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Rethinking the role of the teacher and the key shifts a teacher experiences

Created by Silicon Schools Fund and Clayton Christensen Institute.

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Video transcript

As we think about reconceptualizing the role of the teacher for blended learning, we're thinking about five key shifts in particular. The first one is from lecturer to facilitator. Next is the difference from fixed groupings of students to more dynamic grouping strategies. The third shift is moving away from the explainer of all concepts and into the intervener with the student at the right time for their needs. And then from thinking about the job being teaching content to thinking about teaching content, skills, and even mindsets to our students. And the last shift that we're thinking a lot about is one that happens in several models we've profiled, which is from generalist to specialist. The idea that teachers can start specializing on those skills that they're the most passionate about where their strengths are. So to make this new vision for school a reality, we as teachers have to go after one fundamental assumption on how we think about our jobs as teachers. And that's like how our core instructional delivering model and letting go of the idea that we always have to teach something in order for students to have learned it. "When the kids are learning on the computers during personalized learning time, it's my job to just facilitate, and it's not my job to answer their questions, but it's my job to proctor content assessments. So, all I'm doing is making sure they're on task and being -- facilitating their learning. And that's kind of like my entire role, and it's not to like teach them in that time. It's for them to learn from their mistakes or learn from their successes." And so lecturers, though, still going to be part of the learning process. We don't want you to be under the wrong impression, but if you look in the blended learning schools that we're profiling, you see that it's actually for two reasons that the lecturer remains relevant. The first one is that in small group settings, the teacher's still clearly leading a class through a series of concepts and exercises. And the second reason is that for being honest, in college, students still learn through lecture and so mastering that is note-taking skills and being able to absorb the lecture is important. So in education, we're known for a long time the power of getting students into the right group at the right time. Now, what it usually looks like, though, is maybe the class is divided into three groups, and we'll call them "Cardinals" and "The Blue Jays" and "The Sparrows," but the kid figures out pretty quickly, I'm a smart kid, or I'm not a smart kid. And that's because the groups are fixed. Those things are set in stone and the kids don't change. It doesn't respond to the kids' proficiency level, which, we know, can change on a daily or hourly basis. So the big idea here is what we call "dynamic grouping." The groups exist on a concept by concept level, and respond to kids' changing. So they can go from a high to a medium to a low group even within a single week. So this points to one of the big shifts that a teacher will make as they move into blended learning, which is that you're really going to be using data to drive this idea of dynamic grouping or these changing groups. And we would argue that you should be using this data on at least a weekly basis, maybe even a daily basis, so that you're constantly sorting students to get them the right thing at the right time. I'll give you a concrete example. There's a school here in the Bay Area that uses the school created data tool called "ExitTicket." The teacher stands up to teach a concept, but right away, it gives the students a few choices questions to see what they know. Kids do their responder, and the students who get it right are peeled away. That onion gets peeled. The first level of kids go, and they work on something more challenging. Then the teacher begins to do some instruction, and pretty quickly, pauses again, offers a few more questions, see what kids do or don't know, peels the onion further until they get to the core of the students who really need the most magical intervention we have, which is more small group time with that teacher. "We reteach as soon as possible. And that's one of the really powerful things about small instruction, is that I teach the lesson in a small group format. Then I may discover that two students from group 1 and two students from group 2 are missing the same areas. They're both -- they both have the same misconception of lining up the ruler the wrong way. So I can pull those four students again, and reteach them just on that specific area. And I know what area they're missing because of the data that I'm able to get so quickly from programs like Edmodo." If you go into a full blended learning environment, it's very easy to imagine that the amount of data you have is going to get overwhelming very fast. Don't get overwhelmed by it. Pick the one source that's really, really good for giving you data that actionable, or pick the two or three metrics that you think really helps you drive that grouping and what students need instruction wise next. If teachers are doing a lot less of the explaining up front because of the software, that frees them up to spend a lot more time intervening with students 1-on-1 at the right time for each individual student. It's really exciting to see schools thinking not just about the content that they need to teach, but also about the skills and the way that students apply knowledge as well as even the mindsets that they want their students to have. And the whole business -- some of these blended learning techniques can actually free up time for teachers, so that they can actually spend more of the time on these mindsets and skills for students. And then it actually aligns perfectly with the Common Core coming as well, that's going to ask students to do more cognitively demanding work on their assessments. Now, the teachers and staff at the schools that we've been showing you think a lot about this role and how they get students to develop the content they need, the mindsets to be good learners, and the skills that they need to succeed. "I come from a family of teachers, so, I talk about teaching a lot and schools a lot with people. And, so I think that there's two things about this system that excited me the most and that I like talking about the most. The first is the way that we've really clearly identified those three big categories of the things we want kids to learn: content knowledge, the cognitive skills, and the noncognitive skills. And, any teacher can tell you, like, those things were important, and I teach all those things in the class, but I love the fact that we have distinctively identified those and explicitly set aside time within the day for kids to work on these things, so they know exactly what they're working on -- one isn't getting lost in the other -- because we're giving really clear feedback on either the content knowledge or cognitive skills or noncognitive skills. And each of them gets that 1-on-1 time for a check-in, so they know exactly what they're doing well and what they need to be working on." "Thinking about how my role is kind of the same and how it's different -- I think in terms of the differences, one big difference, obviously, is I'm not talking to the kids right now as much as about specific content as I used to. And I'm not constantly worrying about every single day as like is this one activity I did to helping them learn the content. I'm creating playlists, so I'm definitely doing a lot of work to help kids learn content, but a lot of the onus of that is put on to the kids." We see a trend in a lot of schools -- not all schools, but a lot of schools doing blended learning of teachers shifting from being generalist of all elements of teaching toward actually specializing on their strengths and the things that really excite them about getting into this profession in the first place. Now, many of you may remember the documentary "Waiting for 'Superman.'" And the big problem, Brian, that I had with that movie is actually its title. The implication of it was that the only way to save our schools was to have a superhuman teacher inside of every single classroom that was doing lots and lots of different jobs that no human being can do within the constraints of a 45 minute period. When you think, instead, what if teachers could go after what they were best at? The person who just loves to lesson plan, we'll use their great lessons all across the grade level and save every teacher from having to recreate the same lesson plan over and over and over again. The teacher who is that actor and loves the rapped attention of students can do more lecture and maybe have more students at a time and free up other teachers to do different tasks. The teacher who is that "data-wonk," who just loves assessment, let them go create the statistical reliable and valid assessment, but them use it across the school or even across the district. Play the teachers' strengths and let them specialize to the extent that they're comfortable or what's possible. "And once you decide that every teacher doesn't have to have the same job -- once you decide that every teacher doesn't have to pretend to be the master of 100,000 different things, which, as humans, we know is not possible. It's really exciting, and, when we see a lot of teachers -- some teachers really thrive in classroom culture and classroom management, and other teachers really thrive in getting kids to love writing, and other teachers really thrive in leading kids for a song about mathematics and really teaching them different ways about thinking about math, and one of the fun parts is, let teachers play to their strengths." So that wraps up the 5 big shifts that Brian and I see happening as teachers move into these blended learning environments. And we hope this list has been provocative and spurred your thinking sum. So we've introduced a lot of the ideas on how the teachers' role changes as we move into these blended learning environments. And as we think about what are really mindset shifts, it's important as teachers to think about, what can we do less of? And if there's one big idea I'd encourage to let go of, it's the piecing guide. This concept that we're supposed to have every student moving at the same speed. I mean, our education system is very, virtually built on the same assumption that we're the world's best astrologers. You say that the student is born in the year of the rabbit, and for 15 years later, on October 27, he's supposed to be ready to read Chapter 6 of Huck Finn pages 68 to 71. Why not give us the system that lets students get that material at the right moment for them? Let the student control the pace. And to do this really well, it means that we as teachers can't just be one week ahead of where students are at any given point. We're really -- if we're going to let students self direct their learning, have to have the entire roadmap laid out for them in advance, so they can drive this learning and keep moving at their own pace. Now, one important thing to remember is that there is still something important about setting a minimum pace, so that students don't fall too far behind. There's a really great story that Dustin Hoffman told on stage when he was having a dining conversation with Lawrence Oliver. And Lawrence Oliver was talking to him and finally, Dustin Hoffman said, "Lawrence, why did you go into acting? What does this do for you?" And he reached down and he held Dustin Hoffman's face and he said, "Look at me. Look at me. Look at me." And I think if we're honest as educators, we have a little bit of that. We want the attention on us. So the idea I'm going to encourage all of us to think about in a blended setting is, we don't always have to be the focal point of attention. We can turn students loose and let them work on different things. And if we do that, it frees us to not have this burden of managing this whole classroom in locked step. We can be thinking in groups, and it actually could take down some of our stress level and let it be a little easier to work in small groups at a time, but still be incredibly productive. We hold students to standards of productivity, rather than locked step attention on us. Now, another thing that teachers can start to move away from is feeling like you have to grade every single little task. If we're being honest about it, some of the technology can actually start to take that burden off of us and just automate some of that grading. "Also, the technology that we have, which is part of the blended learning, is giving me that -- I don't have to go home and grade tests and see who didn't get it. I know right away who didn't get it. And then it's fresh in their minds, and I can correct immediately what it was that they missed." We see schools doing lots of these little, tiny tricks to save some teacher time. When a student comes in, automate the process of the do now launching of the class, or automate the collection of data, that exit ticket at the end of class. It's really all about taking something you're used to do manually, and seeing if there is a way to try to make it automatic, quicker, and save time for teachers. "One story I always tell parents is that there's no reason that a teacher should ever write, administer, or grade a vocabulary test because we have computers that can do that, better and faster, and turn that data back into students immediately. Instead, our teachers are better able to focus on designing great lessons for kids, and focusing on the project-based environment that we know is going to allow their skills to remain at the fore-front of their learning experience." As we talk about these big shifts away from things that we're used to do in traditional classrooms in these blended learning environments, three things we think stay the same. The first is the focus on culture. The second one is relationships, relationships, relationships. And the third one is those magical light bulb moments. So, we talked about culture a lot today, and the thing that I just want to stress more than almost everything we've said about blended learning is that these schools nail culture. They are vibrant, joyful places that can also snap to attention when they need to and get down to work. So we want to show you some different kinds of classrooms, and pay attention to how silent they can be when they want to be silent, how boisterous they can be, but in total coral response with each other, and how teachers just zone in on what they want, and expect students to get there and hold them to high expectations. But the unifying theme of culture, predates every school that we've been talking to you about in this whole course. "The culture in a blended learning environment is really essential. I think the biggest piece of culture is students knowing that every minute that they're spending with me and every minute they're spending on technology is intentional. So before they launch any program -- before they do anything on technology, they know the purpose behind it. They know that this is helping me to grow my brain as a reader. They know that I am practicing math facts because I need to practice my fluency with single digit addition." "When you have a student body that feels like a uniform group of people -- almost like a team, you have the ability to teach faster and more, and every second really counts in a school day versus so much time being lost in a traditional school. We get our kids into the classroom, they know that they need to be in their seats in 12 seconds, and they need to be working on the do-now-its on the board. When the students are in the computer lab, they know that in 15 seconds when they walk through the door, they're counting down in the head, they should have their headphones on and be logged in to their software program. And those are the types of things of student culture, and efficiency in our schools that really lends itself to what is called bell-to-bell learning, where there are never downtimes for our students."