Bringing Induction to the Teacher: A Blended Learning Model
As we bring new teachers into the district, how do we optimize our time during induction week so that we can focus on our critical goals and not be sidetracked by so-called "administrivia"? What is the best way for them to learn our previous districtwide professional development experiences? How can we do a better job of getting them in the loop with how we do things? How do we make learning, knowledge building and knowledge sharing core values for new hires? These were the central questions we asked ourselves as we began planning the next induction period.
We have a weeklong induction experience. While it has been effective, we knew we could do better. It covered all the details of payroll, insurance and absence procedures, along with core professional expectations, such as "operationalizing" the district's mission, setting up classrooms and designing instruction. While new staff appreciated the crash courses, almost all said there was too much new learning, too fast. One of our district's central beliefs is that learning is not an event, but a process. And while there was one feedback session scheduled 30 days into the school year, the new teacher experience was: They came, they saw, they were buried.
We needed a way to dole out pieces of our district's know-how in manageable chunks. But, before we could do that, we needed to get a handle on exactly what our district knew. So, we became committed to building what we call our organizational memory. Rosenberg (2000) defines it as "a storehouse for collective intelligence." We decided to construct our organizational memory in our Web site, PrairiePride.org, making the content accessible both on and off campus.
We were committed to changing induction from an event to a process, but we needed a model to make this happen. While we loved the power and convenience that e-learning offered, we also knew that for our most important and complex ideas we would need some face-to-face time, as well. So, we adopted a blended learning model that com-prises both electronic and face-to-face interaction. Our blended learning model has four pieces:
1. Web-based delivery. We decided the best way to confront the time issue was to put the learning content on the Web. Instead of letting loose a blitzkrieg of information in five days, we now could dispense it in small chunks over the course of several weeks, depending on when the person was hired. The learner can then revisit the subject matter or tutorial as often as they need. Each chunk contains an expert's contact information in case the learner is confused or wishes to go deeper. Ultimately, this also reinforces our core value - learning. It also promotes independence and self-reliance, moving away from the notion that everything must be taught in a class to be learned.
We created a system where a new hire can expect to get six e-mails that contain links to Web-based, multimedia-rich newsletters. These newsletters will hold tutorials on the business office procedures, what to do if you are absent, basic technology functions and curricular support information, to name a few. At College Community Schools, every teacher gets a laptop with access to the campus' seamless wireless network. New hires pick up their laptops in June and are expected to use their district e-mail account to dialogue with their colleagues from that point forward.
2. Face-to-face processing. As great a tool as the Web is for moving content, human interaction is still necessary to build a deeper understanding. When adult learning works well, it is transactional. There is a give-and-take relationship between the learner and facilitator that produces deep learning. Also, because schools at the core are social institutions, we believed wecould not abandon the face-to-face component of induction. We hoped to get much of the administrative and training overhead out of the way via the Web. New teachers will come to induction already knowing how to use the basic technology tools, have their insurance and payroll paperwork complete, and know the names and faces of who they will be working with on a day-to-day basis. Our goal was to give them time to process all the information we've given them on the pledge, mission, vision and instructional design, then have them build it into knowledge.
Face-to-face sessions do not mean just sitting and listening to someone talk. It is about knowledge building, creating understanding of the core values of the district and putting peers to work in a classroom every day. Face-to-face sessions during induction week include sessions with district instructional leaders, building principals and colleagues, both in work-alike groups and mixed groups. New hires also have several sessions to themselves to create and reflect on their learning.
3. Creating deliverables. It's not enough to just build knowledge; we expect our new hires to create products that can tangibly share this knowledge. This happens in three ways. After working with experts in face-to-face sessions, new hires write down how they will put into action the district's customer pledge, mission and vision in their classrooms. This first draft is shared via e-mail with other inductees and experts for feedback. This sharing sparks new ideas and enables participants to refine their thinking. It is also a nice way to crystallize their use of the e-mail system. The second deliverable is a syllabus. We have a tool, described later in the article, which lets teachers create and post multimedia-rich curriculum to the Web with little training. New hires create and publish their syllabi to the Web. Secondary teachers will also post their first two weeks of assignments to the Web for one course. Syllabi and assignments are viewed, and feedback is given by the group to one another. Finally, each new hire creates an electronic newsletter that will be sent to their students and parents. This newsletter has articles that contain an introduction, classroom expectations, communication channels and instructional philosophy.
4. Collaborative extension of learning. Without the final piece to the model, our new-hire induction would still just be an event, forgotten all too soon in the hurly-burly of the new school year. We needed a mechanism that would allow new hires to continue to refine their curricular thinking, go deeper into best practices and share their insights so the district as a whole would become smarter along with them. Each new hire becomes a member of a cohort group composed of two or three other new hires and a veteran teacher. These groups meet once a month for an hour to share and build upon each other's thinking. Groups also communicate via e-mail and listservs between meetings. In January, feedback surveys are given to help refine the induction process.
To take advantage of the summer, during which new employees are acclimated to the school community, they need an accessible community. The building halls are fairly empty in June and July, but that's not the only available access point. By making the tools of this process Web-centric - making the district's Web site a portal for learning, knowledge building and knowledge sharing - new teachers can have access to the heart of the district's community, as well as have communication avenues to all other members of that community at any time.
The learning experiences that have greeted the new teacher upon joining the district have all been created using the same online tools that the new teacher will be using daily. These tools benefit the new teacher not only by what they allow the teacher to create and share, but also by what the teacher can learnfrom examining the shared data and working exemplars available through those tools.
The Curriculum Designer (www.newmeasure.com), primarily used in grades 6-12, allows teachers to create multimedia syllabi, assignments, rubrics, checklists and e-learning modules online. A teacher can easily publish these creations in a standardized, organized fashion on the district's Web site. This tool not only allows the teachers to share this information instantly via the Web to parents and students, but also provides:
- Up-to-the-minute sharing opportunities between teachers, as well as between teachers and administrators;
- An opportunity to examine and refine the previous year's syllabi and assignments for the class/course;
- A blueprint of how the district builds curriculum, as well as a common language and structure to use; and
- An archive of the year's work, which will be used to refine and build upon the course(s) for future use.
Using the Curriculum Designer, a new teacher can become familiar with how the district builds curriculum, how it uses that curriculum on a daily basis, how it refines the curriculum over time and how it shares the curriculum with students, parents, administrators, the community and other teachers.
A companion to the Curriculum Designer is the Newsletter Builder, which is for grades K-12. Using the same online creation environment and tools as the Curriculum Designer, a teacher can create multimedia newsletters and publish them on the district's Web site. The Newsletter Builder also makes use of "push" technology, which sends a link-embedded e-mail to a teacher's subscriber list at the click of a button. Where the Curriculum Designer more directly addresses the issues of knowledge building and sharing, the Newsletter Builder focuses more on the equally important affective side of building relationships. Newsletters can be used to:
- Share student work and achievements, while empowering parents in the learning process;
- Build relationships not only from school to home, but also across disciplines, grade levels, etc; and
- Publicize successes.
Access to the Newsletter Builder allows a new teacher to begin developing a classroom atmosphere and immediately introduce his or her personality to the rest of the community. By taking time to examine others' newsletters, a teacher can also begin to get a feel for the district even before the building doors are open.
The Campus Student Information Management System (www.schoolextra. com) provides teachers with online access to up-to-the-minute student demographic, health, registration, attendance, discipline, schedule, transcript and assessment data. Because teachers are working out of a centralized data pool, the information they access is always the most current and correct available to the district. Access to the student assessment data in the system provides some crucial elements to the knowledge building process. Teachers essentially have a feedback tool to help them determine whether their current strategies are producing the desired results. The system can also be used to:
- Find contact information quickly for parents, students and their households;
- Diagnose potential roadblocks to individual student's learning;
- Increase efficiency in several mundane, paperwork-related tasks; and
- Involve parents by giving them leveled access to their student's information.
Traditional induction models have often fallen short of the desired goal of bringing new teachers on staff. The immense scope of trying to cram the culture, processes and procedures of a school into a few days' time, while new teachers are also preparing for the imminent arrival of their students, has often overwhelmed even the most enlightened of plans. While no technology will ever replace the need for human interaction in this process, a blending of varied technologies into it have created opportunities that were not previously available.
Fullan, M. 2001. Leading in a Culture of Change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Mezirow, J. 1991. Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Rosenberg, M. October 2000. E-Learning: Strategies for Delivering Knowledge in the Digital Age. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Read the authors' account of how this technology can aid in the acclimation process below.
Technology Aids Teacher Acclimation Process
On April 11, 2002, Steve (a fictional character) signed his new contract with College Community Schools and received the passwords to his distric e-mail account, Web-based curriculum design and newsletter tools, as well as to the Web-based student information management system. Four days later, Steve checked his current e-mail account and found an e-mail from the superintendent with a link to a Web-based newsletter. The first article of this newsletter contained a video of the superintendent welcoming him into the district. In the video, the superintendent said Steve would be receiving five more newsletters before induction week began in early August. Other articles contained a multimedia tutorial on the district's e-mail program, a tour of the multifeatured district Web site and a calendar of important dates Steve would need to know.
Shortly after working through this first newsletter tutorial and tour, Steve pointed his Internet browser to www.PrairiePride.org, the district's Web site. Using the know-how he gained by completing the tutorial, he checked his College Community e-mail account. Because he had already been added to his building's and the districts' distribution lists, he had several messages waiting for him. He read the faculty and student announcements each week; he also "lurked and listened" to many staff dialogues about all of the building improvement initiatives. But the most valuable part of the site was being able to visit with colleagues and learn from them.
Over the course of the summer, Steve received all five of the newsletters - about one every three weeks. In early June, he stopped by the district technology office and picked up the laptop computer that had been set aside for him. Using his laptop and the tutorials in the newsletters, Steve tackled the Web-based student information management system. He began diagnosing the needs of the students he would teach in the fall by using the assessment data contained in the management system. The newsletters also contained several articles explaining administrative paperwork, insurance forms, physical forms, payroll forms, etc. He completed most of these online; he downloaded, printed and mailed back others. One newsletter included tutorials explaining how and when to submit technical support and maintenance work requests online. But, the most interesting and meaningful articles were on instructional design. These articles contained links to many best practice resources. By reading these, Steve got to know the content experts in the district. More importantly, he saw the images and e-mail addresses of teachers in his building who could help him in each content area.
By the time induction arrived at the beginning of August, Steve was at ease. He was ready to delve into the substantive learning ahead. Having learned all of the basics from the newsletters, Steve was ready to work with the experts to go deeper. The learning started immediately. All of the paperwork had already been taken care of through the online and printable forms in the newsletters. There was minimal training overhead. Steve already knew how to navigate the e-mail system, the Web-based curricular design tools and the student information management software from using the tutorials.
The focus of the week was on how to "operationalize" the customer pledge, mission and vision of the district in his classroom. Steve knew that by the end of the week he would have to share his personal version of the pledge, mission and vision with the other inductees. He also would need to complete and publish his assignments from the first few weeks aligned with a syllabus, and produce a newsletter, much like those he had been receiving, which would be sent to his students and their parents.
The week started with an intensive face-to-face session that developed Steve's understanding of what the pledge, mission and vision meant to the district. Steve was then given time to develop a draft of his plan to add each of these elements into his classroom. He shared his personal plan with his cohorts in the induction group via an e-mail distribution list he created. This process began to build his personal network, which spread well beyond his building or grade level.
Later in the week there were more face-to-face sessions, which covered instructional design. After these sessions, he created and published a syllabus for his sixth-grade science course. Other members of the induction group browsed the syllabus and provided feedback. This Web-based tool also let him find out what fifth- and seventh- grade teachers were doing, so he knew exactly what his students would need to know to meet curriculum needs. Next, Steve disaggregated his students' assessment data from the student information management system to get a clear picture of how to differentiate his instructional design to meet his students' needs. He then posted the first two weeks of assignments to the Web. These assignments included two brief video tutorials on lab safety procedures and several multimedia-rich rubric assessments.
For his final deliverable, Steve created a multimedia newsletter he would push to his students and their parents via e-mail. This communication went over many procedural items, but the overall message was the embodiment of Steve's personal adaptation of the customer pledge, the mission and the vision of the district.
At the end of induction week, Steve could not believe how much he had achieved. The laptop, the wireless network on campus and ease of the tools made all the processes simple and uncomplicated. The hard part was the thinking, reflecting and learning. To end the week, Steve was grouped with two other middle school teachers who were new along with a district elementary veteran. They met about once a month to share their practices, solve problems and keep learning.
This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.