What does COVA and CSLE mean anyway?

It’s been 17 months since I started my journey in pursuing a Masters of Education with Lamar University.  While at times, it felt like I was buried with work, my kid’s schedules, and grad work, it really has flown by.  As I reflect on what this program has done for me, professionally, I am more and more convinced that I made the right decision in choosing Lamar University and the Digital Learning and Leading program for my Masters studies.  It’s quite nice to have started the program with the same two professors that I am now ending with in my final capstone course.

I realized pretty early on in the program that this journey was going to be “different”.  What the professors in this program embraced was the COVA approach to learning, which embodies these important learning principles: choice, ownership and voice through authentic learning.

I remember chatting with some of my classmates in a Google Hangouts sessions during one of our very first courses to go over our newly created ePortfolios.  Back then, a lot of us were just getting to familiarize ourselves with the different ePortfolio platforms and programs, and there were a lot of comments from others like “well, I don’t really know what they want…” or “I wish they’d just be clear on what they want to see…”.  This, for us, was new.  A lot of us were looking for “yes or no” answers to our work.  Black or white. Either it’s right or it’s wrong. What was this “make it your own” stuff?  I can’t say enough, how my views on learning and education have shifted just from being apart of this COVA approach to learning.  I quickly learned that our professors were not looking for “the right” answer in our assignments, but they wanted us dig deep and elaborate- to take ownership of our work and to voice our opinions, reflections and view points through authentic learning assignments.  As I continued through the program, I began to realize that almost everyone in the program was working on something different than what I was working on, and that’s what I’ve loved.  I’ve loved seeing everyone take their ideas and initiatives and run with them into their schools/districts and organizations.  Not one person’s assignment has been the same as someone else’s, because we have been given the freedom to choose what to focus on and how to present our assignments to our professors, and ultimately, our administrators.

When I started this program, I was about 2 1/2 years into teaching.  I was brand new, which I think helped me because I wasn’t stuck in the fixed mindset of “this is how I’ve been teaching and this is what’s worked for me”.  I find the quote in Dr. Harapnuik’s CSLE video to be very true in that

“Everybody wants to change the world, but nobody wants to change.”  

That statement cannot be true enough, because as we can probably all relate on some level, either personal or professional, we do not like change.  We are built to follow a routine from the moment we are infants.  As soon as we bring home a brand new baby, the first thing we try to do is put them on a schedule, and when that schedule is interrupted, it shakes up everybody’s day, right?  So I can completely understand that the hard part for many educators, in creating significant learning environments, is breaking out of their comfort zone and switching up the way we are teaching our kids.

I have said from the beginning to some of my colleagues at work that this program is right up our school’s alley.  We are a 1:1 iPad school with museum partnerships as we are located in the museum district.  Our headmaster, who has been our headmaster for 8 years now, knows very well the direction our school needs to go in to give our students the best learning experience.  Many of the books that I’ve read during my studies are some that he has suggested to our faculty and staff already, but what this has done for me is allowed me the opportunity to really focus on an innovation project, which for me was student ePortfolios in middle school.  Had it not been for the DLL program and COVA, I don’t think I would have ever put so much effort into something like this, and then actually approach my administration about making it apart of our middle school curriculum.  Once I did that, my administration really looked to me as a leader.  My innovation plan wasn’t just something that I thought of to get me through the program, but something that I really believe in AND that I believe will help our students stand out in the high school application process as we are a private K-8 school.  The application process for these kids getting into other Houston area private schools is just insane and probably just as grueling as the college and university application process.  The video that I created to accompany my initiative proposal was a big seller for my administration, and once everything was presented, I was given the go ahead to pilot ePortfolios this last school year, as well as lead a PLC group in my school for the year, which we just wrapped up and presented to the entire school a few weeks ago.  I don’t think it couldn’t have gone better.

After learning about and being apart of this COVA approach, I plan on creating the same sort of learning environment for my middle school students, and what’s great is that many of the middle school teachers have seen my journey and are on board with my innovation project as well.  I think the challenges that I face with this initiative is that I am not a full time middle school teacher.  I am primarily an Early Childhood teacher that happens to teach one middle school photography class.  While my plan focuses on middle school, I spend most of my days in the EC classroom, so it is crucial that I have a permanent support system or group of people to be readily available for any issues or support that will be needed from other middle school teachers.  I don’t want this to be something that inspires everyone, but doesn’t work out because of lack of support.  Also, life through another curve ball at me and I’m due in early August with my third baby, so I will be out the classroom for first part of the year and won’t be returning until early November.  I don’t want to loose any momentum on the progress that I’ve been able to make so far, so I’m a little nervous about missing the first few months of the new school year.

So, having been apart of this program, how do I plan on using the COVA approach to create significant learning environments in my own school? Well, I plan go over with my students the course goals and expectations before we dive in completely and embrace COVA.  We won’t just cover the “what you will have learned through this course”, but really go over what COVA is so that my students can know what to expect.  The “freedom” that comes with the COVA approach could definitely be interpreted differently to a middle schooler, but at the same time, I want them to know that they have choice, ownership and voice through authentic learning assignments, and that, coupled with the regular use of their ePortfolios will certainly aide in their learning going forward.