Congratulations to Paula Barr, a second grade teacher from Lawrence Public Schools in Lawrence, Kansas for winning iNACOL’s Blended and Online Learning Teacher of the Year Award. Paula embodies the true possibilities of digital transformation through innovation with pedagogical practice and technology. With the creative use of Blackboard technology and innovative blended learning best practices in her face-to-face classroom, she fully differentiates instruction to meet the needs of each learner.

Paula Barr headshot

Paula Barr, elementary school teacher at Lawrence Public Schools, and winner of the 2015 iNACOL Teacher of the Year Award

The journey begins

According to Paula, “I was at a time in my career when I was kind of looking at retirement and starting to count those years. I told myself I would stay in the classroom as long as it remained fun and I felt like my students were making incredible gains.”

Paula’s blended learning journey began when she visited a colleague’s fifth grade flipped classroom. After observing the students in action, she walked out of that classroom and thought, “My 7 and 8 year olds can do this. I want this for my students!” However, as a 32-year veteran in the class, was it too late to start a radical change?

A scary start

Looking back two years ago, Paula started out in tears, overwhelmed by the sheer amount of pedagogical change needed to incorporate blended learning into her classroom.

However, at the end of that first school year, Paula reported that she had never felt better, more energized, and more proud about what she and her students accomplished in their blended learning classroom. That’s because her students are 100% more engaged and learning is 100% individualized based on each student’s ability.

Paula states, “When I started with blended learning, it was a total change in my teaching. My passion for coming in and doing my job in such a different way is really inspiring.”

Engaging every student, every day

Her classroom is a magical place. Each of her students are fully engaged from the time they enter the classroom until they leave at the end of the day. How does she do it? By following her 5 tips for embracing blended learning in elementary classrooms.

Paula has found that following blended learning best practices has improved her students’ skills:

  • Self-reliance: students have the freedom to choose learning partners, how they work, and what their assignment will look like; Paula simply floats among her students to provide assistance and enrichment where needed
  • Problem-solving abilities: during class time, students work in pairs, small teams, and individually to collaborate and teach each other
  • Excitement about learning: when the students walk into the classroom, they are already getting started; they grab a computer, check their email, and login to the Blackboard to see what’s new for the day
  • Collaboration and discussion skills: students work together watching or creating videos, asking questions, reading, and using Blackboard; in fact, the class motto is “The person who’s talking is the person who’s learning! The person who’s doing is the person who’s learning.”

And, blended learning has helped her students’ parents too:

  • Paula opens her classroom one day per week for parents to drop in at any time
  • Parents sit in groups with the children and join in the learning
  • Parent buy-in and involvement has soared
  • Feedback from parents praise the students’ engagement, enthusiasm, productivity, positive classroom atmosphere, and quality of student’s work

Proof is in the pudding

For the past two years Paula has been keeping track of the students’ progress. Here are some of the exciting results:

  • Average 25 point gains in NWEA MAP test scores for the whole class
  • High-scoring students get advanced personalized learning paths and can see great growth
  • Below grade level students are making huge gains with their personalized education, and now instead of lecturing at the front of the class, Paula can give them the gift of time and one-on-one attention

Innovative classroom transformation pays off

The annual iNACOL Innovator Awards recognizes distinguished individuals for exceptional research, innovative learning practices, and outstanding contributions in blended and online learning.

Paula is uniquely deserving of this Teacher of the Year Award as she stands out for many reasons:

  • She fully differentiates instruction with blended learning at the elementary level
  • She was a 32-year veteran elementary teacher before trying blended learning
  • In two years, she has changed everything about her teaching practice that she had perfected over her many years of experience
  • Despite fears about change, she was brave and took those steps forward and tried something dramatically different, with great success, for better results for her students

“Witnessing the personal and professional growth of Paula Barr, an accomplished veteran educator of over 30 years, truly proves the transformative power of personalized learning in a blended environment,” said Rick Doll, Superintendent of Lawrence Public Schools. “Lawrence Public Schools have committed to replicating the constant creative buzz of student engagement, collaboration, and achievement found in her classroom throughout our district. It’s thrilling that this deserved recognition of Paula’s journey will draw attention to what we see as a model for successful 21st century teaching and learning.”

Paula Barr has been called “absolutely inspiring,” and we agree. In a recent interview with Jon Bergmann, a flipped learning pioneer, Paula states, “Flipping is not just a young teacher’s game. If I can do it after over 30 years of teaching, in my 50’s, anyone can do it.” Imagine how she will inspire veteran educators about the power of blended learning and all its possibilities.

Learn more about our Blended Learning Solutions for your flipped classroom.


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