The Human Side of Blended Learning, Building Relationships

The Human Side of Blended Learning, Building Relationships

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Human side of Blended Learning: Building Relationships

by Cathie Maglio, Blended Learning Specialist

As a blended learning specialist with JFYNetWorks, most of my time is spent in classrooms working with teachers. I train them on our math and reading software programs that students use to strengthen their skills. I do the annoying busy work of enrolling students in the programs and I stay in the classroom to coach and support the teacher while students are working in the software. When I’m not in the classroom, I am running reports on student work to send to the teachers.

I also work directly with the students, administering assessment tests or helping them solve problems in our math software. It’s fun to explain the math concept a student is having difficulty with. I enjoy this part of my job, since my passion is teaching math. I have also learned a lot about our ELA software and Lexile scores, but students don’t seem to need as much help reading articles and answering questions about them.

A big part of my job is building relationships.

This is not measurable in reports or test scores. I build relationships with principals, teachers, school administrators, other school personnel, and with students. I become a familiar face around the school. At one high school, a teacher who sees me around all the time stopped me one day to ask who I was and what I did in the school. As I explained, he commented that my work is necessary and needed in the school. That felt pretty good.

My director and I meet with the principals of each school at the beginning of the year and at least once during the school year. We discuss which programs JFY will be offering in the coming school year and go over students’ past performance. These meetings are vital to building the relationship. They allow me to feel comfortable dropping in to see the principal while I am in the school to give a brief update on what is happening with JFY classes. I get to know them and they get to know me.

Because I feel connected to my schools, I pay attention when the school is in the news. I feel pride when a good thing happens, like the team winning a sports championship or a student receiving a college scholarship that she wasn’t expecting. I am saddened when something terrible happens like a student being shot or getting killed in a car accident. All these things have actually happened in my schools.

I enjoy working with teachers who use the JFY program with their students. I get to know them and they get to know me. I have formed “friendly acquaintance” relationships with many teachers. I ask about their children and share stories and pictures about my family. We talk about trips taken during breaks, and how we spent our holidays.

Before the Christmas break, I was talking with one teacher about how she was spending the holidays. We talked about family traditions and food. I mentioned that part of my tradition was to celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. Her family used to do this as well. We discussed which seven fishes would be on the menu and how each is prepared. Another tradition of mine is to make ricotta pie. She was interested in my recipes and asked if I would share them. The next day, I brought her the recipes. She was so excited to try them! When I saw her after the break, I was interested to hear how her seven fishes and ricotta pie came out and if her family liked them. She told me that everything came out perfect and her family loved the food.

This is not the first time I have discussed recipes with school personnel. A few years ago, I was at a vocational school administering the College and Career Readiness program to seniors. The principal and I got into a discussion about ways to prepare Italian and Greek food and he almost fell off his chair when I told him I did not like feta cheese! It almost started an international incident.

At all my schools there are teachers I stop in to say “hi” to whenever I am there. I make it a point to stop by their classrooms for a chat about recent events in our lives.

It’s harder to develop relationships with students. Even so, being in a school for a few years I see them grow and mature as they move from freshman to senior years. I recognize faces and names. Most students I encounter are friendly. Even those who only see me in the corridors and are not in a JFY class will say hello as they walk by.

I guess my point is that my job is not just about tests and data. There is a human element which is equally important, maybe even more important. A school is a social microcosm, and an intense one. Learning is a human interaction. Even when the textbook is a computer, the student and the teacher are still people. I try never to forget that.

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