Reflections on a Year as a Fuse Fellow

by Kyle Wilson, Fuse Fellow, 4th Grade Teacher

So, exactly what is it that you’re doing?”

As Fuse Fellows, this is something we’re asked all the time, whether we’re talking to colleagues, family, or our better halves.  Offering up the details explaining our work can mean a hefty response.

Do I just jump right into a description and confuse you immediately?

Or, is it best to first provide a description of blended learning, and connect that to what we do in Fuse? Of course, if I go on too long I run the risk that you might begin staring at the back of your eyelids. Here goes nothing…

The Mission

The mission of the FuseRI project is to promote and support the expansion of blended learning in classrooms across the state. We are educators looking for applicable solutions in our own classrooms and schools, as well as in our partner Fuse districts. What we believe and are so excited by is that every teacher has the capacity to learn and try this way of teaching and learning. We are proving this to early adopters and naysayers alike by breaking the mold of traditional PD; it doesn’t have to be a necessary evil anymore. And though we are a small group in a small state, this project is growing and gaining national attention.

The Fellows

The inaugural group of 26 Fuse Fellows have an enthusiasm that is tough to match. We eat, sleep, and breathe educational technology–at times perhaps more than we should. The diversity of our professional backgrounds only further fuels our enthusiasm and desire to question the traditional educational models in Rhode Island’s schools.

Before beginning the Fellowship, I considered myself great at integrating technology into my classroom. I quickly found out my new colleagues were some of the best. The first lesson I learned was that integrating technology is not blended learning.  This is a gap that needs to be bridged.

The Work

Teams of Fellows partner with Rhode Island districts large and small, including some of the state’s most promising charter schools. Every district operates in a way that ensures they live within their means and move at a pace that is appropriate for them, while adapting to a changing edtech landscape.

No matter the circumstance we find ourselves in our district work, the message is the same: Blended learning will work here. But, you have to want it to work.

In order to create a ripe environment for blended learning, the nation’s blended learning leaders talk to us about the importance of transforming school culture, leadership, and routines. But let’s be honest: change at every level in education is hard and risky. The lore is that Rhode Islanders tend not to be fans of change.

Our support is customized to meet each district’s need at their current level of technology integration. Some are well into 1:1 deployments. In these districts, fellows are working to shift the focus beyond the use of devices for online research and word processing to a tool where students use academic content to control the pace and path of their own learning. In other districts, fellows are working tirelessly to build a solid foundation of network infrastructure, devices, platforms, and policies.

Alongside my fellow fellow, Alicia Sullivan, I’ve been working with Blackstone Academy Charter School in Pawtucket. Our work there includes supporting the rollout of Google Apps for Education. It’s been an excellent experience being part of conversations and decision-making traditionally reserved for IT directors.  We’re thrilled to have established solid relationships with the administrative team and staff, which has made our job easier and more productive. No matter how technical and involved districts’ needs may be, mutual trust in each other and the process is what will move this work forward.

The Professional Development

Professional Development is a mixed bag. As any educator can tell you, PD days are won and lost in the delivery. For too long, so little choice existed in current district level PD. Sessions didn’t fit what we needed, enjoyed, or needed help with. It became a necessary evil that we dreaded rather than learned from.

Fuse teachers seek to challenge that reality by promoting blended PD. As a cohort, we spend considerable time engaged in a type of professional development that is beneficial for all teachers:  playlists with digital content are self paced and focused small group sessions that are adaptive to our backgrounds and gaps in understanding. In this type of PD, when we come across a topic or skill we have already mastered, we simply demonstrate that mastery and move on.

The Takeaway

Doesn’t this sound like a process that would also bring out the best in our students? We cannot ignore the irony. If educators haven’t experienced blended learning as learners, it is difficult for them to create blended learning opportunities in their schools and classrooms. All learners–students and teachers alike–need context and relevance in the content they’re taught.

The Fuse program may be the largest group of technology nerds per capita in the State of Rhode Island, but we are educators who want to learn, grow and share what we know. As Year 1 of the fellowship draws to a close, I am energized by what I have learned and looking forward to what lies ahead–for myself and for the state.