Welcome to today’s Coffee Break Chat, where we are spotlighting Sheridan School District and the great work they are doing during the pandemic!
We spoke with Alicia Butcher, the Educational Technology Coordinator, to hear about Sheridan Schools’ experience and her own throughout this time. Sheridan is a small district in Colorado, and Ms. Butcher works a lot on building up everyone’s digital competencies and ensures that the software is working effectively. She also teaches staff how to work the learning management systems such as Schoology and Google Classroom.
Sheridan School District started work with iLC in 2019 and worked with our consultants to create a district plan for what it would look like to move to a blended learning model in the near future. They gathered data from students and families to gauge their interest and understanding of blended learning, and from this information they mapped out a three year plan. Although the pandemic threw a wrench in their three year plan, they have still grown exponentially and are now a 1:1 device district and have implemented learning management systems, revamped the WiFi system entirely, and updated some of the dated aspects of their building infrastructure.
Sheridan also implemented a pilot program and took a cohort of teachers in 2019 to the ILC state conference to see blended learning in action, which allowed them to form key relationships, learn how to adopt LMS technology, and start a pilot program of some blended learning courses in their classrooms with six people who went through it. The summer of 2020 was difficult but they offered summer programming so that the community could understand the new initiatives, and they also created an admin course in July for each building in the district to understand the day-to-day aspects of blended learning. This past November they moved on to have all staff participate in iLC’s Fast Track program (see past blog posts for more information).
Ms. Butcher emphasized how much they have loved iLC’s Fast Track program---she is so excited to compare the data from this spring to last spring in terms of growth in digital tools and digital competency, as well as all the ways that teachers have learned new tips for their pedagogy such as the jigsaw method and station rotation.
Ms. Butcher remarked on how the greatest challenge of implementing a blended learning model initiative at the district level is the idea that the challenge overall keeps changing depending on the current state of the world. Teachers are unable to plan ahead and must respond instead to external circumstances, leaving them to feel a bit out of control. They are expected to be so flexible and serve children in whatever aspect they need to be, which can be a tall order.
For her personally, Ms. Butcher’s most positive experience with blended learning is seeing her colleagues individually grow so much in such a short amount of time and completely rise to the challenge---not one person has remained stagnant in their skills. She loves how some of the people that stepped up and started shining are those that you wouldn’t expect, and the dialogue between the teachers and students has morphed into something where students are given the opportunity to take on more of a leadership role in leading the classroom if technical difficulties arise.
- Some of Ms. Butcher’s favorite technological resources for teaching in a blended environment include:
- Pear Deck (for quizzing students on content)
- Screencastify (recording lectures)
- Nearpod (interactive lectures)
- EBSCO (a database of resources)
- Gizmos (high school science)
- Wonders (literacy support at the primary level)
- Google Slides
- Brainpop (videos on certain topics)
Ms. Butcher’s advice on how to build community and keep up morale during these tough times is to stay excited and inspired by the growth and learning of everyone around you. She works with teachers who may not know how to start using a specific software one day, and only several days later they are asking her intelligent questions on how to optimize use of the resource. She recommends taking purposeful pauses to celebrate how far you have come and celebrate growth/help others to see it, as well as maintaining relationships and taking care of everyone’s heads and hearts.
We are so thankful that Ms. Butcher spoke with us today on behalf of Sheridan Schools, and we hope you feel as inspired as we are by this wonderful district!