How to Get Started with Virtual, Blended, and In-Person (VBI) Program Planning

As you update your learning plan for the coming school year, it is the perfect time to map out how you will incorporate the VBI (virtual, blended, and in-person) schooling model into your educational programs.

The most student-centric way to develop the plan will be to start at the campus level and have each campus develop their own plan that specifically addresses the needs of their respective students. The campus plans can then be combined on a higher level, with less detail, into a district-level plan. Districts may wish to provide guide rails for each strand, along with a standardized survey that is sent to families asking for interest in each type of program to help inform the planning process. Campuses will also want to gather input from parent advisory or campus planning committees.

Each strand requires you to make decisions about how best to meet the needs of your students and your community. Include the following key areas, or strands, to ensure a strong VBI schooling launch:

  1. Accountability
  2. Student Engagement
  3. Instruction
  4. Curriculum
  5. Assessment
  6. Staffing
  7. Technology
  8. Operations


Each element, or strand, of the program design for your Virtual, Blended, and In-Person model needs to clearly align with an accountability measure, or metric, that is based on easy to obtain data. This data must be regularly and consistently monitored to ensure that students and staff are performing as expected within your programs. Metrics should be based on data the describes student outcomes and not processes, for example, measuring grades on assignments provides a better high-level look at student success as opposed to time spent logged in to the online course. However, when teachers are supporting students they will need the ability to drill down into detailed data in order to determine the reason for a failed grade on an assignment, such as rushing through the material.

As we utilize more technology to educate students and encourage them to become independent learners, we have growing access to a plethora of data. The amount of data can quickly become overwhelming unless you begin with the end in mind and plan your metrics and data-gathering around what is most important in demonstrating student mastery of learning objectives.

The same idea applies to how you plan to measure teacher success. Determine what your district’s vision is for teacher success and then identify what data element or elements can provide a solid picture of that success or lack thereof.

Engagement and Learning

Student engagement is the most challenging aspect of public education, whether those students are remote or are in-person in classrooms. According to Phil Schlechty, truly engaging students in learning means that they are highly interested, they persist when the learning is difficult, and they even enjoy the learning that is taking place.

Before developing your VBI model, you must clearly articulate and understand your district’s vision of what student learning looks like and then determine how you will measure that engagement or active learning. Measuring student engagement will form the foundation of your VBI model and will be interwoven into each of the three-prongs. The questions below will help you determine exactly how your district measures engagement and will allow you to determine what data to analyze to regularly monitor and address any student engagement issues that arise.

  • What is most important to your district in terms of student learning:  time spent on the content or student mastery of objectives?
  • Do you require that students complete assignments by due dates, without the possibility of redoing failed assignments? Is it more important that students “cover” content or that students “learn” content?
  • Do you require students to spend a specific amount time on assignments regardless of their level of mastery, for example, a student who can pass the unit test on dividing decimals must still complete all the dividing decimal daily assignments for their grade?
  • How do you measure successful learning in your district, by mastery or seat time?
    • Mastery of learning objectives – Large Scale, Assessment
      • Learning is determined solely based on the mastery of learning objectives shown by student outcomes on assessments and not on daily practice assignments.
      • Assessments may be pre-tests or post-tests.
      • Students do not progress to the next module or unit until they master the current unit.
    • Mastery of learning objectives – Single Assignments
      • Learning is demonstrated by obtaining a specific “mastery” score on each assignment.
      • Every assignment within a module or unit must be mastered before moving on.
      • Students receive additional instruction and repeat the assignment or a similar assignment until the mastery score is earned.
    • Time spent exposed to content with an average grade of all assignments used to determine if a student “on average” mastered the content.
      • Students are expected to move on to the next assignment regardless of receiving a passing grade or a failing grade.
      • Engagement is measured by the completion of assignments by the due date and does not require a passing grade on individual assignments.
  • Is successful completion of assignments how you will determine engagement?
  • Do you believe that students must spend a specific amount of time engaging with content? If yes, does that amount of time vary depending on learner differences?
  • If a student shows mastery of learning objectives will the student be exempted from having to complete assignments for those objectives?

Measuring and Monitoring Student Engagement

Once you determine what student engagement looks like, you must create a plan for measuring student engagement in each of the three programs of VBI.

For your Virtual students, will you monitor completion of assignments by the due date and will you allow any flexibility, i.e. all assignments for the week are due by Friday at 5 pm instead of daily due dates? Or will you be more concerned with time spent logged in and working on assignments? If you adopt a mastery-based approach to student engagement, then how often must a student take a module test, and will you monitor time logged in and working to make sure students are engaging with content in preparation for the module test?

When your In-Person students are in classrooms, will you monitor engagement by completion by the due date, time on task in the classroom, or performance on unit tests?

For your Blended students, will you monitor engagement differently when they are attending on-campus and when they are remote? Or will you simply adopt the same approach for monitoring engagement that you use for your full-time virtual students?

Now that you have determined what student engagement looks like and how you will measure and monitor it in each of your VBI programs, let’s look at options for instruction.


The VBI Instructional Plan should include details on how instruction will be provided by teachers in each unique setting. Regular class instruction, special programs’ instruction, and intervention instruction should be included in the plan. As you consider instructional approaches, keep in mind that you can use many of the same instructional approaches across all three VBI programs. For instance, short, instructional videos recorded by teachers are excellent tools to provide introductory instruction in all settings, allowing teachers to focus on teaching more difficult content.

Consider how you will use instructional resources and how teachers will leverage each resource to provide the most engaging student experience possible.

  • In what format will instruction be provided in each setting: will you use videos, in-person instruction, online synchronous instruction, or a combination?
  • If videos will be developed, how can teachers and students attending Blended or In-Person options also utilize the videos to increase students’ aptitude for independent learning with support from teachers on more difficult content?
  • What type of instructional support will be provided in live (or synchronous) online meeting rooms? Will formal, teacher-led lectures be provided synchronously, or will teachers be available online primarily for come-and-go tutorial help sessions?
  • Will teachers provide focused instruction in small groups to individualize instruction for students based on their needs or will instruction be whole-group and taught to the middle?
  • How will instruction be provided including frequency and duration (how often and for how long)?


Pictures of Laptop, Textbooks, and Online Course

The VBI curriculum strand should include details for each grade level and for each subject, including expectations for how students will interact with the curriculum and the role teachers will play in supporting that interaction.

  • Will the same curriculum be used in virtual, blended, and in-person learning?
  • What curriculum will be used, is it an in-house developed curriculum or purchased curriculum?
  • Is the curriculum provided by textbooks, online interactive courses, or teacher-created instruction and assignments? If a curriculum is available in multiple formats, which version of the curriculum will you use for Virtual, Blended, and In-person?
  • How will pacing adjustments be made based on student needs?
  • How will teachers support student interaction with the curriculum? Will students work at their own pace, watching videos, and asking for teacher help if needed?
  • Will teachers provide a timeline for students to complete assignments and provide structured online or in-person instruction that aligns to that timeline?


The VBI Assessment Plan should include what type of assessments will be used for each grade level and the frequency of the assessments. Any mandatory state assessments should be included, in addition to interim testing that the district conducts to measure growth.

  • How will you assess students at the beginning, middle, and end of the year to help measure academic growth?
  • How and when will the assessments be proctored for Virtual, Blended, and In-person students?
  • What special considerations need to be planned for to ensure adequate tech support and remote test security is maintained for remote proctoring?
  • What facilities’ plans need to be developed if all testing will be conducted in-person?
  • How will mandatory state testing and other district testing affect the use of facilities during testing times? Will testing be conducted partially online, fully online, or fully in-person?


Picture of Teachers Teaching

All staffing determinations will need to be based upon the instructional model adopted, the number of students in each program, and the intensity of support and frequency of contact that teachers will provide to students.

Please note: Do not overload teachers and staff. Virtual and blended instruction does not require less time for teachers to support students. You are setting yourself up for poor assessment results and limited student growth if you overload your staff. Research indicates that student learning outcomes are substantially lower in virtual and blended learning when teacher to student ratios are higher than traditional campuses.

Other staffing questions to consider:

  • Will dedicated teachers be provided to each separate program? If yes, how will teachers collaborate in PLCs (professional learning communities) and shared planning with one another to encourage shared resources and creativity?
  • Will teachers of Virtual or Blended programs work remotely or partially remotely?
  • Will in-person teachers also be scheduled to teach virtual students during synchronous online class sessions or online tutorials?
  • Will teachers be shared between blended groups, such as a math teacher who teaches Blended Group A and Blended Group B while they are on campus? If yes, how will students receive support on the days that they are remote and working off-campus?
  • What teacher to student ratio will you maintain?


Picture of Wifi Sign and Students with Laptops and Tablets

Technology plays a critical role in every educational system today. Your technology decisions will either create a seamless, smooth learning experience or a chaotic, stressful “which program do I use and why won’t it work” experience. A big picture approach is best in which you use fewer programs that provide the key functionalities you need rather than piecemealing a bunch of programs together for bells and whistles. Decide what functionalities are the most important to your district and try to keep it as simple as possible, for the sake of your staff, students, and families.

  • What technology (hardware, software, and connectivity) will Virtual, Blended, and In-Person need? Can you use the same tech for across all three programs?
  • How will students and staff be trained on the technology that they are expected to use? Who is responsible for providing the training? What is the timeline for the training? How will students and staff who join mid-year receive the technology training?
  • How will the necessary technology be distributed to students and staff?
  • Is the school technology infrastructure adequate to support any new technology that is being added?
  • Will the school provide laptops to all students regardless of the VBI program or will only students who are Virtual or Blended receive devices?
  • Will the school provide wifi hot spots to students who do not have Internet connectivity at home? Will any type of income guidelines (such as qualification for free or reduced lunches) be used to determine who qualifies for wifi hot spots or will all students be eligible for one upon request?
  • How will technical assistance be provided to students who have problems with any of their school-issued hardware devices?
  • How will technical assistance be provided to students who have problems with any of their school-issued software, including free software?


Pictures of Classroom, School bus, and Schedule

Operation’s planning includes the coordination of people, supplies, and facilities to provide a high-quality educational experience in each prong of VBI. These decisions about the behind the scenes processes can make or break your VBI programs.

  • How will student groupings be configured for alternating groups of Blended students to maximize facilities use and staffing?
  • How will campus facility schedules accommodate graduations, awards assemblies, and other typical large school gatherings for all enrolled students, regardless of programs? Will different events be held for each program or will whole campus events be held where space permits?
  • How will busing routes be affected, especially in regards to the Blended program which will have a different student pickup route depending upon which group of students is attending on-campus each day?
  • How will cafeteria use be affected? Will Virtual and Blended students still have the option of receiving breakfast or lunch on the days they are not on-campus if they qualify for free or reduced lunches?
  • How can existing busing routes be used to provide morning meal dropoff at specified times for Blended and Virtual students who opt-in to the school meal program?

The Wins of Pandemic Learning

Transforming your crisis remote learning model into a student-centered long-term strategy is easier once you take stock of all that you have already accomplished within a very brief time. Most likely, one or more of the following statements is now true for your school:

  • Your teams know how to meet in virtual classrooms.
  • Your staff and students have some familiarity with completing or grading assignments online.
  • Your every-once-in-a-while tech has become your lifeline to instruction or you have purchased new tech to provide instruction online.
  • You realize that virtual learning is a very real solution that your team can implement.

These wins, however small they may be and however encumbered with difficulties, allow you to envision the possibilities of what can be. With a mindset of “we can do whatever we have to do to serve kids,” you can create a model for VBI (virtual, blended, and in-person) that will serve your students well.

Sara J. Baker, Ed.D.

Dr. Sara Baker created VBI Education to provide schools with planning support and innovative ideas for serving students today and beyond. Free educational resources, such as videos, blogs, and planning guides are provided to help schools take action and set up their own VBI programs. Dr. Baker is available as a consultant for schools who need additional support with strategy in planning their VBI program.
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