Turning to Blended Professional Learning: A Teacher’s Perspective

This month in our Coaching in Action series, HMH classroom coach Amy Groth chronicles the implementation of a blending professional learning model for supporting teachers and interviews Claire, a teacher who found success using this form of coaching. 

In my 15 years as an elementary classroom teacher, I have not only had the opportunity to work with all kinds of students but also with educators and teacher candidates. I bring this experience and passion for continued learning to the districts and teachers I work with now as a regional consultant.

When I was approached about the opportunity to implement a new model for support, I couldn’t wait to get started. The blended professional learning model sounded like an amazing way to support teachers in successful implementation to help move their students forward.

I already had the opportunity to work with K–5 teachers during their trainings and in-person coaching sessions for their new HMH Science Dimensions curriculum. Now it was time to incorporate biweekly online coaching sessions and introduce them to a coaching studio where we could upload videos, share resources, and have continuous collaborative discussions with the team. When I approached the team with this model, they were highly receptive and excited about the opportunity for more support and time to collaborate with each other.

As the weeks went by and multiple coaching conversations were held both in person and online, I was amazed at how quickly the teachers and students moved forward. I fell in love with the model as a coach—but what did it feel like to participate in this model as a teacher? After all, teachers’ time is precious and I wanted this experience to be meaningful to them and benefit their students. So I reached out to Claire, one of the teacher participants, to share her perspective.

Claire is wrapping up her third year as a third grade dual-language Spanish teacher at an elementary school. Each day, Claire provides her students with language arts, science, and social studies, all in Spanish. She is passionate about teaching in the language and encouraging students to use it as well. “We learn from each other every day!” Claire says.

Here’s a question-and-answer session I had with Claire. (Her responses have been edited for clarity and length.)

Amy: Through blended professional learning, you had access to me as a coach during in-person visits and online coaching sessions and by using the studio between visits. How has this blend of support helped you sustain your ability to move your students forward throughout the year?

Claire: Blended professional learning has supported my teaching in many ways. The in-person visits were important to introduce new strategies, check in on progress, and address any questions or concerns. It was extremely beneficial to collaborate with colleagues from other buildings and grade levels, as it provided a broad range of perspectives.

Amy was prepared with activities and had the knowledge to help me better understand the new curriculum we were to implement. I left every in-person visit with a new strategy or idea for my classroom the next day, which helped my students move forward. The online coaching sessions using the studio were vital, as I was able to check in with my coach as well as colleagues to monitor progress and ask questions.

Amy was always prepared with an agenda, which helped guide the conversation; however, I felt comfortable exploring ideas that were not on the agenda when needed. During each online coaching session, I was encouraged to set a goal that aligned with the day’s topic. Amy checked in on that goal during both the in-person and online sessions.

Setting a goal each time helped me focus on a specific teaching method or strategy that I could use with the new science curriculum to support my students and enhance their learning continuously throughout the year. I enjoyed learning how to use this curriculum in new ways and wouldn’t have gained this insight without a blended professional learning model.

Amy: How did this model impact your ability to collaborate with your colleagues?

Claire: Without the blended professional learning model, I wouldn’t have been able to collaborate with colleagues from other buildings or grade levels in the district. At each in-person visit, I was able to discuss, work, learn, and plan with teachers at my grade level. This was beneficial because I am the only third grade teacher at my school who teaches science. I was also able to gain new perspectives from teachers who work in different buildings as well as at different grade levels.

We started each in-person session with a discussion about successes and questions. It was exciting to hear about other teachers’ lessons, activities, triumphs, and even struggles. We worked together to generate ideas for supply needs, assessments, teaching strategies, and student collaboration.

During online sessions in the coaching studio, I was able to again collaborate with various colleagues using a video chat. We were able to check in more frequently and could also show student work examples or videos of students collaborating using discussion boards. I specifically benefited from watching videos that other teachers posted so I could see how they conducted lessons and activities, and how students were engaging with the material.

Amy: With this model, video can be used as a tool between visits. What were your initial reactions to using video in your classroom? Can you give us some examples of how you used video and the impact it had in your classroom?

Claire: Initially, I was excited to use video in my classroom. I knew my students would love being on camera and that other teachers could learn from my students. One way I used the video was during a hands-on activity where students had to build an electromagnet that could pick up metal paper clips. I walked around the room capturing my students planning, talking, constructing, testing, and revising. The video showed students talking about what was working or wasn’t working, as well as the physical item they constructed. My students were proud to show off their electromagnets, even if they didn’t function properly.

Using the video tool helped to motivate my students because they knew that other teachers and students would see their work. A teacher at a different school informed me that he showed my video to his students, and they were excited to see other kids doing the same science activity! Another way I used the video tool was by interviewing a student about an animal footprint that she made out of clay. I asked her to show the footprint, explain the animal and its habitat, and discuss why the animal needed that specific footprint to survive. This example of the video tool encouraged my student to practice speaking in Spanish and use her scientific reasoning abilities.

Amy: How personalized was your experience? How did this differ from support you’ve received in the past?

Claire: The in-person sessions included a small group of educators, which allowed for us to get to know each other well and connect with the coach. The online sessions were made personal in that Amy posted and commented on each of my contributions, and the video chats only included two or three people.

In the past, professional development has been provided to a large group of educators—ranging from all of the staff in our building to all of the staff in the district—but it was not at all personalized. Typical professional development is generalized so it can reach many people on a surface level. The blended professional learning model is personalized so it reaches individual educators at a deep level to meet their specific needs and goals.

Amy: We know that flexibility is important to help meet teachers’ demanding schedules. How did the flexibility of blended professional learning help meet your needs?

Claire: There were a limited number of in-person sessions, which was helpful in that I didn’t have to find and plan for a substitute teacher for an unreasonable amount of days. Scheduling the online sessions was very flexible. I was able to choose from a variety of days and times so that I could find a session that would work for me. I was also not locked in to one day and time; I could choose before school on a Tuesday for one session and after school on a Friday for another.

My coach was also flexible. I once had to schedule a session during my lunch for a limited amount of time, and she accommodated my needs. I also missed an online session due to being sick, and Amy provided me with the information via a discussion board.

Amy: In your eyes, what impact did this model have on your relationship with your coach? How did this impact your success with implementation?

Claire: I truly enjoyed every in-person visit with Amy. She was positive, organized, knowledgeable, and always flexible. She knew each of the committee members by name along with which grade levels they teach and where. I built an even stronger relationship using the coaching studio. We met frequently using video chat, and my coach posted resources on the discussion boards. She also commented on my posts and gave suggestions when appropriate. It was important to participate in both aspects of the model—in person and online—to develop a connection, maintain that connection, and deepen the relationship.

Amy: In your point of view as a teacher, what would you say are your top three takeaways from participating in this blended learning model?

Claire: My first takeaway is that there is much to be learned from other teachers, even at different grade levels. I benefited from discussing and working with all of the teachers on the committee. I was able to learn from their success stories as well as their expressions of struggle.

I also realized that with help from an expert—the coach—and colleagues, I can use the curriculum more fully. For example, during one of the online sessions, my goal was to enhance my questioning skills. Amy showed me that in the teacher’s manual there are many resources for asking students questions during class discussions. I had overlooked this small yet crucial piece of the curriculum.

Finally, I learned that both in-person and online professional development can be beneficial if it’s provided in a personalized and structured manner. Blended professional learning helped me to grow as an educator, support my students’ learning, and deepen my passion for teaching science.

Amy: Would you recommend a blended learning model to other teachers? Why or why not?

Claire: I would absolutely recommend it to other teachers. The model is time efficient, personalized, allows for collaboration, and is engaging. I appreciated the collaboration with colleagues during in-person and online sessions, the support from the coach, and the ease of sharing and viewing resources online.

Learn more about the full range of HMH coaching services here.