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Insights from the Blended Master Teacher Project

Blended and Personalized Learning: Insights from the Blended Master Teacher Project

In 2014, BetterLesson partnered with The Learning Accelerator (TLA) to join a small but powerful coalition of human capital organizations committed to advancing TLA’s mission “to transform K-12 education by accelerating the implementation of high-quality blended learning in school districts across America.”  We were awarded a substantial grant from TLA to identify a cohort of effective blended learning teachers, codify their practice, and showcase their teaching strategies as we had done successfully in our earlier Master Teacher Projects.

The content produced through this project is unique, both in its comprehensiveness and its level of detail about specific blended teaching strategies. Unlike our Math, ELA, and Science Projects, the Blended Master Teacher Project was small by design and focused on demonstrating what effective blended learning teachers do and why they do it. Instead of lesson plans, Blended Master teachers documented elements of their instructional design, classroom culture, and systems and strategies that allow them to leverage technology to personalize instruction for their students.

We have learned a great deal from designing and hosting the Blended Master Teacher Project. We are convinced now more than ever that all learning is inexorably headed in the direction of being more self-paced, technologically enabled, and mastery-driven. Traditional models of teaching and learning are rapidly giving way to new and exciting approaches like the strategies that are featured in this project. We are excited to share our findings with the general public in our newly published white paper.

BetterLesson Partners with Tennessee DOE

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The Tennessee Department of Education and BetterLesson have recently agreed to a partnership to support 53 high school teachers across the state to develop their capacity to bring blended and personalized learning strategies to their students in the 2016-17 school year.  

The partnership will be driven by PersonalizedPD, BetterLesson’s innovative professional development platform.  Teachers from 35 schools convened in Nashville on July 11-13, where they were trained on Canvas, a learning management system that will serve as the home base for all student work and curricular materials.  Teachers will work with BetterLesson’s expert blended learning coaches to design the new systems and structures they will implement in the coming school year.  Teachers in the pilot project will receive ongoing support throughout the 2016-17 school year from BetterLesson’s coaches as they implement this new teaching model.  

“One of the driving goals for the Department’s work is supporting districts and schools to meet the unique needs of each and every Tennessee student,” Deputy Commissioner Kathleen Airhart said. “This pilot is an opportunity for Tennessee teachers to explore tools that can help them individualize their instruction, something that is particularly challenging in high school.”

Jeff Liberty, Vice President of Personalized Learning at BetterLesson, described the partnership with the Tennessee DOE in this way: “We are thrilled to support the Department’s blended learning initiative in Algebra, a content area that is critical to students’ future success and a particular strength of our very experienced coaching team.”

The goal of the pilot is to assess if personalized learning is able to: mitigate the achievement gap in Algebra I and Integrated Math I; influence teacher instruction leading to positive impacts on student scores and on The Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS); and increase student engagement.  The data collected from this pilot will be used to inform the Tennessee DOE on future personalized learning policy and programmatic selections.

BetterLesson asserted itself as a leader in the blended and personalized learning space with the launch of its Blended Master Teacher Project. In 2014, the company partnered with The Learning Accelerator to showcase the practices of expert blended learning teachers nationwide. The Project’s free online content uses videos and teacher artifacts to demonstrate how each strategy was developed and implemented.  Each year BetterLesson’s PersonalizedPD coaches support hundreds of teachers across the country to redesign and improve their craft.  

For more information please contact: Okello Carter:


Partnership for Blended Learning

BetterLesson has partnered with The AVI CHAI Foundation to provide professional development on blended learning to Jewish Day Schools. Participating teachers developed an actionable implementation plan at one of three two-day Design Studios, then receive on-going, personalized coaching to refine a plan’s roll-out in the classroom. For more information about this partnership, read the full write-up.

This partnership is just one of many BetterLesson has developed as part of the launch of our professional development platform, PersonalizedPD. We are working with schools and districts across the country to bring individualized coaching and continuous learning to teachers. We believe teacher are the key to student success and want provide the opportunities and resources for all teachers to light up every student.

For more information on Check out our updated website for more information on PersonalizedPD and our vision for teacher-led professional development.


This time, it’s personal.

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BetterLesson Launches PersonalizedPD Platform to Transform Teacher Learning

Our current economic and social challenges require nothing less than exceptional thinkers and creators. We need our students to be truly lit-up, ready to tackle evolving sets of novel challenges. Nothing less will do.

At BetterLesson, we believe that teachers can (and must) be this transformational force, enabling greatness for their students by modeling how to quickly and bravely Learn by Doing.

So with PersonalizedPD, we’re working hard to tackle the enormously-worthwhile challenge of lighting up our teachers by bringing continuous, active learning within reach. And thanks to a $6 million raise from an amazing group of investors and partners (Reach Capital, NewMarkets Venture Partners, The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and Scott Cook and Signe Ostby), we’re incredibly well-positioned to build the first repeatable, scalable platform that empowers teachers to transform their learning.

Unsurprisingly, the key to our model is personalization.

Without true personalization, there’s no way to bring genuine, active learning within reach for every teacher.

“I feel incredibly supported and also that I will be able to make some major strides in how I teach, trying strategies that help me to be a more effective teacher.”

High School ELA Teacher, Arizona

With this in mind, PersonalizedPD delivers just the right support for every teacher:

  1. Personal Learning Map: We work with teachers to develop fully individualized learning paths based on their needs and the needs of their students. We consider everything from the teachers’ experiences to their student demographics; from their self-assessed areas for growth to their school’s technology infrastructure.
  1. Just the Right Coach: We then deliberately match each teacher with a highly-skilled coach who has the experience and content expertise to provide exactly the right support to help teachers achieve their goals. We’re like the eHarmony of teacher development (but without the awkward coffee dates).
  1. Continuous Support – On-Demand: Through the wonder of online video conferencing, teachers and coaches spend the entire school year meeting biweekly. In these meetings, coaches serve as thought partners and sounding boards, cheerleaders and counselors – providing whatever the teacher may need in the moment. Here’s an inside look at some coaching sessions.
  1. Simple Process for Learning by Doing: Together, they use our simple TeachCycle (Teach, Measure, Learn) method of structured experimentation to determine what works for students as quickly as possible.  Each meeting, teachers walk away energized and with specific actions to implement immediately in their classroom. The flexible nature of PersonalizedPD means that the focus of the work is always relevant.
  1. Handpicked Strategies: We’ve developed easy-to-use online tools that support teachers to access thousands of awesome strategies from Master Teachers across the country, measure the efficacy of these strategies in their own classrooms, and collect artifacts of student work. (Watch a quick screencast of the product.)
  1. A Rich, Useful Portfolio: By the end of the year, teachers have a snazzy portfolio detailing their amazing work and the effect each strategy had on student outcomes. What’s more, because each teacher’s PersonalizedPD work is tailored to meet that teacher’s individual needs and can be aligned to school initiatives, their portfolio directly supports their end-of-year evaluation and recertification needs.


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Pins show partner districts for the 2015-16 school year

Currently, our BetterLesson Coaches are delighting teachers with PersonalizedPD in more than 24 districts across the country. We’ve also partnered with National Education Association to bring individualized coaching to early career teachers in an additional 78 districts across eight regions (Hawaii, Arizona, Missouri, Maine, Arizona, Alaska, Columbus, and Milwaukee). Teachers love the individualized support they get from coaches and are seeing positive results from their students.

And we’re just getting started! Our growing team knows that the stakes are too high for the status quo – our students deserve more. That’s why we’re fired up to continue iterating on our model, making improvements that will enable teachers to more effectively light up their students.

“It feels refreshing to be a part of a project as thoughtful and inspired as PersonalizedPD feels. My conversations with my coach feel authentic and challenging yet supportive. Her responses and the resources she gives me show a depth of understanding and attention to detail that make me feel excited to keep trying to make progress with my students.”

Middle School Science Teacher, Colorado

Is PersonalizedPD at fit for you or your teachers? Let’s find out!
District Admins click here! Principals click here! Teachers click here!

Leading From the Classroom: Suggestions for Teacher Leadership

Leadership_laneMaster Teacher Guest Blog Series
Part 5: Learning Is Social
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Welcome to the final installment of the Master Teacher guest blog series. What an informative and inspiring collection of posts we have published in just a few short months! If you are new to series, please look back at earlier posts from Master Teachers who make their teaching All about the Kids, who use data to Measure Progress, who see opportunity in setback and Fail Forward, and who grow professionally when they Reflect Honestly.

This last part of the series focuses on how Learning Is Social. This is true for students and equally true for teachers. The teaching profession can easily isolate us within the four walls of our classroom, but great teachers recognize the value of collaboration and seek out ways to break through the isolation. Today, Cassandra Joss offers her suggestions for teachers looking to take on more leadership roles, while at the same time remaining in the classroom. Enjoy!

In education, “moving up” the ranks is very different than the most other professions. Teachers go into education to inspire and help children. However, a “promotion” often takes teachers away from the daily, meaningful relationships with students and the actual teaching; the two things I enjoy most about my job. I have known from the beginning of my career that being a principal or working in the administration office is not for me, yet I wanted more out of my job. How was I supposed to fulfill the desire to be a leader in my profession, and still continue to teach at the same time?

In 2013, I received the direction I needed. I was chosen as an NEA BetterLesson Master Teacher. This set me on a path to fulfill the growth and leadership I was looking for. As a Master Teacher, I was able to build relationships with educators from around the country. The people I was meeting had all sorts of great skill sets, experiences, and stories. During my time as a Master Teacher, two things occurred to me. If I wanted leadership opportunities, I was going to have put myself in them, nobody was going to come to my classroom and do it for me. The second realization was that I needed to surround myself with positive, like-minded people.  

I began actively seeking more opportunities to grow as an educator, and contribute to my profession. Working on leadership projects outside of my classroom “fills my bucket”, yet still allows me to enjoy my first love of teaching. Here are a few suggestions for teachers looking to expand their opportunities and grow professionally:

  • When you receive an educational newsletter, read it from top to bottom and look for opportunities that are of interest to you. I learned that these opportunities are very often posted, but not many people read the publication or follow through on making a contact.  
  • When you go to conferences and workshops, walk right up and introduce yourself to the people you admire or find interesting. I have made a lot of inspiring and lasting connections this way.
  • Sign up to present at a conference on a subject area you are strong in. While there, use the opportunity to make professional connections.

Once I began actively seeking out leadership roles, they started coming. My favorite quote to live by is, “If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.”  The minute I start to get comfortable or complacent is a sign that I need to push myself. It’s time to exit that room, or change up the people in it. It can be very easy to become isolated and confined within the four walls of a classroom. Teaching doesn’t easily lend itself to professional networking.  

As mentioned previously, throughout my travels I have been blessed to meet some inspiring people in my profession. When I surround myself with people who are also passionate about teaching and being leaders in the profession, really great stuff happens! I have made some incredible friendships. Surrounding myself around others who are positive and driven pushes me to work harder. Keeping away from negative people, who resist change has been critical to my leadership journey.

It is possible to be a leader in our profession and still be a classroom teacher. It is amazing how one opportunity leads to another and another. Start small, and get the snowball rolling. We need to keep the best teachers in a classroom for the sake of our students!

Cassandra Joss is a 3rd-grade teacher in Utica Community Schools, located in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. In addition to serving as a member of the Common Core Leadership Cadre for the Michigan Education Association, she is a guest lecturer in math methods at Oakland University, and a member of BetterLesson’s Math Master Teacher Project. To see all of Cassandra’s Kindergarten math lessons, please click here.

Begin with the End in Mind

Welcome to the last installment of Website Wednesday, the weekly blog by a BetterLesson Master Teacher highlighting online resources.

Today, Master Teacher Mitchell Smith shares some ideas and resources for how he prepares students for assessments from the first day of school.


Teaching is a humbling profession. The techniques that work with one student population may not necessarily have the same results with another. Even for veteran teachers, new teaching challenges pop up year-to-year.

If you are anything like me, you recognize that every problem has a potential solution. Period. I don’t like to be told that I can’t do something. With teaching, however, I am not a solo artist, professional, or learner. Teaching and learning is a community process: students, families, teachers, administration, and support staff, among many others.

As I write this post, I am processing the scores of my students’ unit exams. But today is an extension of the first day of this unit, which is itself an extension of the first day of class. For me, I always begin with the end in mind. From the very start, I framed what I expect from my students, as evidenced by the class motto banner shown below.

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Every day I approach instruction and assessment through the lens of scholarship excellence. Therefore, how I prepare and execute in the classroom is a model of what I look for in students’ preparation and execution. Striving does not equate to achieving perfection. There are always areas for polish. That being said, results from today’s exam will lead me to identify how we can improve.

Instructional Models
I have found a few different instructional models helpful for framing the way in which I prepare a unit, from end to beginning.

The first is Understanding by Design (UbD). It is perhaps the most well-known model and one that I have implemented quite extensively. The three stage backward design model leads with the instructional goals and follows with the formative evidence and specific instructional details. Thus the end (Stage 1) is where the magic begins.

The second is the Architecture of Accomplished Teaching model, which comes from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. This one also begins with the desired end goals (2nd step) with the requisite formative checks along the way, ending with reflecting on student learning and establishing new goals.

Assessment Strategies
I spent time this past summer reading several teacher books trying to hone my skills. One book, Teach Like A Champion 2.0 by Doug Lemov, featured a number of great strategies organized into five thematic parts. One such strategy called “Plan for Error,” pushed me to consider how I can systematically anticipate errors before they crop up, thus allowing me to begin the lesson with possible ends in mind. As Mr. Lemov says, “If students make the mistakes you anticipate, you’re likely to have a terrific solution; if you’re wrong, you get to improve your level of insight about your students’ thinking by reflecting on the dissonance between the errors you anticipated and the mistakes that actually occurred.”

Professional Development
The idea of beginning with the end in mind is also evidenced in BetterLesson’s TeachCycle program. Teachers work virtually with a TeachCycle coach to identify a broad area of need for their students, and then teachers select a specific teaching challenge that falls under this student growth area. With the support of their coach, teachers select a strategy that targets the teaching challenge and measure its efficacy. Teachers continue to implement and measure new strategies rapidly, enabling them to quickly learn what works for their students and what doesn’t. When students have made adequate growth in one area, teachers select a different teaching challenge and the iterative process starts anew.

“Begin with the end in mind,” isn’t just a trendy catch-phrase. It is the mantra that guides my every move as I strive for excellence in teaching.  But if I don’t make proper preparations for what students need to know, understand, and be able to do, then it will be more difficult and unlikely that my students, in turn, will strive for excellence in their scholarship.

Mitchell Smith is a National Board Certified high school science teacher at Kentridge High School in Kent, Washington. An avid outdoorsman, Mitchell enjoys hiking, mountaineering, camping, canoeing, mountain biking, and running. To view all of Mitchell’s Biology lessons, please click here.

The Benefits of Working with a Dedicated Coach


Master Teacher Guest Blwriter-605764_1280og Series
Part 5: Learning Is Social
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When you want to improve an area of your work, a skilled and knowledgeable coach can support you to break through a performance plateau and help you to achieve more than you could have alone. They get to know your strengths and weaknesses, and they deftly push you to surpass your limits. A skilled coach can meet teachers wherever they are, from a first-year teacher fresh out of graduate school to a seasoned veteran, 30-years into his or her career.

BetterLesson’s personalized professional development, TeachCycle does exactly that. Our skilled coaches work with educators from across the country to support them to improve outcomes for students. After first identifying an area of student growth, teachers choose a specific teaching challenge for themselves and then work with their coach to select strategies targeted to address the challenge. In this way, TeachCycle coaching is truly collaborative work between teacher and coach, enabling the teacher’s learning to be social rather than isolated.

Today, Master Teacher Veronique Paquette discusses the benefits she experienced when she worked with a BetterLesson coach as part of the Master Teacher Project. Enjoy!

Most writers work in quiet solitude; planning and plotting the twists and turns in their latest story, research or project. Writers will work for long periods of time, without ever asking for anyone’s opinions or advice towards their writing. Teacher writers are the opposite of this; they do not work in isolation. For educators, writing is a social event.

In my twenty-eight years as an educator, I have had many opportunities to write: grants, speeches, newspaper and magazine articles, a Master Thesis, and National Board portfolios. Each writing style had a different audience, but the purpose was always the same: to share my knowledge of a particular subject in teaching. In many of those situations, I worked with the support of a good friend, a mentor I respected or colleagues who willingly read my work and critiqued it for me. Some writing projects were easier to tackle than others, yet each type of writing left me with new learning. I was always proud of my writing, but more so because I knew how much blood, sweat and sometimes tears had gone into my work.

Lesson writing for Better Lesson was a whole new challenge. It was more than just creating and designing fabulous lessons. It was about writing those lessons in a way that met the needs of all teachers, from the experienced teacher to the new teacher just entering the profession.

Writing lessons for Better Lesson was never a solitary endeavor. When you become a Master Teacher in any of the projects, you are instantly given the support of a Coach. For me, I had no idea that my coach would become one of my closest and dearest connections to understanding my own teaching and writing styles. Moreover, that I would come to love and enjoy writing lessons as much as I did. I lay all the credit of this discovery on the shoulders of my coach.

In the beginning of the Project, I worked through my lessons and struggled to find the perfect format to share my ideas and work. I must have changed my formatting a hundred times. My coach patiently held my “cyber” hand and coaxed me through the process. She never gave up. We had a great system, developed by the folks in the Project, using the Google platform. We wrote our lessons and submitted them through Google Docs, and then coaches read the lessons and resubmitted them back to teachers with suggestions.

Struggling through the formatting made it difficult in the beginning, but my coach was always ready to discuss it with me. When I begged her for a format, she kindly explained to me that the philosophy of Better Lesson was not to tell the teachers how to write our lessons. They wanted each of us to shine in our own way. I so appreciated that they cared so much about preserving each of our special styles of teaching and writing to allow us that freedom.

My coach continued to keep our conversations going; Google Hangouts and email became our best methods. She was ready at a moment’s notice. As the year of lessons developed and came to life, my lesson writing improved each time I submitted through the process. I celebrated when lessons were returned with very little to revise. Better yet, I would do a little happy dance when a lesson was submitted the first time and was accepted without any needed revisions. Those lessons did not happen often, but they sure felt good when they did.

One thing I believe that helped my coach to be such an effective facilitator was her knowledge of the standards, including all the elements (Science and Engineering Process or Crosscutting Concept). Through our discussions, she would help me to see clearly when my writing was strong or missing something. She knew when lessons addressed standards and when they were stretching. Thank goodness for that!

Typically, Better Lesson coaches carry a large load of work. They read endless amounts of lessons, encourage their teams, and are teachers themselves. I cannot imagine being a part of the Master Science Teacher Project without my coach. She taught me many lessons during our year of work, but none so valuable as the love I discovered I had of sharing my writing with others. Becoming a Master Science Teacher meant I would share my skills with other teachers, but ultimately, I became a learner as well. I learned I love to write!

Veronique Paquette is a 2nd-grade teacher at Kenroy Elementary School in East Wenatchee, Washington. She has taught early elementary students for 28 years and loves finding ways to bring the outside world into the four walls of her classroom. To see all of Veronique’s science lessons, please click here.

If you’d like to learn more about working with a dedicated TeachCycle coach next year, please click here.