JBlend Miami: Building Capacity for Sustainable Change

| By Yonah Kirschner, Project Manager, Digital Content and Communications

Originally published on The AVI CHAI Foundation Blog

 

By: Valerie Mitrani
Director of Day School Strategy and Initiatives, Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education, Miami

Julie Lambert
Senior Educational Consultant, Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education, Miami

Gary Hartstein
Director, DigitalJLearning Network

 

Today’s educational system is striving to be student-centered and dynamic, supported by articulated standards, student data, high quality curriculum and instruction, with access to multiple technologies to support student learning. To meet the needs of this generation of learners, we must build capacity for problem-solving, collaboration, effective communication, and critical thinking. JBlend Miami is responding to this challenge by building and leveraging resources, experience, and expertise to support local Jewish day schools in shifting the paradigm of teaching and learning, resulting in increased teacher and student engagement.  JBlend Miami is working to enhance the quality of student learning by increasing school capacity to meet the needs of 21st century learners. This includes personalizing learning through the modality of blended learning.

There are a few essential characteristics of JBlend Miami:

Collaboration

As a result of the Center for Advancement of Jewish Education (CAJE)’s vision and leadership over the last 10 years, the Miami Jewish day school community has become a professional learning community with a shared commitment to high-quality, standards-based learning for teachers and students. JBlend is the latest community-wide, systemic initiative that brings together day school leaders, teachers, and instructional coaches for shared content learning. Relationships have been developed with local funders to invest in initiatives. Trust is fostered on several levels: within each school, among the schools, between the schools and the central agency, and between the central agency and local funders.

JBlend is a local-national collaboration that builds on this culture of professional learning and a sharing of experiences and expertise. Now in its second full year of implementation, JBlend officially launched in the fall of 2015 after nearly two years of planning. The program was developed and is being implemented by CAJE-Miami, in partnership with the DigitalJLearning Network (DJLN) of The Jewish Education Project. CAJE’s experience providing professional learning and leadership development to educators and schools, combined with DJLN’s experience helping schools implement learning-driven technology and personalized/blended learning, came together in a “perfect storm.” With support from The AVI CHAI Foundation, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, and local funders, the two organizations are joining forces to help day schools in Miami bring about sustainable, learning-driven change.

Intentional Program Design

JBlend Miami is comprised of three main phases:

Phase I – Community Readiness and Buy-in (January – June 2015)

CAJE first shared plans for the multi-year program with local school leaders, and identified schools that were interested in participating; those schools were invited to formally apply. The application process included a needs assessment to determine school capacity and readiness. Early in Phase 1, teachers completed an online survey instrument designed to measure teachers’ readiness to change practice from traditional, frontal teaching, to blended and personalized learning. Based on the results of this survey, school site visits and a comprehensive application including a school team interview, CAJE and DJLN identified potential schools to invite to JBlend Miami Cohort 1.

Phase II – Blended and Online Learning Academy (September 2015 –June 2016)

Each school designated a school leadership team comprised of administrators and teachers to participate in a year-long academy. The monthly sessions were designed around the components necessary for successful implementation. Session topics included:

Training for leadership in managing the shift to a blended learning environment
Teaching in a blended learning setting
Access to online curriculum in general and Judaic studies
Communications and stakeholder buy-in
An important component of the academy was a trip to New York (organized by DJLN) to see day schools that were already implementing blended learning.

At the end of Phase 2, schools were guided through the development of implementation plans for the coming academic year. Each school was encouraged to identify a problem of practice and articulate goals and objectives related to that challenge.  Each leadership team then clearly identified the implementation steps needed for teachers to utilize blended/personalized learning to meet those goals.

Phase III – Implementation (current school year)

Four JBlend schools each received $40,000 for implementation. Individual schools have varying goals, but overall each school is expected to connect their project with improved student achievement and/or engagement. Expected goals for the next two years include:

Implementation of personalized learning initiatives that address identified student learning needs as determined by school teams
Development of school-based instructional coaches who will support and strengthen teachers in facilitating blended learning environments
Teachers building understanding of personalized learning, and gaining the skills and knowledge to design, facilitate, and evaluate learning in a blended environment
Increasing School Leadership Team capacity to support, facilitate, and assess the implementation of their blended learning initiatives
Ongoing collaboration and learning among the network of JBlend Miami Schools
Academy sessions continue in this phase, and in between, the school leadership teams gather at each other’s schools to observe the plans in action. This is followed by reflective conversation, providing an opportunity to ask questions and explore how each school is implementing blended and personalized learning.

Building Capacity Throughout the System

Critical to the success of a new pedagogic approach is taking the time to build capacity within the leaders and the students. Personalized learning changes the rules of the game from traditional teaching. It requires the system to allow teachers to learn new skills, experiment, and be deliberate about change. As we like to say in JBlend, “We go slow to go faster.” Student agency over learning changes in this model, and students need to learn how to function with more responsibility and self-determination – a concept that is unfamiliar to most of them. JBlend Miami invests in all levels of the system by designing a team academy learning approach that includes teachers, coaches, and administrators who are responsible for setting the vision and the outcomes. Shared language and knowledge allows each school team to design and plan for experimental initiatives, starting small in singular classrooms and building out to the bigger system.

Results

An interim evaluation conducted by Rosov Consulting at the end of Phase II surfaced schools’ positive experience in the Academy and their grasp of core themes covered in the sessions. The teams reported commitment and dedication to deploying new strategies to maximize the students’ learning and have “bought in” to the main mindsets that the Academy sought to create, such as establishing student learning as the driver of instruction.

The evaluation will be continuing throughout Phase III.  All the partners hope to see greater student agency and satisfaction, more intentional use of data to inform instruction, less teacher-driven instruction and increased teacher satisfaction. We will report to the field again as we learn more.