Hybrid Learning at Calhoun: Adapting and Innovating

Shifting to hybrid learning has required Calhoun teachers to reimagine how they teach. Luckily, they’re no strangers to innovative thinking.

“There's no doubt that [this process] was an incredibly heavy lift for teachers, but it has certainly helped to be in an environment where we already have a culture of thinking about innovation in the classroom,” says Eric Osorio, Associate Head of School for Teaching and Learning. 

Despite the unprecedented nature of teaching during a pandemic, faculty have demonstrated a heroic commitment in finding inventive ways to engage students. “We have teachers with decades of experience who have had to relearn their tools, and that's hard,” says Steve Solnick, Head of School. “What's extraordinary about our teachers is that they're so dedicated to their students and to the craft of teaching that they've done that.”

Teacher in front of class

The principal challenge of hybrid learning is ensuring that the in-person and remote experiences are equally successful. “Hybrid is the most challenging of models because a teacher has to pay attention to students who are physically present and at home, and figure out how to engage both groups in a way that feels natural in a very unnatural setting,” says Julie Torres, Academic Dean for Grades 6-12.

Calhoun responded to the challenge with technology: from the Zoombot, a brainchild of the IT-team which allows remote students to connect to the classroom, to the integration of online tools like Padlet, PearDeck, Jamboard and others. Through their creative uses of technology tools, Calhoun teachers have been able to recreate dynamic, experiential learning, no matter the physical location of the student.

Now, walking around Calhoun classrooms, you see situations that would have been unimaginable pre-pandemic. Middle Schoolers in a chemistry lab, measuring materials and logging data, are joined by virtual classmates who are equally immersed in the experiment from their homes. In an Upper School politics elective, the debate is as lively in the Zoom breakout room as it is in the physical classroom. Or in a Lower School Spanish class, the teacher has the rapt attention of kindergartners whether they’re circled around her on the rug or peering from boxes on the screen.

All of these scenes of engaged learning can be attributed to the skill and commitment of our teachers. “What I observe in classrooms is nothing short of masterful,” says Alison Rothschild ‘85, Director of Lower School—Early Childhood.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and while the hybrid model was born from less-than-ideal circumstances, it has also paved the way for unexpected innovation. The integration of cutting-edge technology tools in the classroom, a process that normally takes years for schools, has happened virtually overnight .

Some virtual tools, like Jamboard or the Zoom chat function, have added new layers to class discussions and encouraged wider participation. Video-conferencing has also allowed for guest speakers and scholars from around the world to present to our students, providing classes with even more content to enrich the learning experience.

“In the long run, when we’ve recovered from the trauma of the pandemic, I think this situation will build the toolkit of teachers,” says Steve. Indeed, this unprecedented challenge has shown that even in the most uncertain of circumstances, Calhoun teachers will never stop finding creative ways to bring learning to life.