Digital Learning & Leading Journey Synthesis

It’s a little crazy to think about how much can change in just 18 months.  18 months ago, I was in my third year of teaching as an Early Childhood/Middle School photography teacher.  I was brand new and excited to be teaching.  While I was still somewhat new to the school and to teaching, I knew that I wanted to be more than a teacher.

I wanted to be a leader.

Now, 18 months later, I’m wrapping up the last course of my graduate studies through Lamar University and getting ready to walk across the stage at graduation!  In this short amount of time, I’ve made some great connections with other educators across the country and have learned so much about what it means to be a great educator, however, I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am now without the help and encouragement of my school administration.  It was through a discussion on personal and professional goals with my Headmaster and Head of EC/Lower School, that I mentioned that I was thinking about going back to school.  I received some great feedback and suggestions from both of them, and had they not pointed me in the right direction, I don’t think I would have gone to grad school as soon as I did, and I’m not entirely sure I would have discovered Lamar University and/or the DLL program.  It’s funny how life plays out.

Throughout the 18 month long journey of the Digital Learning and Leading program, I’ve had some pretty great learning experiences.  While the non traditional COVA approach to learning took a little bit of an adjustment for me, I realize that this is also what empowered me as a learner and educator.  Sure, in the beginning that was a little bit of frustration because I wanted my assignments to have yes or no answers.  Either I got it right or wrong, but there wasn’t any of that.  While teaching and learning based on the COVA model is hard, it’s really an adjustment that needs to be made.  I can see where many schools are not yet ready to embrace COVA- it’s too risky, giving up the control.

We just need to continue to find ways to be facilitators of learning and not dictators.

When I stop and think of the accomplishments I’ve made in the program, I realize that the results are too great.  What this program has done for me goes further than the accomplishments.  Aside from the amounts of work and late hours, I’ve gained even more confidence in myself as an educator and as a leader.  The assignments have definitely been worthwhile and have helped push me into more of a leadership role in my school.  My innovation plan, which has taken up most of my focus during this program hasn’t gone unnoticed by my administration- in fact, they want to see and hear more and have given me opportunities to show what I have learned and try it with my students.  That in itself is a big accomplishment for me.  I know that it’s not that easy for many in this country, and that for many teachers, their voices and proposals go unheard or are given very little thought.  For many in the public school system, there are countless hoops to go through to initiate change.  I realize how difficult it can be, and I’m grateful to be at a school that listens to it’s teachers and allows them to try new approaches and ideas.

Another “tangible” accomplishment that I am proud is this ePortfolio.  Looking back at a year and half’s worth of work all housed in my ePortfolio is pretty amazing to reflect back on.  I had fun giving my ePortfolio a little bit of personality and making it my own, and I also love being able to refer my site to colleagues and other administrators in my organization.  The work speaks for itself.

Take a moment and Sway with me.  Check out the visual presentation below to see what this experience has been like for me.  If you want to further your professional teaching career and are thinking about entering into an online Masters program, look into Lamar University.  This program has taken me to places that weren’t even on my radar 18 months ago.

All of these things helped package the innovation plan quite nicely as I presented it to my administration, and the response that I got from them was receptive as they gave me the go ahead to pilot ePortfolios in my fine art elective class for the 2016-2017 school year.

About six months ago, I revisited the original innovation plan and refined and tweaked some things.  As I was rereading the literature and making adjustments, I realized that this is something that is constantly evolving.  With the help of some of my classmates, we created an updated literature review supporting ePortfolios in the classroom.  As I look back at this timeline of important dates I created, I’m happy to say that we’ve stayed on track for the 2016-2017 school year.  This last year was a pilot year for me, as well as an educational year for my colleagues, as I had the opportunity to lead a year long in-house PLC group with a handful of my colleagues.  During our monthly meetings, we discussed student ePortfolios and the benefits of having them for our 6-8th grade students.  We created a group ePortfolio and had the opportunity to present our findings with the entire school faculty and administration during May inservice.  Below is the Timeline of Important Dates that was created in December 2016.  The text in read are my current reflections and comments of the progress made, what worked and what didn’t work, and what could have been done better.

Timeline of Important Dates

August 2016-May 2017

Begin implementation of the innovation plan in the 8th Grade Photography elective class. The pilot will last one full school year.  Distribute anonymous surveys to students at the conclusion of the photography elective each quarter.

This year has been an exciting year of experimentation and collaboration.  After much research on student ePortfolios, I decided I was going to pilot ePortfolios in my 8th grade digital photography class.  While the students were very excited to be able to create something that they could add a little personality to, we found that the challenging part was creating it in such a short amount of time.  I found that the students were not able to create and maintain an ePortfolio in only 1 Quarter, as this photography class is a rotating group, with new students each quarter.  Another challenge we ran into was that we were trying to split valuable class time in teaching how to create and maintain an ePortfolio, and actually photographing projects.  Designing and ePortfolio could be a class all on its own!  What I wanted students to get out of the ePortfolio, was to take advantage of the opportunity to reflect on the projects and photographs they created.  The process of self reflection is an important one, and I wanted them to actively reflect on what they were learning.  By piloting the ePortfolios in only photography class, some of them just look like photography websites, instead of an ePortfolio that houses all sorts of thoughts, projects and other artifacts.  If there were a way to begin the ePortfolio process in 6th grade, in a variety of subjects, I believe this could be something powerful that students could take with them and continue to use in high school and college.

January 3, 2017

PLC discoveries and surprises about assessments.  A halfway “checkpoint” in which each PLC group will present to all faculty and staff the findings and surprises they have come across up until this point. Begin collecting and analyzing data.

At this hallway point in the year, our PLC group made a brief presentation of the progress we have made for the first half of the year in our findings for using ePortfolios as an alternative form of assessment.  This was just a mid-year checkpoint as we were looking at the impact ePortfolios could have on our students and teachers.  We discussed how before implementing student ePortfolios, the teachers and educators first had to be familiar with what they were, and how to maintain an ePortfolio ourselves.  We cannot enforce ePortfolios on our learners without having learned how to use them ourselves.  We decided that we would spend the next 5 months making a group ePortfolio to present to the faculty in May.  

May 31, 2017

Collect and analyze the data that has been collected during this pilot year. Share and communicate the results with a group presentation to all faculty and staff during work week.

Once school let out, our PLC group had the opportunity to present our findings of the ePortfolio to the rest of the faculty and staff at our school.  We created https://pseportfolios.wordpress.com as a visual for the rest of the school to see our thoughts and findings of the ePortfolio.  What was challenging here was that we are all fine art teachers and librarians- not your typical core subject teachers in which we might have students post artifacts of their learning, however, we understood that we cannot initiate change without using and being familiar with the process first.  We created the website and divided it into the different subjects that we taught and we each reflected and posted how we (the educators) might use ePortfolios.  The idea was to create a visual for everyone else and to speak of the powerful benefits that this can give our students, especially because we are a PreK-8 school, and as mentioned in the proposal video, the private high school application process in Houston is just as grueling, if not more than college applications.   

May 2017- May 2018

Reflect on the pilot process with the Director of Fine Arts, Headmaster, Head of Middle School and middle school advisories and discuss whether the plan will be extended to other subjects and grade levels.

Extending the plan to all middle school students to have and maintain an ePortfolio will be something we gradually expand over a 2-3 year period.

** This is where were currently are in our student ePortfolio implementation.  I’ve had the opportunity to share my thoughts of the ePortfolio with the school and pilot them in my fine art class.  While there are still some kinks to work out (like moving from WordPress to other possible platforms), we have stayed on track for most of the year.  The next step is to sit and discuss if and when we can expand ePortfolio implementation to other grade levels and subjects.  We realize that this is something that will not happen all at once, which is why we’ve given a 2-3 year period for middle school expansion.  There needs to be additional teacher professional learning opportunities in the area of ePortfolios, and more meeting with Covenant, our school’s IT team.  I will be out of school until early- mid November on maternity leave, but plan to continue to check in and help when I can.  If there’s anything I have learned, it is that no change initiative can be effective without the proper support team in place.  I have said all along that I don’t want to inspire teachers and let them fail, I want to be there to help support them along the way, but I realize that I cannot do this on my own.  I need a team to help support middle teachers with trouble shooting and other roadblocks that might pop up along the way.