Leadership in successful "proof points" blended learning programs

In addition to the main points about the recent iNACOL symposium discussed in a recent blog post, another highlight was listening to educators from many of the schools discussed in our proof points series. We had leaders from Spokane, Salt Lake City, Washington DC, Randolph and Middletown (New York), Horry County (South Carolina), St George (Utah), Poudre (Colorado) and Putnam County (Tennessee) take part in two separate discussions. When we published the first set of proof points cases we discussed leadership in a blog post that noted how strong school or district leadership is present in all scalable and sustained blended learning programs.” The post discussed the passion, vision, and energy of the leaders who brought success to their schools and programs. At the iNACOL symposium discussion, these qualities and others were abundantly clear as leaders of these schools and programs talked about their jounrney. A few points stood out.

First, every program leader was a strong presenter. That in itself is a notable data point. Although current and former teachers tend to be good speakers because of their time in the classroom, it is still remarkable that every one of the proof points speakers captured and held the room during their presentations and Q&A sessions. The ability to tell the story well, in an engaging and captivating way, is a hallmark of leadership—especially for new programs.

The leaders were straightforward about the problems that had existed in their schools and districts that they were trying to solve. There was no muddled thinking, no mere application of technology without a plan. Kimberly Moritz, Superintendent of the Randolph school district in upstate New York, set the tone when she said (as she had told us months ago in our first interview with her) that the district went to a personalized learning approach in order to address “decades of mediocrity.”

The leaders gave credit to others. They routinely brought other people into our interviews during the research, and referenced these colleagues during their comments.

They were honest about challenges, both those that they have overcome and those that remain. Edi Cox from Horry County was remarkably straightforward about their challenges during our interviews—and this from a district that is considered to be among the most successful. Sam Brookes told us months ago—and told the audience in Orlando—that Putnam’s successful program grew out of reassessments after initial failures.

A potential downside exists to the apparent need for this type of leadership, as our earlier blog post explained. Among the ramifications of the importance of leadership is that a program likely can’t be considered mature until a change of leadership has occurred (along with other factors). A change of leadership, followed by continued growth and success, is a sign of program maturity and suggests that the blended learning initiative is here to stay. Until that point, it’s hard to be sure if the success of the blended learning school or program will outlast its founder.