Hybrid/Blended Models for a Pandemic – What have we Learned?

Written by: Jordan Tinney

Published On: October 4th 2020

When given a mandate by the public to build something different how do you respond? What do you do if parents simply won’t be sending their children to school in the fall? What are the implications for potentially thousands of students learning at home who are loosely connected or potentially not connected at all to their neighbourhood school? How do you attempt to provide a quality education and also a transition plan to have students begin to return to school? This is the story of a transformative model that attempts to answer that question. What decisions did we make? How did it emerge? This is the story of Surrey Blended which has quickly emerged to be a centrepiece of our district. With over 11,000 elementary students enrolled, this program now holds about one quarter of all students in our elementary program. Our story begins in mid-summer as the landscape shifts for the fall.

It’s July 29th and the government announces new plans for opening schools in September. This isn’t the plan implemented post-spring break. It isn’t the plan implemented on June 1st, it’s similar with some significant changes. Most importantly, the direction is as many students in school full time as possible and leaving behind the concept of restricting attendance to limit contact and the potential spread of COVID. To battle the pandemic, students will be arranged in learning groups so that in the event of any virus coming into a school, contact tracing will be more easily facilitated with less student contact and less student movement.

As expected, there was a great deal of uncertainty about the new plan. I wrote about the concerns and leadership challenges in a blog titled Leading in a Culture of Fear. As people grappled with the new mandate, they tried to make sense of what it meant for them. What was clear was that there still was an enormous amount of anxiety about the pandemic and about the potential challenges to opening. In addition, as the province opened up for summer, the daily COVID case was on the rise. This was the beginning of our summer climb. The daily new case numbers were a mirror of the numbers in Spring Break when we shut the system down. It was in this context that we began unpacking the new plan and setting the stage for September.

As can be expected, the public angst started to grow. With a much clearer picture of what September would look like, parents and teachers turned their minds to opening with 100% attendance five days a week. It is quite normal for our emails to light up with any particular issue in the district, but this was a little different. What was different, was that parents were communicating to us that they were not returning to school no matter what it looked like. Every year brings its challenges. I’ve just never faced a challenge such as parents not being confident in sending children to school. I’ve never faced parents who are afraid of their neighbourhood school and the thought of having their child attend.

It was in this context, that we began to plan something completely different. In Pandemic as a Fuel for Transformation, I tried to capture some of the tensions and the potential public mandate we were being given to try something completely different. What do you do when parents simply won’t come? How do you respond when you are facing the potential for thousands of students who may choose to be homeschooled? What are the implications for equity and quality? How can and how should public education respond to the ongoing need to educate our public in a flexible and responsive way during a pandemic? We needed a model that provided quality education while students were home with the potential to have them return to school in a future date. This is how Surrey Blended was born.

Surrey Blended is a transition model designed to be responsive to parents who want to keep their child home and who may be willing to have their child return to school at a later date. As we listened to parents through schools and surveys what we heard that parents wanted was something that:

  • Keeps them connected to their neighbourhood school;
  • Retains the ability for them to return to their neighbourhood school at some point in the future; and
  • Provides a learning experience that is rooted in online learning with limited to no face-to-face learning.

As usual, when we are look at something new, we begin with a set of guiding principles. Those principles, informed by the feedback we were hearing from parents and schools were that they wanted a program that would:

  • Respond to the community need during a pandemic for a true online option connected to their neighbourhood school;
  • Focus on a high quality, consistent program;
  • Have a central theme the Social and Emotional Learning of our students;
  • Provide opportunities for students to remain part of their existing community through communications or through the ability to participate in an optional and limited way in activities in their home school;
  • Provide opportunities for parents to receive support on their participation in home instruction; and
  • Be based on a community of teachers who have time to connect together, to build practice and to share the very best of learning in an online environment.


From those principles, we set in place the following structure:





























Teacher Collaboration Time




In School


Social and Emotional Learning: Core Competencies


In School


Social and Emotional Learning: Core Competencies


In School


Social and Emotional Learning: Core Competencies


Parent Support



To support that structure, we designed the program around three key elements which we articulated in our early notes:

  • Teacher Collaboration Time: Opportunities for teachers to work, across the district, with their colleagues as a means to share best practices, to develop a deep repertoire of resources and materials to support a quality blended program. This collaboration time is intended to connect and build a community of teachers across the district through the use of online collaboration tools.
  • In School – Social and Emotional Learning and Core Competencies: The face-to-face learning time will focus on social and emotional learning and core competencies which are central to the curriculum and are foundational to all learning. The In School portion will begin with 1 afternoon per week and gradually increase to 3 afternoons per week. The intent of the gradual increase in face to face instruction is to develop comfort and confidence in returning to school full time at the transition point (January 1st).
  • Parent Support: Built into the program is an intentional connection to parents so that they can learn tips, practical advice and methods to help enable them to support their children at home. This model has a majority of time at home where the parent needs to dedicate substantial time for support and guidance. This portion of the program allows teachers to liaise with parents and to provide support and guidance for the home learning portion.

There are so many more details to communicate about how our model is unfolding. The bottom line is that the need clearly is there. We are only at the infancy of our program. There is so much to learn and, of course, our top priority is how do we work with and support our over 400 teachers engaged in this program? One thing we have done immediately is develop resources like SurreySchoolsOne which is to bring the materials teachers and parents need to the forefront. We have also develop a series of mathematics instructional videos which will be loaded into SurreySchoolsOne so that parents have quality instruction from our teachers at their fingertips. Our weekly meetings, in our collaboration time are amazing things to listen to where 400 teachers come together to talk about what is needed, what does success look like, what do they need?

At the heart of our concerns, and one of the main reasons for designing Surrey Blended is, how are ensuring that our system has equity and access as a central lens through which to view our learning agenda? Across our province, we are hearing that approximately 85% of students have returned to full time face to face learning. This means that we have over 80,000 students who are not in school in the “regular” way. How are we designing structures to address equity? How are we creating new opportunities and new models? Surrey Blended is far from perfect, but it’s our early answer when the public says that they are uncomfortable with retuning to school as we know it. As we support and nurture the program in the year ahead, and as the pandemic continues to loom, I look forward to learning from those on the ground about what they need and how this can potentially be a new option to address equity as the pandemic continue to dominate our landscape in all ways.