Building a Culture that Embraces Blended Learning


Forest Hills School District (FHSD), located just east of Cincinnati, is committed to engaging and empowering students through an educational experience that focuses on each child’s unique strengths, needs, and interests. A member of the Ohio Blended Learning Network, the district has paired investments in new technology and dynamic learning spaces for students with comprehensive professional learning opportunities for educators to foster a culture that not only supports, but also embraces blended learning. We reached out to Natasha Adams, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment in Forest Hills, to learn more about the district’s innovative approach to teaching and learning.    

Q: What systems and structures have you put into place to create an innovative learning environment?

A: Over the past three years, Forest Hills encouraged and supported small groups of high school teachers to develop their own blended-learning model based on the exploration of blended-learning resources from the Christensen Institute and other organizations. FHSD's strategy has been to have the work of these small groups of teachers serve as observable examples of blended learning in action for additional FHSD teachers. Our approach is a study of the relationship between technology integration, blended instruction, and personalized learning for students. By balancing traditional ways of teaching with innovative, educational technology, students raise their success levels.

District curriculum leaders and secondary school principals have also completed professional learning and leadership training through the William and Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation and the Ohio Blended Learning Network. 

With a grant from the Ohio Department of Education's Straight A Fund as well as support from Battelle for Kids, middle school teachers at Forest Hills have been working with a statewide team of educators to study problem-based learning and blended learning, and create a series of modules that will be shared with teachers across Ohio.

In addition, our elementary teacher leaders worked with colleagues in grades 3-6 to learn how to integrate technology into traditional mathematical practices to foster personalized learning. The teachers studied books like Paul Solarz’s Learn Like a Pirate and John Hattie’s Visible Learning. A similar group of grade 1 teachers collaborated to design literacy lessons with the iPad.

ForestHillsBlog1Forest Hills has had teacher leaders serving in various roles over the years to support technology integration and high-quality instructional design. Each year, teacher leader roles evolve to serve the district’s professional learning needs.

Q: How has Forest Hills worked to build support for the work among educators, parents, students, and the community?

A: Early on, high school teachers focused on the "why" behind blended learning. FHSD worked with a blended-learning consultant to build the capacity to develop and implement blended-learning models throughout the district. We administered surveys to capture student, teacher, and parent feedback, interviewed stakeholder groups, and presented findings to the Forest Hills Board of Education regarding student engagement and quality technology integration.

In fall 2015, we partnered with Xavier University’s Innovation Center to complete a design challenge that reimagined learning in Forest Hills. The district is currently in the midst of a $1.3 million facility project—including renovations to eight schools and construction of one new building—designed to provide more collaborative, creative, and flexible learning spaces for educators and students. The Forest Hills PTO is partnering with the district to help support the development of learning commons in all buildings, including flexible furniture and makerspaces. We have used Australia’s Cave, Waterholes, and Campfires and TheThridTeacher for inspiration. 

Q: What have been some challenges and/or lessons learned in implementing this new blended learning approach?

A: Implementing a high-quality, blended-learning program requires significant time, resources, and support for educators every step of the way. It’s important for everyone to understand that blended learning is more than just using technology in the classroom. It’s a fundamental redesign of instructional delivery. 

ForestHillsBlog2Q: What has been successful? How has establishing a culture that embraces blended learning had a positive impact on educators and students?

A: Forest Hills' blended-learning program has created a more flexible, responsive, and personalized learning environment for students that empowers them to fully explore their subjects and interests. There’s more time for educators to lead, collaborate, and learn with colleagues. In addition, a blended-learning environment empowers teachers to implement learning strategies that are best for their students and content area.

Watch how Forest Hills’ Nagel Middle School has implemented blended models that build in more interaction time between teachers and students (starting at the 5:50 mark of the video).  

Q: Why is this work important? In particular, how is it helping students develop the knowledge and 21st century skills they need for success in the future?

A: The first priority in Forest Hills’ strategic plan is to prepare students for post-graduation success through rigorous, learner-empowered approaches; core content; and real-world application. We focus on helping students master core academic content as well as building knowledge and skills around six core competencies (6Cs) that are critical to future success:
  • Communication
  • Critical Thinking
  • Collaboration 
  • Creativity 
  • Character
  • Citizenship
A blended approach to teaching and learning is important to accomplish these goals and help all students maximize their potential. Students are empowered to fully explore subjects and interests in a collaborative, flexible environment. Teachers shape instruction in a way that helps students master academic content and build knowledge and skills that are critical to success in college, careers, and life. 

Natasha Adams is Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment in Forest Hills School District. Learn more about the district’s innovative approach to teaching and learning.