Navigating the Hybrid Maze—Building a Model that Works How one school is making their way through the twists and turns of hybrid reality by Jessica Schultz B.A, M.Ed.

Building a hybrid model for learning in school has been like sprinting through a maze—and with the lights off. There are many different models out there which have emerged this past year and a half and many with success. These models adapt in response to the changing rules of each country regarding lockdowns or school closures and in some places students return in cohorts for varying periods of time. These changing expectations created the need for educators to get creative and as such, hybrid learning models were born.  Common practices are the use of synchronous and asynchronous lessons and some include simultaneous learning strategies to support learning regardless of working from home or on campus. Though there is no set of steps that guarantee the success of any hybrid plan, there are certainly some better ways to develop a model to be tailored to each school´s context. Just like the initial challenge of shifting from in-person to 100% virtual mode as so many of us experienced, it is important to look for solutions that balance lesson possibilities while incorporating the guidelines from local health and other authorities. The likelihood to meet the goal of implementing a highly effective hybrid model is increased when leveraging collaboration among colleagues and stakeholders. Here is a look at what worked for our school regarding learning in a hybrid model that helped us get ready for a year of success.
 
Preparation & First Steps
Like stepping into any unknown terrain, our first step was to call on our relationships with sister schools as well as consult with our local community of similar private schools to gain ideas. By brainstorming with our colleagues, we gained insight through listening to their successes and common challenges.  We learned different ways schools were creating schedules, incorporating safety protocols and procedures while respecting official guidelines and the importance of prioritizing the social and emotional well-being of staff, students and families.  Drawing from the experiences of others, we could better envision what strategies we could try out and build a model to best suit our needs. Additionally, we participated in many webinars and courses from known education experts, absorbed literature from existing distance and online learning programs and have continued exploring technology tools to help improve the teaching and learning experience. Since our academic staff and students already had experience with different learning platforms and strategies with technology, our goal was to find ways to blend what we already knew was working best from virtual and in-person modalities and build on those.
 
One important strategy borrowed from our training with Douglas Fisher and his colleagues in February 2021´s Distance and Blended Learning Design Certification Series came from Rosalyn Washington at Atlanta Public schools which dubs at-home learners as “zoomies”(due to use of online zoom platform) and learners who are physically on campus as “roomies”. We adopted this terminology and technology to pilot our own version and develop what learning simultaneously could look like. We started with the equipment we already had (classroom screens, apple TVs, laptops and ipads) to see what could work and then explored what we could add in on a budget. The fundamental component was to engage flexibility in our mindset and think about simultaneous learning as an extension of synchronous lessons so learning could be seamless and allow for students to be connected from home at the same time as the teacher leading the lesson with students within the classroom. Simultaneous learning sets the environment for learning that is independent of location and encourages teachers to continue with their scope and sequence planning. Learning plans then become more about the deliberate selection strategies like project-based learning, flipped classroom, and re-purposing our asynchronous videos from the previous year while in virtual mode alongside our current platforms for use synchronously or asynchronously (ex. Google classroom, Peardeck, Seesaw, IXL, Razkids, Nearpod etc.). Within a two-week rotation, all learners can essentially be on track with general curriculum plans and still be provided with opportunities for differentiation that suit their individual learning needs.
 
Choosing the “Right” Equipment

If there was one right way to do hybrid mode—we would all being doing it. Navigating any new challenge requires making choices in relation to our individual context find out what equipment will best help us achieve our goals. In our case, we started by purchasing inexpensive, lightweight bendable metal “arms” that could hold a tablet and be attached to any desktop surface. The tablet (in this case we used ipads) and the teacher´s laptop are both connected to internet and zoom so either device can be used to share screen with teacher's lesson materials, be used as a camera when appropriate so “zoomies” can see the classroom, engage apps and tools in different ways depending on lesson design and engage all learners. With tools such as online whiteboard, videos, and previously mentioned learning platforms, teachers and learners can focus on the targets of the lesson and the technology supports available options teachers can choose from to their tailor lessons. Training is and will continue to be essential as teachers gain experience and comfort in using the tools currently available in our hybrid model.
 
Our school works within a one-to-one device framework so students and teachers each have access to materials for learning as is age appropriate. Students on campus have the added benefit of accessing the teacher in person, in-class peers for paired or small group work as well as access to class materials, all while following routines and health and safety protocols. Students working from home and connected to the class can also interact with students in the classroom. They can unmute and they can be heard through the speaker in each classroom and their work can be seen by teacher and students when they share their learning through zoom to be displayed on the screen in the classroom. They can also interact as roomies and zoomies by collaborating through the online platforms. Teachers can provide feedback to students in the classroom in person and also use breakout rooms in zoom to provide feedback to students rotating between groups or individuals. We are sensitive to the challenges to working and planning this way, however the possibilities for learning are exciting as teachers expand their skills and abilities and engage in practice. New routines and expectations for learning in person or from home are critical to maximizing a successful learning experience for everyone. 
 
Strategies, Communication & Collaboration
Success in solving a maze is more attainable when strategies are shared among others and new ideas can be generated. Our experience included conversations early on with staff to prepare for the eventuality of hybrid mode. We engaged in focus groups with parents and teacher leaders, formed committees for protocols and logistics and gave time to process and practice.  We also documented questions that came up and to find a solution. We kept an online folder of support materials collected from a variety of resources and used surveys and feedback in meetings with staff and leaders to guide our professional development decisions and support parent concerns.  We shared appropriate literature leveraging the power of our curriculum committees and worked with level divisions to keep the language of hybrid modality alive and ideas for solutions flowing. Engaging with the unique perspectives of others provide input for our model and support its on-going improvement.
 
Wellbeing as our Compass
With every corner or dead end, people need to feel encouraged and reassured. It is important for us all to know that if we take a wrong turn, change directions or at times take two steps forward and one step back, that we are supported by others in the same experience with us and that we will all find a way out together. A fundamental component to our decision-making process has been frequent check-ins with staff, families and students to address concerns and validate their feelings and suggestions. It is important to be flexible when trying new things, and practice acceptance when those things do not go as planned, just like we encourage students when they are learning to master something unfamiliar.  Knowing we can and should reach out to others as needed reminds us we are solving this puzzle together.
 
The steps we used to make our way through the twist and turns of planning out our hybrid model included the following:
 

  1. Preparation & First Steps: Learning about various hybrid modalities from different local and international schools and familiarize ourselves new research about distance learning environments and simultaneous learning strategies
  2. Choosing the “Right” Equipment: Selecting technology and tools that make most sense for our school´s infrastructure and incorporating a plan for professional development
  3. Strategies, Communication & Collaboration: Forming committees by area such as logistics, health & safety, academics etc. and create a plan for communicating content and follow up with stakeholders
  4. Wellbeing as our Compass: Engage with short, frequent tips or strategy sessions on topics such as stress reduction and the important of a positive mindset within meetings.  Building in opportunities for daily check ins, either in-person or in chats,  and engage ideas from school counselors that support well-being of all stakeholders is important strategy.

 
These steps helped us to get excited about our new school year and stay solution-focused when exploring the paths to map out our hybrid model.  We look forward to continued engagement with our community to refine as we go as we embrace this new way of experiencing school. To see an example of our hybrid model, sample classroom and teacher and student interviews, check out one of our videos: https://youtu.be/ewL464WQ8j8. Best of luck to all educators this school year as you make your way through your own hybrid maze.