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Tips for Navigating Hybrid Learning

By Mandy Froehlich

I’ve spoken to many districts who are doing some sort of hybrid learning. I would also say that when I speak to people who are really struggling during pandemic learning, they are mostly working out of this model. Why? Because it really isn’t teaching one’s like teaching two at the same time. Learning online and learning in a brick-and-mortar setting is not the same thing. Online learning was developed to be an alternative way for students to learn who struggled to function in a brick-and-mortar setting. It is intended to be a different model and really isn’t intended to be synchronous all the time. Therefore, teachers teaching in this model are finding themselves taking their brick-and-mortar classroom and transferring it online, which isn’t online best practice because online learning really isn’t meant for that. It’s not anyone’s fault, everyone is doing the best the can at any given time. Right now, during the pandemic, it’s just the way it is. However, this is still one reason that it’s feeling so difficult. It’s trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

Before I give any tips that I’ve learned can work, I’d like to define the difference between hybrid learning and blended learning as some districts have taken to using them synonymously.

Hybrid learning is when the students spend some days in school and are required to be online, synchronously, the rest of the week. My own kids have a hybrid model, for example. Half the school attends Monday and Tuesday, it’s online only on Wednesday, and Thursday and Friday the other students attend. When students are not at school, they are required to follow their schedule synchronously watching the teacher in the room teaching the in-person students.

Blended learning is a pedagogical approach where there is an element of asynchronous online learning as well as face-to-face teaching. In the case where pandemic learning requires students to be at home, the face-to-face may be done synchronously, but students still attend a brick-and-mortar school when possible. Blended learning includes different modalities, such as 1-on-1 check-ins, and gives students at least some control over time, place, path, and pace (another support for personalized learning). If you’d like to know more, I’d highly recommend Heather Staker’s work.

Some tips that may work

Let’s face it, nobody has the answers for all of what is going on. There are so many different models happening right now and the world is a very heavy place. But, I have worked with districts that are making even hybrid teaching work as well as they can. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Be intentional about what you assign

When working with districts starting online programs pre-pandemic, one concept we would always cover is backward planning or backward design. The basic concept is starting with the end in mind. You begin with your standards or outcomes, determine what assessment would best allow students to showcase their learning (or may I recommend deciding the options you would give them for assessments), and then match activities that will help students learn what they need for those assessments. This kind of planning cuts out extraneous activities that don’t hit the mark and in the end, aren’t helping students know what they need to know and are giving you more to grade. I recommend using backward planning always, but in particular for online learning because students don’t always need the extra activities that are assigned. If you REALLY like an activity and think it’s valuable but doesn’t fit the standards, allow it to be optional. This gives students a chance to dig in if they are interested in the topic.

Teach online to brick-and-mortar instead of brick-and-mortar to online

Currently, I see many teachers trying to retrofit their regular teaching for the online students and it’s not working. However, if you switch your thinking you will be better able to meet both groups. Instead, teach your course like it’s an online course from your learning management system. Create short instructional videos or find videos for instruction. Release a week’s worth of content for students to have some control over their pacing. Utilize synchronous and in-person class time to connect with students, provide interventions, small group discussions, or expand on a particularly difficult topic that students may be struggling with. Think of it as the old flipped classroom OR better yet, utilize the blended learning modalities to facilitate the learning. That way, if a student’s wifi drops it doesn’t matter. Everything they need is in their course anyway. Another benefit of teaching this way is that when school begins back face-to-face all the time, you’ll be able to better slide back into a true blended learning model and all the benefits that it offers in a brick-and-mortar setting. Right now, because I’m a blended learning trainer, this is where I am working with districts the most...getting ready to get back into schools with blended learning.

Look to what others are doing

I recently put out a tweet asking if educators could pinpoint what was making pandemic teaching so difficult. It’s NOT that I doubted it. Not at all. But rather I was trying to pinpoint what some of the pain points are to see if it was a difference in professional development that was provided, the way that students were being taught, access to resources, mindset, etc to determine if there would be something collectively we could do to help. I’ve seen teachers really struggling...but I’ve also worked with some who are taking this in stride and who are able to have a life outside of teaching (can you imagine that?!?). I want to know why there is such a discrepancy in what’s happening.

I’ve also seen the “don’t tell us to do self-care” mentality, which honestly I don’t think is doing anyone any good. Self-care, meditation, mindfulness...all medically proven techniques for reducing stress and anxiety, improving focus and creativity and productivity, are a necessity. Boundaries are an absolute must. If you were teaching entirely in a school setting, you would not be emailing students back at 10 pm at night. There is nothing that is going to happen after 4 pm that is so incredibly important that it can’t be handled the next day. As educators, we all had days where we lesson planned or assessed papers after our contracted time. I feel like that’s just a part of the profession. But there need to be breaks in there as well.

You have colleagues who are making this work. Find out what they are doing - both pedagogically and for their own mental health. This isn’t easy for anyone, but keeping a collaborative, open mind can potentially get you back some of your time so you can take care of you so you can be better for everyone else. Here are a few tweets to help:

I have said over and over that I have never been more proud to be an educator as I have been since March and watching the incredible way that educators picked themselves up during an overwhelming, stressful time and continued to teach. I want people to understand self-care because I don’t want anyone burning out or becoming demoralized and leaving the profession. We will do better if we support each other in this. We all light a fire or stoke one in some way. Allow it to be a positive one.

I think it’s important that we continue to remind ourselves that we are in a pandemic and we are all doing the best we can. This is temporary and when the craziness is over we are going to be able to look back and realize how much learning we experienced in such a short period of time. However, being that we are still in the midst of it, hopefully, some of these tips are helpful to try to mitigate the stress around hybrid learning.

Mandy Froehlich

Author, Consultant, Adjunct

Director of Author Success EduMatch Publishing

Co-host BAM! Radio Network's Teacher's Aid

Twitter: @froehlichm

Mandy Froehlich passionately encourages educators to create innovative change in their classrooms. A former Director of Innovation and Technology, technology integrator, and teacher, she has experience at many levels of the organizational structure. Her interest lies in reinvigorating and re-engaging teachers back into their profession, as well as what’s needed to support teachers in their pursuit of innovative and divergent thinking and teaching. She consults internationally with school districts and post-secondary institutions in the effective use of technology to support great teaching, mental health support for educators, and how to create organizational change. She is also an adjunct for the University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh where she works with graduate-level educators in a leadership and technology course.

Her first book, The Fire Within: Lessons from defeat that have ignited a passion for learning, discusses mental health awareness for teachers. Her second book, Divergent EDU, is based on an organizational structure she developed to support teachers in innovative and divergent thinking. Her third and most recently released book based on educator engagement and mental health is titled Reignite the Flames.

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