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Re-shaping the learning paradigm - how to build a learning culture for the blended classroom


Introduction - Re-shaping the learning paradigm - how to build a learning culture for the blended classroom

We, like schools and colleges across the world have had to reshape our curriculum, not for teaching pupils but for training staff across the education spectrum. Many of us have spent anything up to fifteen years designing, delivering and reflecting on strategies for professional development that challenge, change thinking and build highly effective skills for leadership, management and teaching and learning. Most of the courses we offer have been delivered face to face in hotels or other suitable venues, the presence of the trainer has been a critical element to the smooth running of the day and in ensuring that all our delegates go away having gained new insights and new skills to take back to share with others. A paradigm shift has been the inevitable consequence of taking all that we know and re-shaping it for a digital, virtual offer that will continue to be as effective and be of as high a quality as before.

The result has taken us all by surprise, the training is still as good and we are able to be flexible, more focused on individual needs and we can structure the training over time that allows for reflection and opportunities for professional dialogue in - between the sessions.

We have, so far, produced three different types of online course designed to provide a range of options that are accessible across different settings. Our off-the-shelf whole course packages provide a tailor-made course that can be used at a time to suit the school or college CPD timetable.  We are running a series of live webinars on set dates where a live presenter works with participants in real time and we have designed a suite of 'in a nutshell' training courses' that are one hour ready to use short courses for individuals to learn from at a time to suit them.

We have also worked with schools and colleges here in the UK and internationally delivering professional development for their INSET or PD days for up to 100 staff. The feedback has been excellent and many want to repeat the experience in the new year. 

The learning curve has been enormous. Probably the most important message for schools and colleges is that it is essential to acknowledge that the approach will be different and for us we have had to undertake some in-depth planning of how the online course will be shaped and organised to meet the constraints of working remotely. It is our intention in this newsletter to provide some insights into how to make the most of a more flexible online route to CPD for all staff whilst maintaining the need to provide the best possible quality of education for all pupils and staff. Some of the lessons learned are the same as those that apply to teaching and making a successful shift to a blended classroom that combines classroom learning with home schooling.

Stay safe and sane in these strange times.


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Curriculum implementation - continuing to deliver the key concepts that define high quality education

OFSTED and other inspectorate bodies are looking to ensure that the defined curriculum continues to be delivered for all learners whether they are working in school or at home. There is an emphasis on how key concepts such as knowledge progression and the sequencing of learning over time provide evidence that curriculum cohesion is maintained. Creating opportunities to sustain curriculum fluency has not been easy. Many learners have parents who have helped and maintained a vigil to ensure that their offspring continue to learn, others have not. Access to technology, text books and other resources has been prohibitive for some. Differentiation in this context is out of the teacher's control and creates tensions in what happens when pupils return to the classroom.

We have all learnt a great deal as a result of this imposed lockdown of schools and the return to school requires many subject leaders and teachers to think carefully about how they can make sure that all pupils whatever their experience of the last few months can continue to learn now they are back within the school environment. This requires a clear set of parameters where all departments are working from the same generic blueprint. Subject leaders whether primary or secondary need to define their role in making sure that the curriculum vision and rationale are translated into meaningful implementation that takes into account the gaps in learning for some. Subject leaders need to work with their teams to use their collective expertise and practical skills to build a blended curriculum offer that means where some learners have to work from home, they know what is expected of them in terms of learning using technology where it is available and having viable alternatives where it is not.

Senior and subject leaders need to carefully define the quality outcomes they want to see from this blended approach and communicate this so that all those who teach the curriculum are able to work towards clearly stated goals and targets. This must include a very detailed strategy for ensuring breadth and depth of coverage and parity for those learners who may not be able to easily learn outside the classroom. Resources should be carefully selected and distributed either within the classroom or for remote learning. All teaching staff from every subject must ensure that their pupils can access the knowledge and have the literacy skills necessary. Where numeracy plays a part in the learning of subjects other than Maths there must be provision for ensuring fluency in the use of mathematical concepts in other contexts. Progression is still a key indicator as to successful curriculum implementation and a clear model of how teachers support pupils to make progress needs to be in place for all subjects where assessment is designed thoughtfully to shape future learning.

There is profound evidence from UNICEF that careful planning is essential and needs to be a part of a collaborative cross curricular process. Subject specialists are advised to look closely at the content of their schemes and plans and define what topics and subject concepts can be successfully learnt away from school and which ones need to be taught in school.

The message is clear collaboration, careful planning, defining learning outcomes and creating opportunities for learners to progress through thoughtful and consistent assessment of learning are now fundamental to ensuring high quality educational outcomes can continue to be achieved.

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A review of some of the research findings - what can we learn from the experts?

There is now a body of research that looks closely at the effect of school closures on learning and pupil well-being and motivation. Strategies emerging are guided by a concern for equity and inclusion and ensuring that delivery of distance learning is accessible and does not exacerbate existing educational and social inequalities. It is clear from much of the evidence that there is a need for immediate action to support learners who are unable to be in school. There is also a need for more long-term goals that will capture some of the lessons learned that will undoubtedly mean that distance, flipped and blended learning will all play their part in the future of learning in many settings in all countries across the globe. We know from our own work that the benefits of distance learning for teachers have been many and we can learn from this and support leaders to consider some of the strategies that can be adopted going forward.

Some of the findings that may be useful in planning future virtual, flipped or blended learning activities are included in this PDF which has 15 suggestions for creating the right strategies for future planning.

Download it here or click on the title below

Research from several sources that highlight what constitutes good practice in planning for a blended learning future

A list of the research papers is included in the Resources section at the end of this newsletter.

Online Continuing Professional Development - what we have learnt so far and our next steps to making sure CPD is still an essential element in professional learning

According to a Nesta/Teacher Tapp survey last month, 42% of the 7,000 teachers surveyed said that CPD is the most useful form of support they could be given. Every member of a school or college has had to learn so much over the past few months as have we here at Learning Cultures.

We have worked together as a team to adapt our training so that it is accessible and offers flexible opportunities in a range of different situations. We would like to share our learning with you as we see the similarities with the adaptations and new thinking that is needed for online and blended teaching and assessment.

See below our 10 tips for ensuring a high quality online CPD session delivers positive learning and opportunities to cascade to others:-

  • Online training should always start with carefully crafted goals that are well - defined, relevant and achievable
  • The training should lead to a structured set of outcomes and there should be opportunities for the participants to share their learning and the resources with others so that the learning is cascaded widely and therefore has an impact on organisational, team and individual improvement
  • Creating clearly defined sections to the content of the course helps to ensure that participants can see clearly which documents are needed as reference points when listening to the presenter or video
  • Shorter sessions are preferable. Online training is more intense and requires looking at a screen for a long time. It is tiring and learning does not stay in the memory when the learner is tired
  • Scheduling sessions over two weeks for our live webinars provides time in between for reflection and opportunities for professional conversations and discussions to take place
  • Creating several opportunities for interaction and sharing learning as well as ideas as to how the learning can be used with pupils or other staff consolidates and strengthens the learning
  • Interactive coaching sessions using an online platform have proved an excellent way to ensure individuals do not feel isolated and alone with their problems and issues
  • We have used video to capture examples of good practice from participants who have attended our training and playing this back to them has proved a useful aid in raising self-esteem
  • Keeping the backdrop simple makes sure there are few distractions for participants. A screen is preferable, the book case is an interesting frame for a trainer but can mean that the participants start to want to know more about the content of the book case than the messages from the training
  • The more visual the presentations and the less wordy the explanations the more likely that the participants will remain on task and take in all the messages the session reveals

We are genuinely excited that we have started on a journey towards a blended approach to our own training courses and programmes. There will be a return to offsite CPD at some stage and we do look forward to the excellent lunches provided by the venues we choose but I think we will continue to offer this online approach even when that happens.  It will certainly be more cost effective and hopefully contribute to a more sustainable environmental future as well.

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Performance Management and Professional Development - what to look for as teachers find ways to close the knowledge gap and create a learning classroom

Hopefully, lesson observation and managing performance has not been a focus for senior and line leaders during the period when schools have been closed.  Teachers are grappling with a whole new set of parameters for how to ensure learning continues. They have had to learn how to use new technology; they have had to give up control of their classroom and work with learners who are the masters of their own space. They have had to find solutions to making sure that all learners have the same opportunities when they do not have the same starting points or similar advantage. Creating a cohesive curriculum offer and collating resources both electronic and physical has been a challenge. Assessing learning remotely to ensure progression has proved problematic. Many teachers have continued to work in schools spinning the plates to support those working in school and at home. Hopefully, the main feature of support for teachers has been a collective understanding of some of the issues and opportunities to share their good practice in dealing with issues and learning new skills and tactics along the way.

Appraisal and opportunities for performance management, so the DfE say, must still happen. The question that hangs in the air is,

"What does this mean for all staff who have found their priorities for professional improvement completely impossible to achieve?"

All staff working in education have managed change, learnt new skills and become extremely resilient in how they are coping with unprecedented difficulties due to the pandemic. They may not have met objectives discussed this time last year but through skilful questioning and positive conversations it should be possible to tease out of all staff what they have learnt and how they are using their new learning now that schools are open again in some form or other.  Lesson observation should not be a formal process at the moment but provide an opportunity to determine a strategy where teachers can work together to share their pedagogy and how they are managing the new normal that is emerging as part of this new academic year. Issues abound, for some discipline is a problem, for others concentration is an issue, some pupils have gaps in their learning, others have found virtual learning and independent study suits them.  Have a look at our list of suggestions for teachers to use in their own classrooms and to share experiences with their colleagues. Classroom management and pedagogy to support learners returning to school this term and beyond This list could also support conversations following on from informal lesson observations.

Join us for our live webinar - Blended Learning - Mixing the virtual with the actual - a pedagogy for the future

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Transition and key stage 3 - even more important as a bridge for higher achievement at key stage 4 and beyond

Three weeks at the end of year ll or year 13 as catch up time for those students sitting GCSE and A Level is a policy decision that is unlikely to have much impact on the overall results for many of those who have lost time over the last few months, It is true that subject leaders and their teams of teachers will have to find ways of filling the gaps and ensuring that there is full coverage of all the topics needed to secure successful outcomes for all. I am not sure why three weeks is going to help, unless we acknowledge that all we do as educators is cram our students as full of facts as we can so that they can recall them on the day of an exam.

Far more important as we move forward from where we are now is to make sure that future learners in key stage 4 and 5 have the depth and breadth of knowledge and the higher level thinking skills already in place as part of a whole school, cross curricular strategy that encompasses years 5 and 6 and years 7,8 and 9. The current research and policy emphasises the need to ensure that curriculum implementation builds on prior learning, sequences learning over time and focuses on how the learning leads to carefully defined outcomes for all learners. This needs to start as early as possible in the quest for positive results at the end of key stage 4 and 5.

If this year has taught us anything it is that we are, as a profession, resilient and able to manage significant change. Some of the most well-attended live webinars we ran in July and August were the two that deal with transition from key stage 2 to 3 and how to manage seamless learning in key stage 3. Many of those who attended readily saw the absolute necessity to give these two pinch points in our education system far greater attention. There is a well-researched and very worrying statistic that confirms what we already know that there is anything up to a 40% dip in performance for learners from the end of year 6 to the end of year 7.  We need to turn that dip into a positive curve now. Key stage 3 is still seen by many as wasted time as was highlighted in OFSTED's Key Stage 3: The wasted years?

At a strategic level the rationale and ambition for curriculum intent must embrace a wholly inclusive and sequential learning pathway that is consistent across all subjects and incorporates subject knowledge, the development of competence in literacy and numeracy skills as well as developing for all learners whatever their starting point the metacognitive skills that will strengthen their ability to be higher level thinkers by the time they arrive in year 10. Now is the time to plan this strategy involving all those who are part of implementing a seamless and sequential curriculum. Join us for the next series of these highly valued courses.

  • Crossing the Transition Bridge - Two live webinar sessions that look at how to create a strategy to deliver seamless learning from Key Stage 2 to 3
  • Key Stage 3: A Vital Piece in the Curriculum Jigsaw: Two live webinar sessions focusing on how to create seamless learning as a springboard to Key Stage 4 and beyond

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Coaching as a catalyst for change - creating conditions for professional conversations and motivational dialogue at a time of great upheaval

We are living through significant change and this will impact on all of us for a very long time. We know just how valuable creating a coaching culture can be in ensuring all staff can deal with the pressures and have the opportunity to share their successes and their concerns with another impartial person. The skills individuals learn as they develop as coaches are powerful and build self-esteem as well as extremely positive leadership potential.  For the teaching profession all those who learn to coach very quickly become aware of how coaching is also a pedagogy that they can apply to their teaching in the classroom. John Whitmore in his book Coaching for Performance, says in a quote,

"Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them."

A teacher's role is to unlock the potential of all their learners and help them to learn. It is also to recognise the importance of creating opportunities for professional and motivational dialogue that leads to the sharing and cascading of good and outstanding practice that all those in the profession will benefit from.  A coaching culture is one where individuals are trusted to innovate, make mistakes and learn from them, build highly effective teams and partnerships and challenge learners to be the best they can be. Start your coaching journey with Learning Cultures, once you are on the way you will never want to turn back. Have a look at our range of coaching courses, they are online at the moment and proving to be just as successful as offsite, there is a lot more flexibility and time for reflection.

Coaching in Education - a series of coaching courses for all those working in a school or college.

A journey in coaching - our certification programme is very popular as a way to sustain individuals as they learn how to coach

What is coaching? a quote from one of our favourite coaching authors, Christian van Nieuwerburgh,

"A one-to-one conversation focused on the enhancement of learning and development through increasing self-awareness and a sense of personal responsibility, where the coach facilitates the self-directed learning of the coachee through questioning, active listening, and appropriate challenge in a supportive and encouraging climate."

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Some books for the bookshelf that are very current and look closely at the whole question of how we can successfully build a strategy for a more blended approach to planning learning

  • Essentials for Blended Learning - A standards- Based Guide by Jared Stein and Charles R. Graham
  • Balance with Blended Learning - Partner with your Students to Reimagine Learning and Reclaim your Life by Catlin R.Tucker

A less recent publication but never the less useful is

  • The Blended Learning Book - Proven Methodologies and Lessons Learned by Josh Bersin

Coaching books for the coaching space, this time chosen to focus on how to support individuals to manage change and feel more in charge

  • The Coaching Habit - Say less, ask more and change the way you lead forever by Muchale Bungay Stanyer
  • Coaching with Empathy by Ann Brockbank and Ian McGill

Some of the research documents we have used to develop our own strategy and advice on blended learning

  • The EEF Guide to Supporting School Planning: A tiered approach to 2020 -2021
  • Supporting teachers in back-to-school efforts - A toolkit for school leaders UNESCO
  • Remote professional development - rapid evidence report from the Education Endowment Foundation
  • UNESCO Covid-19 Education Response - Education Sector issue notes (several)
  • Institute of Education - Effective learning paper

I am reading Hilary Mantel's third in her trilogy about Thomas Cromwell The Mirror and the Light. I am finding it easier to follow than the first two probably because I am now familiar with the characters.  It is so well researched and easy to follow.  Heavy going and quite long so expect to be reading it for quite some time.

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  • There is a full and detailed guidance report on DfE's website to help everyone understand the rules for lockdown 2 (November 2020)
  • OFSTED are reviewing what they will be doing in the new year in relation to visits to schools and have detailed guidance on their website as to visits to schools this term
  • OFSTED's recent publication of their report on school visits still emphasises the need to focus on how to deliver a coherent and sequenced curriculum for all learners
  • There is an ongoing review into post 16 qualifications with further information delivered as several bulletins from the DfE
  • The Education Policy Institute supports blended learning approaches as the recent pandemic highlights some serious shortcomings for schools, colleges and universities to address
  • Pearson's also reiterate the message that 'Digital is here to stay'

Not much policy at all at the moment but then we all have rather a lot of other things to think about.

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