I am concerned about the impact that the imbalances in education have on teacher engagement and job satisfaction. I know firsthand the toll that the imbalances caused by traditional workflows in education can have on a teacher. Those unrealistic workflows almost drove me out of education. That’s why the theme of balance has permeated my work for years. I host a podcast called The Balance and wrote a book titled Balance with Blended Learning because I see teachers struggling with balance in every coaching and training session I facilitate.
As I work with teachers, I stress the importance of balancing the various elements within the design of a lesson. When we design learning experiences with balance in mind, the output of a lesson will feel more balanced too.
There are several reasons it’s critical to consider balance when designing learning experiences. First, I do not want the teacher to do the lion’s share of the work in the lesson. The person doing the work in a classroom is the person doing the learning. So, students should do the heavy cognitive lift of making meaning and applying their learning. That belief has informed the way I define blended learning. Blended learning is “active, engaged learning online combined with active, engaged learning offline to give students more control over time, place, pace, and/or path of their learning.” This definition is grounded in a constructivist perspective that positions the student at the center of learning. They are not passive consumers but rather active participants. We must strive to design lessons that shift the focus and the control from teacher to learner.
Second, I want learning to be a partnership between the teacher and the student. Students must share the responsibility for learning. That means they need to be able to flex their metacognitive muscles by setting goals, tracking and monitoring their progress, reflecting on their learning, and assessing their own work. As Katie Novak and I write in UDL and Blended Learning: Thriving in Flexible Learning Landscapes, these are critical skills students need to develop if they are going to become expert learners who are motivated, resourceful, strategic, and capable of advocating for themselves.
Third, I do not want teachers to design learning experiences or use technology to isolate learners. Instead, I want them to cultivate a powerful learning community capable of making meaning together. Lessons that encourage conversation and collaboration are more likely to be engaging for students. They also help students to view one another as valuable resources in the classroom. Instead of the teacher being the only source of information, support, or feedback, students develop the skills necessary to be resources for one another.
The next time you sit down to design a lesson, ask yourself…are these elements balanced? If not, can you modify your design to create more balance? How might balancing these aspects of your lesson yield a more engaging experience for you and your students?
|Online Learning Activities
|Offline Learning Activities
|Teacher Controls the Pace
|Students Control the Pace
If teachers design their lessons with a high level of intentionality and strive to balance the various elements within the lesson, there are several potential benefits.
- Teachers will have more time to interact with and support individual or small groups of students to differentiate instruction, supports and scaffolds, practice, and application.
- Students will be more interested and engaged because they have more control over their learning.
- Students will develop their metacognitive and self-regulation skills.
- Students will learn how to be valuable resources for each other when it comes to feedback and collaboration.
- Teachers will have more success building a dynamic learning community because students have more opportunities to learn with and from each other.
As we blend technology and tradition moving forward, there is an opportunity to re-evaluate our approach to designing and facilitating learning experiences to better meet the needs of diverse groups of students and lighten teachers’ loads. Instead of feeling pressure to do it all, I would love to see teachers share the responsibility for learning with students by designing lessons that encourage them to take an active role in the learning process.
After a challenging year, I worry about teacher engagement. My doctoral research indicated that a teacher’s work designing learning experiences is cognitively engaging. Higher levels of perceived student engagement are emotionally engaging. Finally, the quality of a teacher’s relationships with students is socially engaging. Since these aspects of a teacher’s work are critical to their engagement, teachers benefit from spending time and energy designing balanced learning experiences that engage students and allow them to connect with learners. However, they are unlikely to have the time or energy for this design work if they are overwhelmed by stacks of literal or digital assignments. Instead, I’d like teachers to consider the role students can play in providing each other with peer feedback, helping each other make meaning, and assessing their own work. Shifting the responsibility for learning to students helps them develop a better understanding of themselves as learners and frees teachers to invest their finite time and energy in aspects of their work that they find engaging and rewarding.
Leaders looking to support teachers with self-paced online learning opportunities this summer can request a quote for my Getting Started with Blended and Online Learning and my Advancing with Blended and Online Learning Courses!