As many of you know, I am an administrator of a virtual school which has prompted many interesting face to face discussions with many of you, and one particular relatively uninformed and ignorant discussion with one person in particular. Every time I share what I do and what our school is all about, I acknowledge that virtual schooling is not the best option for everyone. Moreover, I disagree with those states that mandate that every student must take a virtual course in order to graduate, in part because I don’t believe that all virtual options are equal to traditional brick and mortar schooling, but mostly because I don’t believe that states should be in the business of mandating what type of schooling is best for kids.
Pathways are important, and the more pathways that we (as an industry) can provide kids the better. That is why we partner with local high schools with students who are crafting a blended approach, some face to face, some virtual coursework. In fact, as a parent, I find the blended approach most attractive. I can see a time when my children are taking virtual courses not offered at their high school, so they can avoid scheduling conflicts, as a summer school option, or as a way to advance an interest or passion. This is why this recent article was so upsetting to me. And I was so was hopeful with this line early in the piece,
[The blended learning] model shifts the classroom teacher’s focus away from more traditional curricular and administrative tasks in the direction of working…
until it ended with this,
with data and providing more individualized support to students.
In a blended learning program, the teacher should be prepared to:
- assess, analyze and aggregate data
- use data as an integral part of the planning process for each individual student, groups of students and the whole class
- use benchmark tests and other assessments to direct instruction at different levels (individual, group, class)
Not one mention of building relationships with students.
Anywhere in the article.
Chris Lehmann wrote this morning how important the relationships are that he builds with his students and how difficult that is for him, even in a brick and mortar environment. That’s partly because of the demands of being a school principal, but also because it’s hard to build meaningful relationships with students when there are hundreds of them buzzing around the building each day. Chris does a remarkable job of doing this, but I think he would tell you that A. he works incredibly hard and purposeful at doing so and B. it would be much harder at a school of 2,000 students.
Yet, in a virtual setting teachers have the ability to build meaningful one-on-one relationships with each student and their families*. Sure its built differently, using connective technologies in lieu of face to face (which may not suit everyone) and often at night and on weekends, but those relationships are critical to creating learning environment for students. If virtual and/or blended learning is all about data, I want nothing to do with it. In fact, I would suggest that there are algorithms written that could probably move the needle on tests scores better than I could…
But you can’t build a relationship with an algorithm.
Perhaps its because we are a virtual school and know that we don’t see our kids daily in our classroom that refocusses our efforts on building relationships. Maybe its because we know that we have to build relationships with our parents to assure them that we are “real” people, with “real” credentials, being “real” teachers of their children. Maybe its because we remembered that the most important teachers in our own lives were those who we consider “friends” today. Maybe its because we know our students are people and we are in the people business and regardless of whether or not we “see them” we care about their success as a student.
Or perhaps, just perhaps, we know that “data” collected via various assessments tools and complicated algorithms are useless without the caring relationship between a teacher and a student.
*this can be done in a brick and mortar institution too, but cultural and administrative demands often run counter to spending the time needed to build the type of meaningful relationship that each student deserves.
image credit: Virtual Learning Academy Charter School