Making Blended Learning the New Normal With Oliver Blagden, Federation Consultant

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Working through the pandemic has been an ongoing journey full of difficult and new adjustments for teachers everywhere. Providing accessible support has meant everything for teachers as we have witnessed in the past year. Much like the team has dedicated its focus on making blended learning accessible for students, Oliver talks through how teaching and learning resources have adapted to accommodate at home, independent teacher development.

Through producing accessible, multimodal resources such as podcasts, Oliver and the English Consultant Team have been able to curate important conversations and connect teachers across academies and beyond.  In this piece, we discuss the delivery of support on an academy level and some of the work the English Consultant Team is doing to aid teachers during this unprecedented time. 

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the role has been meeting, speaking with, and – most importantly - listening to teachers, leaders and pupils when visiting schools.  Not only is it humbling to witness first-hand the hard work that goes on day-in and day-out inside classrooms, this process of watching and listening is vital for a consultant to then calculate how best to adapt the work he or she does, and to support in the most fitting way.

With the drastic changes that the start of the pandemic presented for schools, plans for learning has to be put in motion almost instantaneously to support these new and uncharted ways. Oliver speaks his own experience working through the first lockdown, all the way back in March 2020.

It was an entirely new way of working for everybody.  Overnight, the very nature of Teaching & Learning had to be revaluated: new research had to be undertaken – and quickly – to ensure pupils received the best education they could under the new challenging circumstances.  This mission was at times exciting, as we made new discoveries with regards to remote and blended learning almost daily, but it also felt quite daunting. 

As many people experienced, working from home had benefits for our team as well as drawbacks; on the one hand there was more time for productivity – to design and develop exciting remote learning resources, and build our model curriculum; on the other hand, we missed the face-to-face contact with others in the organisation that we know often drives empathy and reinforces a shared purpose.

Let’s talk teaching and learning, talk us through the production of teacher-focused support?

Around the same time that we began creating these pupil resources, we kept our minds fixed on Teaching & Learning, which we realised had the potential to lay neglected throughout this year.  As a team, we mulled this over, and off the back of our recent Poetry podcast work, I proposed a Teaching & Learning podcast series, the premise being English Consultants interviewing key educators and researchers, which we could publish on a brand-new channel for teachers and leaders.  This became ‘Harris in Conversation,’ launched in April last year, and, through this platform, teachers and leaders are provided with emerging research and pedagogy when not in schools to make sure they keep up to date with the newest developments and educational debates.  ‘Harris in Conversation’ features interviews with educators and authors such as Tom Sherrington and Alex Quigley, and literary artists such as Stephen Kelman and Chloe Pirrie – all sharing their latest research, insights and experience.

Talk us through the production of the Podcast, how did the first episode go?

For our launch episode I spoke with Tom Sherrington – which was daunting (but exciting) considering the extent of his knowledge and experience.  We discussed his book, ‘Teaching Walkthrus,’ which I had recently read and found to be an outstanding teaching and learning resource.  It was a compelling half hour or so – the personalised interview process meant we could tailor the questions, bring a human element to the research, and hear in his own words why educators should take note of his work.  If you haven’t yet bought this book, by the way, then do – it’s exemplary Teaching & Learning reading.

Our team conduct interviews such as these, and then the editing process begins – which involves me in a makeshift studio (my living room), working through the audio files, improving audio quality, cutting down content and mixing with sounds and audio cues, to make the package sound as professional as possible.  This aspect – the podcast production – has been an enjoyable, though often strenuous learning journey.  Who knows… perhaps one day we will receive our own recording studio!

How has it been received?

We are incredibly fortunate that ‘Harris in Conversation’ has proved popular and have had 600+ streams and downloads since it launched last year.  Teachers and leaders have let us know that accessibility to this channel has been key, with them able to listen to interviews on the go – either during their daily commute or whilst working from home.  ‘Harris in Conversation’ can be found in the Teacher area on the Harris Learning Hub, and also on Podbean or Spotify.

With relation to working amidst a pandemic, what can you say you have learnt in the last couple of months?

The short answer is much!  Though what comes to my mind foremost is the notion that there is no one set way of working.  Society is evolving to both accommodate a more flexible approach to work (for both adults and children), and to think more smartly about the way in which we use our time and resources.  The pandemic has forced us to evaluate what we do, how we do it, when we do it and, of course, why we do it.  Teachers and leaders have had to adapt teaching and learning styles continually, innovate learning resources, and think of different ways to assess both staff and pupils.  It has taken a great deal of perseverance and resolve, and I think the worst thing that could happen now is that we return to a school-world that was exactly as it was pre-pandemic.  My hope is, that when some normality eventually resumes, we return to the old ways of working only where they make sense, but also to bring with us the knowledge, experience and innovation this past year has given us.

What do you have planned for the rest of 2021?

OB: I’m most excited about continuing to work alongside my team to produce, market and deliver resources for our teachers and pupils, through our various platforms.  The past year has shown us that we can and should feel empowered to experiment with new methods of teaching and learning, even when they fall outside of our comfort zones. 

Beyond that?  A vaccination, a hug, and a drink at the pub?  We live in hope.

The team at Harris is continuing to produce and share fantastic aides in the way of remote learning as well as to maintain a fluid and engaging conversation of teaching and learning through their podcasts and CPD sessions. As we move further into a new year, the team has shown great promise in their new, creative, ventures of delivering remote and in-class support across our academies.

Be sure to connect with us for more fantastic Fed insights! You can learn more about the resources available, as-well-as the consultant team’s work via the links below!

Click here to find remote learning resources on the Harris Home Learning Hub

Listen to the English Consultant team’s Teaching and Learning Podcast: Harris in Conversation on Spotify or on PodBean

Listen to the English Consultant team’s student learning Podcast: Learning with Harris on Anchor

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