How to Cultivate Blended Learning Leaders and Grow a Better Pipeline
As more schools look to implement blended learning, positions like “Blended Learning Manager” and “Personalized Learning Director” have popped up in larger numbers on jobs boards. I just wrapped up my first year in such a role as the Director of Technology for KIPP Chicago Schools. As I reflect on this year, there are a few key skills that schools should look for in their candidates and/or be prepared to develop. In addition, a better pipeline needs to be created to sustain the growing demand.
Let’s start with the skills.
1. Instructional knowledge
It is important to know the instructional vision of the school and how blended learning fits in this vision. Having classroom experience makes it easier to identify the needs of the school in reaching this vision and evaluate blended learning models and online programs that address these needs. Prior success in the classroom also helps build credibility with teachers and school leaders. Plus, the natural empathy allows for a more thoughtful implementation that takes into considerations educators’ already stretched bandwidth.
2. Operational expertise
There are lots of moving parts in blended learning. Devices need to be ordered, the infrastructure needs to be sound, students accounts must be created, professional development must be scheduled, and the list goes on! A blended learning model can be great in theory, but operational bumps during implementation can sink it. Individuals with the skills to create robust systems to sustain the model are essential.
3. Data analysis
Blended learning programs produce a ton of data. With so little time in their day, teachers and school leaders need someone who can synthesize the data into actionable steps. This skill also helps determine if programs are effective and to change course if needed.
4. Change management
The role requires convincing people who you don’t formally manage to take actions. This is in pretty stark contrast to the role of classroom teachers.
In the classroom, teachers are able to change arrangements, lesson plans, bulletin boards, and more pretty much autonomously. Blended learning managers have to develop relationships with teachers, school leaders, and vendors to get their buy in on a course of action. This change is slow and not all ideas will get implemented or even considered. It takes someone who can see the bigger picture and how small steps lead to a larger vision.
5. Comfort with ambiguity
Blended learning is still pretty new and there are a lot of unknowns in the role. With so many unknowns, the role requires someone with initiative willing to shape their own role. The role is pretty new and blended learning evolves quickly. As such, the role changes often and requires versatility and flexibility. It also helps to have a network of counterparts to spitball ideas.
So, where are these potential blended learning managers?
I have had several people reach out to me this year asking for recommendations for candidates to fill these positions. Unfortunately, the people in my network are now in similar roles, in edtech companies, or otherwise unavailable. Even more unfortunately, this often means the roles get filled by those without blended learning experience or even education experience. We need a pipeline to develop these future blended learning managers.
The most common pathway I have seen is where a teacher who implements technology well into their classroom finds themselves in this role (this is the path I took). It is great that many blended learning managers are coming from the classroom, but a more formal pathway like ones developed for school leadership is still needed. Schools and districts should think critically when identifying potential blended learning managers and begin cultivating these skills to set them up for success as a blended learning manager. Once in these roles, schools and districts should set up professional paths for blended learning managers and create development opportunities through opportunities like attending conferences and involving them in school design processes.
Keep the conversation going. The list of skills above is not comprehensive. What other skills are crucial to success as a blended learning manager? What are other schools and districts doing to cultivate the next generation of blended learning managers and develop them professionally? Please respond in the comments section below.
[This article first appeared on EdSurge on 7/11/14]