in this concurrent classroom situation.

Addressing Mindsets

Tucker: When I think about a lot of the work that I’m doing with teachers right now., yes, it’s digging into models and strategies, but we’re also having to address mindset and where teachers place value on, in terms of their work and the role they inhabit. So what I see teachers doing is placing a lot of value on their role as expert, you know, subject area expert. And of course, we have a degree of subject area expertise that’s really important, but I’m never going to know and hold more information in my brain than Google. So if all my value as an educator is tied up in my expertise, then technology and these different models are a little frightening. And what I would love to see teachers do, is start to really value the human interaction, that human side of teaching, that coaching, facilitating and I think video can play a really strategic role in allowing us to spend more time in that other role.

Armelino:  I think what’s interesting is, that’s always been the key, that was a key before we use technology. I think having people understand is, as Catlin was sharing – that we have to be intentional about that in this new environment and recognizing – it’s not just about delivering instruction. It’s actually being able to interact with kids, allowing kids to be able to interact with each other, and trying to figure out how to use the tool as a specific strategy around doing that and being intentional around it. I think that’s where folks are struggling is still recognizing that I think there’s this, there’s this, I don’t know, it’s that, that, it’s good as the enemy of great, as folks are just they figured out how to do this. So now that we’ve done this right doing then others. We’ve got technology in the hands of kids right we’re using the camera. We’re doing zoom. I figured out how to do this, get everybody to login  then I’m doing all those other pieces and say, okay, now it’s good at teaching. Let’s get it. What we know really works. Kids and actually thinking of this as a new tool and new strategy to enhance things which I really appreciate it. You were trying to get out there is trying to have people think of this from an asset based approach. Not a deficit approach.

MindSet → SkillSet → ToolSet

Tucker: Like the theory is great, but I want the hands on strategies. I want the resources like I want something I can use right now and I very much take that mentality into the training that I do with teachers and so what I realized is and I’m, I, you know, I’m kind of still fleshing out how to do this best with teachers because the mindset piece can be tough for them. I mean, but I think it’s almost like we have to approach it from mindset, skill set, tool set,  right the mindset doesn’t change,  I can’t do much work with the other pieces. And so I think one of the ways I’ve tried to approach it is, and I did this when we were, one of the things I did for you, is really let’s have a conversation about a theoretical framework that grounds online and blended learning. Let’s talk about teacher roles in this space and where you are currently investing your time and energy and it’s not the best place for you and your students to be putting that time and energy and how do we make adjustments and think about, you know, valuing things like, I see again, and this is part of teachers feeling like their value is wrapped up in being an expert. It’s like so much more time is spent in an instructor role and you can tell kids everything you want to tell them, but where they need you is when the rubber meets the road and they’re trying to apply or implement. They need coaching, they need feedback and so really thinking about, like, I’ll tell teachers, I think, giving feedback is as if not more important than the instruction itself. Without the feedback and the guidance kids aren’t going to be successful. So it’s all of these little shifts, you have to have to conversations about grading, and in this moment, which is really sticky also, but just getting them kind of questioning “Why am I doing what I’m doing?” and “Is it serving me and is it serving my students in this moment?”

Can you elaborate on your recent blog post that discusses the difficulty of planning for a lesson for students face to face and online in which you refer to the flip-flop design?

Concurrent Classrooms: Two modalities to support instruction, one method for communication

Tucker: So I was very torn about blogging about the concurrent classroom because I did not, I did not want, I’m very clear if you read my blogs, I don’t think it,  you know it’s not grounded and research is not grounded in best practice to me it feels like a solution that is convenient for staffing and scheduling purposes. And so I wasn’t sure I wanted to blog about it because I didn’t want my blogs to be seen as this endorsement, that this is a great way to handle this situation, I would much rather have teachers totally dedicated to online learning. And then those who are just in the classroom with kids because that juggle is just incredibly challenging, and I don’t think it’s what’s best for kids and I don’t think it’s what’s best for teachers. Now that being said, An increasing number of teachers I support are being placed in that situation. They have no control over it.

So then I want to be as useful as I can in thinking through, “How do we approach this moment and make learning as rewarding and teaching as rewarding as possible?” and I think for anybody who’s trying to juggle kids in the classroom and kids online simultaneously using traditional whole group instructional strategies are going to be very frustrated and very disillusioned very quickly. You’re just going to lose kids, those kids online already don’t feel like they’re equal members of the class, just by function that they’re not in that physical room.

So because my expertise is in blended learning models I was initially like okay, that’s what I would lean on if I was a teacher at this moment. I wouldn’t be trying to keep everybody’s attention on me on a single task at one moment. I’d be thinking about leveraging these models so that students had more control over the pace at which they’re moving through and that I had the opportunity to work with smaller groups of students. So the flip flop approach which you mentioned earlier. Is really just a very simple to station rotation. And the goal was just to have the teacher be able to focus on one group of students, the in class students, the online students, at a single time because what I kept hearing from teachers is it’s chaos. I am so overwhelmed. I feel like I can’t give anybody my complete attention. I’m like, monitoring the screen while trying to address kids in class. And so there is just this inherent inequality of teacher attention in a concurrent classroom and that’s no fault of the teachers. You have kiddos in the room who can yell out or raise our hands or what they’re going to command more of your attention and time. And so for me, the flip flop and always start with those kiddos online and begin every class with , hey, I’m training my kids when they come through the physical door or when they come into the zoom room, they have a welcome task and that welcome task gives me as the teacher, a chance to welcome those online students right because I physically like wait to the kids coming through my door but as they sit down to start that welcome task, I’m on zoom, hey, how are you doing I’m checking in. I’m taking attendance. I’m doing the administrative tasks that take time at the beginning of a period and then I do my teacher lead station with the kiddos on zoom and then release them. Ideally, I know that not all teachers get to do that because there’s requirements about time spent in that synchronous mode. But at the very least release them into breakout rooms or release them on their own, so they can do self paced work and then I shift my attention to these kids here. 

Tucker: One of the other pieces that I found particularly useful to address that inequality of teacher attention is regardless of the learning landscape the child is in, everybody uses the same vehicle to communicate questions or ask for help. So whether that is a Remind App or, you know, having a virtual queue with Classroom Q or messaging in a learning management system that way both sets of students have equal access to our attention as the teacher. So lots of challenges with that that approach for sure.

Armelino: I think that last piece. I haven’t heard that that last piece around everybody using a similar tool to communicate. Right is key, because I think folks are thinking when the kids back at school we put the technology aside and now we teach face to face and we use technology when we’re at home. You know, you bring your tool, bring your resource to class. This is a tool that we need you to always have, all your tools available.

Armelino: I really appreciate answering that question, especially with the way you prefaced it because I think that’s the struggle is we know it’s not the appropriate way to do it. And it’s a way, and I think all with good intention and often I think administrators are making these decisions around this how we’re going to meet the minutes and policy is creating some of these you know requirements and so they think they’re making it easier for the teacher because now we don’t have to plan an additional lesson. But actually what you’re doing is you’re creating somewhat of a nightmare, because now I have to plan around behaviors and kids who are sitting passively. I’ve had people reach out to me directly, both teachers and even administrators, who are saying this doesn’t make sense to me. This just doesn’t jive with what I know and I’m like, yeah, I can’t find anything that doesn’t jive with what I know about good teaching with and so we appreciate you giving that perspective.

Tucker: Well, and I think they’re like, oh, but it’s the highest flex model adapted for k 12 and I’m like okay, but if you think about the way in which most college courses are run and the teaching the strategies used, it’s a such a different experience that you’re using this high flex approach for at the post secondary level. And so I did some serious digging into the research to try to find, I mean I literally could not find a single reference to this being done in K 12. I found some awesome shout outs in post secondary but it’s just like apples and oranges, you can’t really compare those two and say, oh, well, they’re doing it here, we’ll just do it over here.

PART II

How can teachers effectively use in-person class time for students to work through an assignment first modeled online?

Establishing Shared Collaborative Virtual Spaces

Tucker: I wrote a blog about like really thinking intentionally about synchronous versus asynchronous learning kind of activities and how I would love to see that precious synchronous time. And that doesn’t quite frankly – it doesn’t matter to me whether we’re talking about synchronous in a physical classroom or in a Zoom room to really create time and space for the learning activities that benefit from human interaction, social learning. And so, giving kids a chance to bring whatever they have – notes or the beginning of something – to that synchronous time where  the teacher doesn’t have to give the instruction, doesn’t have to go through a model hoping everybody’s paying attention. The kids have had access to that. And quite frankly, if they didn’t watch the video, they can still watch it during this – you know, like play it. And the teacher can get into the weeds supporting that progress and also leverage the community, that collective intelligence of this group, to allow kids to work with and learn from each other.

And I think one of my areas of frustration – I actually just blogged about this – is what I perceive is the under-utilization of shared collaborative virtual spaces online. Like, how are we honoring the fact that, in part, learning has a social dimension and kids are – a lot of them quarantined, socially distant – craving connection. And we’re not necessarily prioritizing that in the synchronous time in the way that I think would help kids take these ideas they engage with asynchronously in a video or whatever and then put them into practice or apply them.

Armelino: And you’re absolutely right, that’s the piece that I think that it goes back to. People are still trying to get comfortable, so there’s this initial okay, I’ve got to do this. So now I’m trying to do it and trying to manage the whole class. And as you said, they’re trying to be experts and so they’re not comfortable sharing the learning, sharing the teaching, knowing how to engage kids, knowing how to be able to put kids into different rooms, how to bring them back. That whole management of that piece and having the comfort level of trying to do it. I think that’s why there are so many that do this whole group. Again, going back to the regular classroom, we see the same thing. Teacher “sage on the stage” kind of thing – having to teach and knowing how to manage cooperative learning and those pieces too.

How you would structure and manage a 40-minute lesson to make sure you’ve engaged with students?

Creating Space for Productive Struggle

Tucker: It’s funny, as a coach, I would pre-COVID go into classrooms, like I would have been in individual coaching sessions where we did co-lesson planning together, and then I would get into classrooms and teachers would always lament like “I just don’t have enough time. I just don’t have enough time to get all this stuff done.” And then I’m in the classroom, I’m like, “How long is this first activity going to take?” It’s just ballooning into you know where the teachers kind of doing what they need to do, and kids are kind of just taking their time settling in, and I’m like, we need to maximize this time. And I get it, teachers have so many administrative tasks they have to deal with and checking in, like you said, with kids who have been absent or missing assignments or whatever the issue may be.

So for me, that “do now” or that welcome task, it’s to make sure we’re not losing precious minutes at the beginning and also we’re kind of squashing some of those management issues that happen at the start a class because they’re wiggly little humans who are excited to see each other. And that’s okay, but let’s train them to kind of quickly transition into a task. And what I want teachers to do is to think about all the ways they could use that that beginning time. So maybe it is some brain-based retrieval kind of activities or maybe it’s start with a feedback form about tell me about this experience, how you enjoyed this lesson, how effective was this video. So using it as an opportunity to collect feedback from students so we’re continually learning and improving on our practice. Let’s engage them in some self assessment activities, let’s pique their interest, drive inquiry. There are so many cool kinds of things we could do to get them settled where it’s not always the same task, which can get kind of old over time for kids. They’re like, “Ugh I gotta sit down and do this grammar review every time at the beginning of class.” There’s lots of ways to leverage it to engage kids in metacognitive skill building and review and practice. And you know, even an online discussion prompt where everybody gets a chance to have their, you know, add their two cents to a conversation.

And then when it comes to the strategies I feel like teachers could use to engage kids, I go through and talk about lots of ways to structure like small group teacher-led experiences in a classroom. But even on a Zoom call, so many teachers, the go-to is like, “I’m going to lead with instruction. I’m going to lead with modeling.” And sometimes that’s all they ever do in those sessions with kids and you know, I just want them to consider what if you use like a “Hook the Group” strategy where instead, you lead with an unfamiliar problem. Maybe it’s a math problem you’ve never gone over or maybe it’s an unfamiliar task you are asking kids to tackle. And you let kids kind of sit in this space of productive struggle where they can chat, they can think creatively, collaborate with their peers. It could be in a breakout room, it could be in the physical classroom, and they just wrestle with it. And as a teacher, you learn so much just by listening and observing those kids at work. What strategies are they using? What questions are they asking? What prior knowledge are they drawing from? Where are the clear gaps that I need to make sure I address? And then once kids have had a chance to kind of struggle together in this productive way and you debrief and you let them kind of share out. What did you do? Why’d you do it? Then they lean into the explanation. They kind of want to hear the instruction because they’ve sat in the space of productive struggle.

I talk about modifying – like if you want to model something, let’s make that really robust and interactive, and you know, do kind of like that “I Do, We Do, Groups Do, You Do,” and create space for that. If you are going to do some direct instruction like remember that working memory in the brain is really small. So chunk your presentation and follow kind of a “Present-Pause-Discuss” strategy. I present for five minutes. I give you some time to catch up on your notes, process what you heard, identify your questions. And let’s have an informal conversation so you make sure anything that’s unclear, I’m able to clarify before we move on. So there’s all of these little approaches. I have one that’s like a “review, bridge, build.” Let’s start by reviewing something we’ve already done. Let’s create a bridge between that and what we’re going to talk about today. And then I have instruction. So just thinking about how do we make this interactive and engaging for learners so they’re not just passively listening to a teacher talk for an extended period of time in class or on a Zoom call because we all know that’s not going to be really exciting for kids.

Supporting Parents with Hybrid Learning

Armelino: What’s different now too, is that kids are home and the importance of – the parents have always been important, but many times, we’ve relied on the parent to do things separate from school. So we want you to support but school’s ours, it’s our domain. And for many parents, they’re comfortable with that. If my kid, they’ll come home and I’ll make sure they to do their homework. Now, especially for young kids, kindergarteners and those younger primary students, who now, you have an adult, you have an opportunity. Again, it goes back to that same mindset, skillset, toolkit. I love that piece. How do we be more intentional to make sure that we’ve engaged the parent to be able to support their student  and be a partner with us in helping to educate them.

Tucker: Yeah, I think parents are a critical part of the equation. And like you said with younger learners, they’re really like the…they’re the coach at home. And we can equip those parents with resources to support them in being successful. And I don’t know that that’s always happening. Like our conversation about video instruction, video models, even ever young learners, video directions and making those available so that whoever is at home with the child – the parent, the grandparent, the caregiver – that they have access to resources and tools they can use to support this learner.

I think it was a podcast with Zaretta Hammond maybe, where she was talking about really like – it’s the one where she uses the Apollo 13 analogy, which I thought was beautiful – and she talks about really engaging the parents, the first teachers right, and engaging them in supporting this learning. And pulling them into the conversation in a really intentional way so that when the teacher and parent talk, it’s not always that “oh my gosh, we’re in some kind of a conflict or some kind of a problem.” And I think often those moments between teachers and parents, which are so stressful as a teacher, they come from a breakdown in communication.

So some of the the best success stories I’ve heard from teachers are like teachers who are doing the legwork to position students, even young learners. It’s really sweet to see like second graders doing a share-out of the work they’re most proud of for the week, and the work that was the the toughest that they struggled with and why. Even if it’s just an audio recording on Class Dojo or remind and sending it home to to parents or sharing it via Seesaw, like a little portfolio pic for the week. Those teachers who use things like multimedia digital newsletters like, “Hey, this month, this is what we’re working on. This is how you can support your child. If your child needs more of this, here’s a an enrichment choice board you can use or whoever supporting your child can use.” And even hosting like periodic Zoom calls for the parents like, “How’s this going? What are your kids doing? How can we improve the situation?” I think those are the stories where I feel like teachers have done, they’ve done a lot of work to open that line of communication, but they sure have gotten a reward in feeling like parents are their allies and they’re not necessarily in this alone.

I mean, I encourage teachers to do this for students, but I can see the value as you’re talking of teachers doing this for those parents too. We know why we’re doing what we’re doing. But we’re not always very good at articulating that why for students or for parents. And so, you know, I remember one time a student like referenced something I had asked them to do as busy work and I just about fell out of my chair. I was like, I was so offended. I’m like, “I don’t give busy work. What are you talking about?” And they’re like, “Well, that thing that we did and this other thing we did.” And I had to take a step back. Once I like got my bearings and I was like, I have not articulated the value of this work very well if this child, this student does not understand why I’m asking them to do this particular thing. And that’s on me. I need to make my “why” visible. And I could see in this moment, teachers who are working with children who have parents in the background, really purposefully explaining the “why.” Like, “Okay, we’re gonna learn these sight words because when you get to reading,  this is going to help you.” And just knowing that okay, now I’m pulling everybody into a conversation about why are we doing this and what is the value or purpose.

PART III

In the Station Rotation Model, “students rotate through learning stations either on a fixed schedule or at the teacher’s discretion” (Tucker, 2015). Learning stations can include small group instruction, small group work, collaborative projects, or online learning, but a blended learning model comprises at least one online learning station. How a teacher can check for understanding and create re-teaching stations for students struggling with a particular concept, while other students pursue enrichment or extension work?

Personalized Learning and Formative Assessments

Tucker: I think the goal is to feel less like we have to manage everything. And it’s scary to let go and trust that kids can do it, but they are so capable. Doesn’t mean they won’t need some, you know, skill building and some redirection at times, but they can do it. And if the tasks are interesting and engaging, some of those management pieces kind of fall away eventually anyway. But that’s another, that’s another conversation.

So one of the things that I focus on a lot in my work with teachers who are planning for online learning because I’ve been a traditional classroom teacher, I taught blended learning courses, and I’ve taught entirely online, and I do know from experience that that physical distance between teacher and student online makes it harder to kind of track where kids are at. It’s harder to have your thumb on, okay, who’s stagnating, who’s making progress, who needs more, who didn’t get this. And so being really intentional about building those mechanisms into our lessons to collect formative assessment data is critical. Otherwise it’s very hard to, at the very least differentiate learning, and at the very best to personalize learning. And so for me, just reminding teachers that you know, that can happen at three different points in a learning cycle. You can assess prior knowledge at the beginning. We know not every kid is starting from the same spot. So are we being intentional about trying to understand where they are starting from, what they already know, or what the misconceptions they’re bringing into a particular learning cycle is? Then obviously, that check for understanding along the way – what are they getting, what are they missing, what have I maybe not been super clear about? Then getting them reflecting on the learning that has happened. Taking a step back to identify what did I learn, how did I learn it, what am I still confused about? You don’t have to do all three in every single lesson but just being aware that we want to be integrating those mechanisms as much as possible, not to shove a bunch of points in a gradebook, which I’m very clear when I talk to teachers, it’s a signal for us. Where are kids at and what do they need? 

Then as we think about the station rotation, you know, when we start doing those checks for understanding, we’re going to have kids who are in different places. And so using that data, that information, to inform – “You know what, today I’m going to group kids this way because this group actually needs this, this group would benefit from this, and this group over here needs this.” So in that teacher-led station, we’re being really nimble. And it’s fascinating because over the years, what I’ve heard from teachers who that hasn’t quite clicked for them yet is, “I don’t know why I would do station rotation? I’m saying the same thing three times or four times. Why would I do that?” And I’m like well, if you’re saying the same thing, the same way, three or four times, then that’s not a good use of your time.

But kids are very different. They have different needs and skills and interests and language proficiencies and are we taking that into account when we design this teacher-led station? Even if we’re going to cover the same skills or content with each group, maybe the scaffold supports, the problems, the prompts we’re using are slightly different depending on the kids that we’re working with. And so I think that’s kind of – you almost have to get comfortable with the rotation, make the mistakes that are just typical at the beginning of trying something new. And then start layering on that complexity of like, really being diligent about building in formative assessment mechanisms and differentiating those experiences at the various stations. And start with your teacher-led station, because that’s the one that’s going to be the most natural for you to start to make those kind of adjustments.

There is strong evidence and recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as others, that school leaders should “prioritize” full-time, in-person classes for the youngest children in elementary school, special needs children, foster youth, and homeless students. What ideas do you have to help LEAs balance schedules to accommodate this approach, while the majority of students continue to learn online?

Bringing Back Small Cohorts

Magyar: I kind of wanted to get at this larger issue of  why we might be bringing the younger students back to in-person instruction or on campus in some way. We think a lot of LEAs are going to probably be adopting this approach, where you have either the cohorts of high-need students or kind of the younger students. So can you speak to the rationale behind that, some of the the pros and cons to that, anything that we could do to help LEAs accommodate this, because you’re actually speaking to how young learners can really thrive in the online space. And so I’m just kind of curious your thoughts about the waiver options and bringing these students back. 

Tucker: Well, ironically, I think the most successful young learning I’ve seen happening online, is really prioritizing getting those kiddos off the screen. You know, have them pull together, build community, give an overview for the week. And then you have like, you know, I’ve seen elementary teachers who’ve been successful in this moment – it’s not easy, but they’ve been successful – where they’ll start with one of those quick 20 minutes, almost like replicating circle time on a Zoom call where the goal is like, “Let’s make connections. Let’s have fun. Let’s figure out where we’re going this week.” And then the rest of the week, the teachers are doing a really beautiful job of small group, like pulling kids into small group instruction, spending 15-20 minutes with this group, and moving.

It’s exhausting for the teacher, but then they’ve done a beautiful job of releasing kids to do things, whether it’s printing, or going outside and coloring pictures, or identifying colors and shapes, and all these different things, where they really found a way to allow young learners to engage in that experiential, very tactile learning that is so important for them. And quite frankly, younger learners don’t have the self regulation skills developed yet to be a successful in this asynchronous learning or even synchronous online learning. We have high school kids who are struggling with that and so  I think it’s really appropriate to try to get those kids back into physical spaces in a safe way obviously as soon as possible, because of the smaller attention spans at that age, you know like I said, not having those self regulation skills, and there’s also just like the social component, right. Some of these kids have never been in school or daycare, anything beyond their home environment. And there’s a lot to be said about that social interaction, that social learning that happens when you have to negotiate with other tiny people who want to get in your space and they want your stuff. You know, so those pieces, you can’t replicate that experience online as much as we would love to. As I said, I think what should be happening in the classroom are those pieces that really benefit from social learning and human interaction. And kids that age, they just love their teachers, right, like they have such a connection. And I heard a quote on an NPR story I was listening to where they were talking to a parent and they asked the kid a question. She’s a kindergartener and she’s online. They were like, “Do you have any friends in your class yet?” And she goes, “No, not yet. I haven’t met anybody. Just seeing them on the screen.” I was like, oh my god, I want to cry.

Hybrid Learning: Getting it Right

Armelino: Hybrid, I think, is where we see people shifting towards and we hope, at least we’re getting closer, right. I’m really curious on how do we make sure we get hybrid right? How do we do this right? And advice that you have on how to manage, you know, in-school instruction. And in particular, I think what we’ve seen too is, is that the hybrid model, I think for a lot of folks, is based on scheduling, right? If I was a school leader, what advice would you give me about how to approach hybrid learning, as we think about bringing kids back to school?

Tucker: Hybrid refers to so many variations so if we were going to do a hybrid schedule, my dream schedule would be having kids in one group in class Monday, Tuesday. Wednesday is a teacher work day with some online personalized support, and then we see another group on Thursday, Friday. And I know there are some schools adopting that specific schedule, which I think is awesome. And that way, we keep numbers low and we have the cohort system and all that.

I mean, I, in my own recommendations and like the last chapter of my doctoral study was like, I love to re-examine this idea of seat time and that learning only happens in a classroom and really approach the design. Like I’d love everybody to start playing around with blended learning models and start really prioritizing, allowing kids more control over elements of their learning, both in and outside of class. But I don’t want to see those moments of learning asynchronously at home as “throw away.” There’s so many ways to engage kids in dynamic, asynchronous learning that can set them up for a much richer experience when we dive deep, when we’re all together, or when you’re with your cohort in the physical classroom. So really thinking intentionally about which learning activities do I want kids to engage in that will benefit from them controlling time, place, and pace? And which really will benefit from that social learning, that human interaction? And I’m going to start to design learning for these two different landscapes with that information in mind. I mean, that would be definitely my advice.

Armelino: Anything different for secondary?

Tucker: No, not really. I mean, I think the kinds of things we ask kids to do might be different. But no, I still think it’s really, it’s an intentionality around the design work that we do as educators. And letting kids make more decisions, right. Not feeling like we have to control everything. And actually realizing that in releasing some of that control, we actually might engage kids that  otherwise are disengaged in this moment.

Leveraging Relationships to Reengage Students

With the passage of Assembly Bill 86, school districts will once again feel the pressure to speedily match students’ needs with the appropriate level of intervention and learning supports to accelerate learning. Although the question of how schools will address the large-scale learning acceleration of students is complex, we know that students need to first feel safe and secure to learn. This will require an initial assessment—in an intentional and formative manner—of the personal well-being of not only the students, but also the adults. In this past year, students and adults alike have been “battered by difficult emotions stemming from not only the pandemic, but also the economic recession and ongoing civil rights protests” (Prothero, 2021). Data on student and adult experiences will serve as the ultimate truth teller to help understand where they are and how we can move forward in addressing the necessary protective factors to engage our students academically. 

CCEE invited Dr. Peter Senge, co-founder of the Center for Systems Awareness and author of The Fifth Discipline, to be a part of the Leading Forward 2021 initiative. In his keynote session, Dr. Senge shared a conversation he had with a group of educators about the scar tissue left on our learners and adults after the pandemic.

“They talked about scar tissue. It’s one of the first images that was used. The damage has been done, and healing is actually more important in a way than learning in the traditional sense. Without healing, without recognizing and attending to the deep social, emotional traumas that students have gone through, we can think we’re focusing on learning and we can think we’re making up ground, but we won’t make much.”

As schools prepare to reopen, we must be prepared to address the reengagement of students and what that means in our current context. This begins with building or rebuilding staff-student, staff-staff, student-student, and staff-family relationships, which are fundamental in supporting the social, emotional, and academic needs of students. Consider the following strategies to strengthen these relationships:

Staff-student: Map out relationships so each student is assigned a staff member who develops and maintains a relationship with the student through regular scheduled check-ins. Greet students at the door, organize fishbowl discussions, and design activities for students to have fun and show school spirit, focusing on strategies that strengthen relationships and build trust. 

Staff-staff: While resources and attention, appropriately, are front and center in supporting students, less focus is paid to assessing and addressing the mental health of educators who have also struggled to find balance and safety during the pandemic. Conscious efforts should be made to leverage staff-staff relationships by promoting relationship-building and peer-to-peer support through “wellness committees,” mentors, professional counselors, social workers, school psychologists, or other trained professionals.

Student-student: Facilitate the process of creating a shared agreement for classroom norms, set the expectation that every voice matters, and provide opportunities for students to develop individual relationships and build a class community (e.g., “mix and mingle” activities, “glows and grows,” team projects) – virtually and face-to-face (as deemed safe).

Staff-family: Staff-family relationships have probably never been more important. Using culturally and linguistically responsive approaches, regularly communicate with families to schedule individual check-ins and distribute climate and culture surveys. Listen to what worked and didn’t work for them during the pandemic and use these opportunities to understand the needs of their children. Additional trauma-informed trainings or resources can support families in approaching difficult conversations with their children to help them cope with changes and prepare for the transition back to school.

As schools bring more students back for in-person instruction, we must create psychologically safe learning environments to accelerate learning, while advancing equity for our vulnerable student groups. The March edition of the CCEE newsletter will feature tools, strategies, and resources focused on reengaging students and building relationships, to ensure we are addressing the whole child. 

AUTHOR

Tom Armelino, CCEE Executive Director

School Re-entry and School-based Mental Health Supports

As we prepare to welcome students back to campus, one thing is abundantly clear – status quo will never be the same. Returning students will need unprecedented access to mental health supports to overcome trauma stemming from the COVID-19 crisis, social injustice, wildfires, and a multitude of other experiences. Schools must prioritize the psychological safety of all students, families, and educators as never before. Left untreated, trauma, anxiety, and depression will impair students’ ability to engage in learning, leading to greater academic skills gaps and exponentially increased social-emotional/behavioral needs. 

The research is clear—early intervention yields positive outcomes. Key to unlocking student success are credentialed school-based mental health professionals (school psychologists, counselors, and social workers) who play an integral role in the early identification of mental health issues. These highly trained professionals must be included in each phase of the school reopening plan, as they collaboratively support the social-emotional well-being of students, families, and educators. Within the Multi-Tiered System of Support framework, they implement culturally sensitive, trauma-informed supports for the whole child by: helping teachers embed social-emotional learning into the curriculum; helping students reconnect through back-to-school events, peer buddies, looping, and more; developing and communicating re-entry plansexamining infrastructure to conduct universal screening and informal check-ins with students; and managing a referral system for students at higher risk. Administrators—now is the time to embrace your Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) team as mental health providers. 

AUTHOR

By Jeannine Topalian, Psy.D., LEP#3365, CASP President

A New Lens for Learning

As we continue to reimagine what education will look like in 2021 and beyond, we have the singular opportunity to leverage our lessons learned and increased technical capacity to ensure that every student feels like they belong in class, and the classroom and learning experience has been designed specifically around their needs. The feeling of exclusion, that one does not belong, stimulates a neurological response akin to physical pain. Many of our students are likely hurting, and as they return to school, they need to know that their school is designed with their needs in mind and is a place where everyone is welcome, respected, and valued. We can’t have one-size-fits-all Tier One instruction and expect to use interventions to support every learner left out of that initial model. To do that, we need to be flexible and reimagine the role of scaffolds, options, and student autonomy.  

“Without a high quality instructional framework, such as Universal Design for Learning (UDL), schools will continue to risk having a significant number of students fail to meet the full array of educational opportunities and outcomes that hard working educators desire to achieve. As a former Superintendent of a district that implemented UDL, I can attest that UDL provided our district a common language, common framework and common way to collaborate and communicate about how we design and implement universally accessible instruction for all students.”

– MATT NAVO, CCEE GOVERNING BOARD CHAIR –

As we continue to reimagine what education will look like in 2021 and beyond, we have the singular opportunity to leverage our lessons learned and increased technical capacity to ensure that every student feels like they belong in class, and the classroom and learning experience has been designed specifically around their needs. The feeling of exclusion, that one does not belong, stimulates a neurological response akin to physical pain. Many of our students are likely hurting, and as they return to school, they need to know that their school is designed with their needs in mind and is a place where everyone is welcome, respected, and valued. We can’t have one-size-fits-all Tier One instruction and expect to use interventions to support every learner left out of that initial model. To do that, we need to be flexible and reimagine the role of scaffolds, options, and student autonomy.  

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a flexible framework that leverages decades of research and evidence to address learner variability, the individuality of every student. Prior to joining the CCEE, my primary mission was supporting through the implementation of UDL that all students could thrive in their general education classrooms. Over the years, I’ve found it very helpful to lay out some foundational pieces to prevent any misconceptions about what UDL is and is not. 

UDL is a lens, not a checklist. Practitioners of UDL set clear, challenging goals for all students and then, based on their knowledge of the goal, their design constraints, and their students, anticipate barriers to learning and then develop options and supports to mitigate or eliminate those barriers. The UDL Guidelines are a tool that informs our work, not a strict checklist or plug-and-play mechanism.  

UDL is a marathon, not a sprint. UDL shifts the center of instruction from the teacher to the student, empowering students to take ownership of their learning. This transformation takes time, for both teachers and students. No one should expect UDL to be implemented overnight. Do not expect that of yourself or anyone else.  

UDL is not “just good teaching.” There is no universally accepted definition of good teaching. UDL, however, has a defined framework, backed by significant research and evidence from the field.  Teachers have hard-earned knowledge, skills, and experience; these can be sharpened and delivered with intention to address inequities through UDL.  

Developed by Tom Tobin, this is a quick way to retrofit an existing lesson, assessment, or resource, building your facility with UDL through repeated, quick application. Writing lessons from scratch takes considerable time and effort, but we all have time to make one change.  

  • Select a lesson/assessment/resource you’ve used before and intend to use again.   
  • Identify the biggest pinch point (i.e. the place that triggered the most requests for help, the question that most students missed, the place where the most students got off track). Based on your experience and knowledge of your students, what’s the likely barrier there?  
  • Once you have a hypothesis, how might you plus one – add one new support, option, revision to address the barrier?  
  • Make that change, then test it out – see if the next group of students experiences better success. 

The April edition of CCEE’s newsletter includes two articles from contributing authors who are part of innovative programs focused on inclusion and equity, each with UDL at the core of their work. We also introduce the California UDL Coalition, a partnership with CAST, the California Department of Education, and several other California LEAs and programs, that seeks to promote, align, and support UDL efforts across our state. One of its initiatives is the CA UDL Network, which holds open quarterly online meetings to provide resources, share best practices, and solicit ideas, questions, and needs from the field. 

AUTHOR

James McKenna,
Assistant Director,
Professional Learning and Leadership Development,
CCEE

CCEE CONNECTION

LAUNCH NEWSLETTER 

Connecting New Learning to Direct Implementation

A year with COVID-19 has taught us many lessons and surfaced many challenges, including the way we have approached professional learning. Gone are the days of one-and-done professional learning events. We now know that providing educators with a list of workshops to choose from simply based on “what sounds good” can lead to disconnected, single event learning opportunities with little impact on the school organization’s targeted key results for student success.

The Supporting Inclusive Practices (SIP) project, as a collaborative statewide effort amongst team members from the Riverside County Office of Education and El Dorado County Office of Education, provides, in part, technical assistance rooted in intentional re/design of systems and supports at all levels to connect new learning to direct implementation. The most requested support is with implementation of universal design for learning (UDL) as a framework to create flexible learning environments that maximize choice, so that each and every student can learn in the way they learn best

The Arcadia Unified School District in Los Angeles County is among the growing number of districts implementing UDL in our state. Knowing a one- or two-day UDL workshop would not suffice, Dr. Katherine Mahoney, Director of Special Education, offered this of their intentional design across several years: “With the support of the SIP team, the time AUSD students with disabilities spent in general education settings increased by more than 28% over five years. In 2019 the academic performance for students with disabilities increased in English Language Arts by 13.4% and in Math by 8.4% on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.”

The Poway Unified School District in San Diego County is on this same path for UDL implementation.  Megan Gross, Teacher on Special Assignment, shared, “In 2021 we partnered with SIP to begin a professional learning series focused on UDL that will continue through the 2022 school year. Our goal is to provide 31 schools (elementary and middle) the instructional design tools to increase access to general education for all students.”  

California’s educators are moving beyond one-off workshops after seeing sustained, measurable outcomes for all students with ongoing coaching and scaling of UDL over time. It is this work that is the heart of SIP! Learn more about UDL on the SIP website, which offers access to archived resources and free professional learning events.

AUTHOR

Kristin Brooks, Ed.D.,
Executive Director,
Supporting Inclusive Practices (SIP)

Reversing the “Summer Slide”

study conducted by Johns Hopkins University researchers estimates that as much as two-thirds of the achievement gap in the elementary grades can be directly traced to learning loss in the summer, or what we call the “summer slide.” With the significant loss of in-person learning over the past 14 months, learning gaps have widened even further as evidenced by the findings shared by PACE and NWEA. Summer 2021 is an opportunity for school districts to expand access to summer learning, when the need has never been greater or more important!

As districts plan for the learning that will take place over the summer, they may be faced with pressures and demands to “think outside of the box” or to reimagine schools in the form of new models for learning. In some ways, this creates unrealistic expectations and can distract from what we know has been effective in promoting student success. Quick fixes, such as programs designed to educate children in a simpler way or off-the-shelf curriculum that pledge large gains for students, are unrealistic. Rather, a balanced approach that includes a blend of academics, social interaction, and enrichment is key to engaging students, increasing their sense of belonging, and unlocking their curiosity and passion for learning.

Summer learning provides a renewed opportunity to invite various stakeholders to the table, including teachers, parents, and community partners, to collaborate as key designers of student learning. Student data should serve as a key factor to identify targeted supports to address inequities. To ensure that the learning over the summer is not a one-off, districts will need to align summer learning to what students will be assessed in in the fall when they are back within the confines of a classroom. Consider leveraging the resources and expertise of key partners like the YMCA, county-wide recreation programs, churches, advocacy groups, social services, and other community-based organizations to expand access to both academic and mental health supports available to students. 

Traditional summer school, often enrichment-based, will fall short if academic interventions are not embedded in summer learning opportunities to accelerate learning. Focused on collective efficacy and true collaboration, district teams must design extended learning opportunities that implement high-quality curriculum with fidelity and are aligned to metrics for formative assessments. Highly trained staff with experience and knowledge of the grade-level content must be at the forefront of these summer learning opportunities to accelerate learning and prevent further “summer slide,” as students prepare to return to in-person instruction in the fall. High-dosage tutoring, mental health resources, nutrition programs, high-quality early education, project-based learning, STEM, and research-based credit recovery programs will be key to the success of students this summer. To ensure that these summer learning programs serve students who can most benefit, student outreach will need to be personalized to target and recruit specific groups of students.

Districts will need to take on this new and real challenge, embracing the summer as an opportunity to reengage students, assess their needs, and begin closing the learning gaps that will likely be evident in the new school year. Recognizing that there are no quick fixes, this begins with what we’ve always known works for students – learning and relationships are entwined; advancing student learning begins with grade-level content and support; high expectations and relevant course content increase student engagement; and needs of adults must be addressed to provide safe and supportive learning environments for students. 

To support districts in this ever-challenging opportunity, this month’s newsletter will feature tools, strategies, and resources to design summer learning programs that provide the necessary settings to accelerate learning, while advancing equity for our most vulnerable student groups. 

AUTHOR

Tom Armelino, Executive Director, CCEE

Year-Round Learning – The Time Has Come

Over the decades, there’s been much commentary about the downsides of our school calendar, which was designed to accommodate a farming economy. While this calendar has clearly persisted far beyond its practical application, old habits die hard, especially when so much of American life has revolved around school breaks. Amusement parks, vacation destinations, and other industries have been built around the summer vacation, and many families as well as educators have become very attached to this ritual.

However, for just as many families, and particularly those struggling financially who don’t have the luxury of long vacations or time off from work, summer paints a very different picture. Rather than attending camp and going on vacation, the children of these families are left with little to do and often suffer from what we’ve coined “summer slide”. Research has shown that summer slide is cumulative, so children who miss out on structured learning opportunities summer after summer are at far greater risk of falling behind, of not graduating, and missing key experiences and relationships that lead to college and career paths.

With all we know from both research and experience, why do we consider learning as something that happens just between September and June or between 8am and 3pm? Children are learning all the time—in school and out of school. Our expanded learning and youth development sectors have worked very hard to fill those learning, enrichment, and relationship gaps that children living in poverty experience after school, during winter and spring breaks, and over the long summer. But these out of school programs and opportunities aren’t available to every child in every community, creating one of the biggest and most consequential inequities in our education system.

With unprecedented state and federal investments for expanded learning coming to schools and communities, and multiple years in which to spend, let’s stop looking at the school day and afterschool, school year and summer, as such distinct and disconnected blocks of time. Let’s use this summer as a launching pad for a different approach. For example, utilize new summer program approaches and partnerships to inform school year activities; include afterschool partners in early planning for next summer; and provide opportunities for blended professional development for teachers, school staff, and expanded learning partners so all are grounded with the information and skills they need to support children, all day and all year.

There are many examples to look to, tools to access, and proven practices that should be leveraged as school districts tackle the important work of growing expanded learning opportunities for students. Be sure visit our Summer Technical Assistance Hub to be connected to expert support with planning, program design and operation, partnerships, assessment and more. Want to share this with your network? Click here for a flyer!

AUTHOR

Jennifer Peck, President and CEO, Partnership for Children and Youth (PCY)

California’s Historic State Budget: Now What?

Extraordinary levels of funding in the 2021-22 state budget require coordinated efforts to build capacity, develop programs, and facilitate communications across various California education systems. CCEE is providing technical assistance to ensure educational leaders have what they need to successfully access funds and implement programs to support all students. Below are a few examples of CCEE’s collaborative support for county offices of education and school districts across the state.

Collaborating with CCEE, Partnership for Children and Youth (PCY) has developed a variety of resources to support school districts as they plan for Summer 2022. Leaders can read about and see best practices for re-engagement, reconnection, and reimagined summer learning from Summer 2021. PCY is also offering a series of webinars to help districts “Make Your Summer Game Plan.” The first Summer Learning Roundtable provided K-12 leaders, educators, and community partners with new technical assistance opportunities, resources, and on-the-spot coaching on pressing challenges to get ready for Summer 2022. Missed it? Click here to access the archived session resources and to register for upcoming workshops!

CCEE is also partnering with Turnaround for Children to offer their Whole Child Design Series. Created using the Whole Child Design Principles, the series of four 2-hour workshops (1/18, 2/1, 2/15, 3/1 from 3:30-5:00pm) includes support to understand and apply strategies to strengthen student engagementdevelop positive relationships, and create supportive environments. Representing a mix of curriculum and instruction, student support services, expanded learning providers, school leadership and teaching roles, district teams of 3 to 10 staff are currently being recruited. Learn with experts, access implementation resources, dialogue with colleagues, and receive two hours of technical assistance and consultation for each team. Interested? Email Katie Brackenridge ([email protected]) now to reserve space for your team!

Finally, CCEE is working with the Small School Districts Association (SSDA) to provide targeted technical assistance for the three largest state initiatives—the Expanded Learning Opportunities Program, Universal Transitional Kindergarten, and the California Community Schools Partnership Program. On December 8, 2021, these initiatives were launched with a webinar, Transforming Education in CA: 2021 Budget Act Investments and Opportunities, which included strategies for how to implement and maximize the opportunities and resources for students, families, and communities in small and rural school agencies. Missed it? Click here to access the archived resources!

AUTHOR

Roni Jones, Ed.D., Assistant Director, System of Support, CCEE

RESOURCES

UPCOMING WEBINARS

Flexibly Designing Instruction to Remove Barriers and Attend to Learner Variability

After a year of pivoting, it may well be time for a stretch. Whatever instructional calisthenics educators encounter in 2021, flexibility will be key. As districts hasten to complete learning acceleration plans to secure Assembly Bill 86 or American Rescue Plan funding, it is important to remember the role that intentional planning has in ensuring inclusion for the success of all students. The California Coalition for Inclusive Literacy (CCIL), led by Universal Design for Learning experts at CAST, supports districts at a time when “the myth of average” will not be more apparent.

As students return to school sites, they may come having experienced trauma, loss, triumph, growth, or all of the above. CCIL, a partnership between the California Department of Education (CDE), CCEE, and five county offices of education, provides professional learning to help districts and educators anticipate learner variability and proactively design instruction to minimize barriers. This three-year initiative, funded by the Special Education Educator Workforce Investment Grant, focuses on practical  implementation of UDL to maximize choice and provide multiple means of access to content for students during instruction.

Through a tiered service model of universal, targeted, and intensive technical assistance, CCIL fosters inclusive educational and literacy practices in both general and special educational settings. 

Universal Supports: CCIL’s universal supports ensure that educators across California can acquire the essential knowledge to provide access to grade-level content by supporting literacy within general education settings. Resources such as the Learning Designed instructional platform, free webinars, podcasts, graphic organizers, and lesson planning templates will all increase the capacity of your teachers and paraprofessionals to provide supports for all students, but especially to English learners and students with disabilities.

Targeted Supports: Teams of educators from districts and schools will engage in cycles of professional learning activities throughout the school year, including county-led training days, professional learning communities, and personalized workshops. Deeper work includes collaborative classroom observation protocols, sharing of demonstration lessons, resource creation using Lesson Design Studios, and opportunities to earn credentials through self-paced learning modules.

Intensive Supports: COE/SELPA coaches in five counties will spend three years diving deeply into CAST’s model of universally designed inclusive literacy development. These coaches will learn to facilitate innovative professional learning opportunities that build the internal capacity of COEs to scale and sustain their work across districts and into other counties.

“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”

 – Alexander den Heijer –

AUTHOR

Elise Yerkey,
Implementation Specialist,
CAST

RESOURCES

Designing for Literacy Development in the Hybrid Classroom (Webinar Series)