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.

In addition to gathering resources, I’ve carefully planned out a detailed outline that covers about 50% of the course.  I will expand on this outline in the coming weeks and will update it here, but for now, this is what is being planned for this 5 week course.

Designing an Online Course

I’ve just completed the first week of my TENTH course in my graduate school journey.  I’m 12 months into this program and I’m beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel!

In this class, we are spending 5 weeks designing an online course.  Within the first two days of this new class, I was a bit nervous of the challenge of designing an online course, as I have never worked with any LMS platform, and didn’t quite know where to start.  After a few suggestions, I decided to design my course through Schoology.  I’ve had a great time navigating the capabilities within Schoology and am quite happy with the progress of my online course so far.

For my course, I’ve decided to build off of my 3-column table that I designed back in June with my Beta students (3-4 yr. olds).  As I mentioned in the above linked blog post, our school is already pretty involved in the Rice Literacy and Culture Project, specifically, the Classroom Storytelling Project, and I wanted to design a course where my 8th grade photography students could lend their photographic skills to bring the dictated stories of my Beta students to life.  I loved the thought of having the middle schoolers collaborate with our youngest students on a project that is so important to our school.  We really recognize and value the importance of storytelling in our younger grade levels, and wanted to create something that would bring the two grade levels together, despite the age differences.  For some great information on how storytelling in the classroom can help build literacy, please see the video below.

Briefly, in this 5 week course, the middle school photography students will have opportunities to talk and interact with Betas.  Each of them will be assigned to 3-4 Beta students.  They will sit one on one with them and let them tell them a story.  Any story.  The photography students will write down their story as the Beta is telling it to them, and they will also be recording them as they share their story.  They will learn that, at times, they might need to assist the Betas in continuing their stories and encourage descriptive language by using open-ended questions to help prompt them to the next part of their story.

This is were it gets fun.

The middle school photography students will then create photographic images to go with the stories.  They will need to be creative in how they create visuals.  Once they have completed the images, they will then use the app Shadow Puppet on their iPads to bring it all together.  They will use the original recording and edit it to create a voice over to accompany the photographs in the stories.  We will then install the written stories, printed photographs and a QR code that will take viewers to the Shadow Puppet video with voiceover.

Talk about collaboration!  This is a fun project for both the middle schoolers and Betas that will encourage more storytelling among our younger students and also push our photographers to think outside the box while they put to use what they have learned about photography.

The audience for this online course will be the 8th grade photography students, and as mentioned before, will be divided into 5 weeks:

  • Week 1 (02/6-02/10): What is Storytelling?
  • Week 2 (02/13-02/17): Collaboration
  • Week 3 (02/20-02/24): Think Outside The Box!
  • Week 4 (02/27-03/03): Think-Make-Talk
  • Week 5 (03/06-03/10): Installation

During the course, learners will have 2 critiques.  The first where they will share images that they have created by the conclusion of the third week, and the second when all work has been completed and installed at the conclusion of the fifth week.

I’m really excited to be designing this course around two big passions of mine. Thanks for joining me on this journey!

Developing a Growth Mindset Plan

Carol Dweck, a researcher in the field of motivation has devoted years of research into seeing how/why people succeed and how they cope with failure.  I found Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success strikingly similar to another book I read years ago that our school administrators recommended that we read, called Nurture Shock by Ashley Merryman and Po Bronson.  Just as Dweck’s book, Nurture Shock is full of research and studies on parenting and child development, specifically how constant praise from parents “backfires and actually undermines their confidence” instead of building it (Sundberg, 2016). Over the years, Dweck took note that a person’s mindset greatly affects whether they are successful in reaching their goals or not and how one’s mindset continues to influence the outcome of their life.

In short, Dweck’s work outlines two different thought processes- one being that intelligence and ability are traits that you are either born with or without.  It’s either one or the other.  I was born with artistic ability, but singing is not one of my God given talents.  These are traits that are “carved in stone” and not worth practicing towards improvement, because I either have it or I don’t.  There is another line of thinking that says despite whatever talents a person is born with, those talents need to be continuously honed through practice.  So maybe I have a natural artistic talent, but in order for me to use that talent to its fullest potential, I need to continue to practice my technical skills, because just like any other hobby, sport or ability, if not put to use… it may get a little rusty.  Now, that’s not to say that I cannot improve my singing, if that is what I choose to focus on.  I may not have been born with natural singing ability, but if I put my mind to it, and invest in voice lessons and practice for hours a week there could be great improvement in my singing.

Dweck has coined the terms “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset” when referring to the two thought processes.  Those with the fixed mindset believe that a person is either born with intelligence or ability or not, and there’s no improving the hand you are dealt.  In addition, those with the fixed mindset constantly need validation that they are smart, or worthy.  The below graphic sums it up well.  Which mindset do you prefer to model?



I can relate a lot to the idea of having a growth mindset from an athletic point of view.  I come from a competitive soccer family and played soccer and volleyball throughout my schooling.  Growing up, I embraced the challenges that the coaches and the sport presented me.  My injuries were setbacks, for sure, but they didn’t stop me.  I could have quit countless of times, but frankly, that’s not how I was raised.  Now that we are parents to two children, we have tried to make it a point to give the kids the opportunity to play whatever they’d like, and to give them the time to find something that they really love to do…. and to always encourage and praise their effort.

A point that Dweck continuously makes in her book, is that a person CAN change their mindset.  On her website, she has laid out 4 steps for us to take to steer away from a fixed mindset and instead, develop the thinking processes of that of a growth mindset.

slide_29As an Early Childhood teacher, part of my job is instilling a growth mindset into our little ones.  We are learning so many gross motor, fine motor and academic things that I feel like many of my most used phrases are “It’s ok, let’s try it again” or “Keep trying, you can do it!”.  I once had a student tell me that their older sibling had just recently learned how to tie their shoes and why didn’t they know how to tie their shoes?  I explained to them that they soon would learn how to tie their shoes just like their big brother, and that it might take some time.  They may not know how to tie their shoes yet, but they will learn soon with some time and practice.

In my opinion, it isn’t hard instilling a growth mindset in 3-4 year olds, because they are so curious and open to learning already.  In fact, we aren’t instilling a growth mindset in them… we are maintaining it.  They don’t view asking questions as a weakness, but a way of finding things out.  It’s the only way they know how to learn.  The challenge for me comes in my middle school photography class.  For some reason, the older we get, our desire for learning slightly diminishes.  Why is that?  I think many things can contribute to this for many students, whether it be family finances, self consciousness, peer pressure, grades, etc, but it is important for us to continue to model and encourage a growth mindset in our students so that they can push themselves to be the best version of themselves as possible.

As I look back at my learning philosophy I posted a few weeks ago, I realize that I am already embracing the growth mindset.  I know my purpose is to lead by example, to exhibit respect, to spark curiosity, to foster imagination, to encourage play, to promote risk taking, and to be a constant reminder that if we fall down, we get back up.  If we don’t do something right the first time, we try again.  

As an fine art teacher, I get many students that walk through my door who have never picked up a camera in their life… and I’m talking about a real camera, not an iPhone!  But that’s ok, my job is to work with them and to let it be known that everyone has a voice and that voice can be heard through art and through photographs.  There are no right and wrong answers in my classroom.  They may not be photographers yet, but by the end of the course, they will have experienced and learned through practice alongside myself and their peers.  At the beginning of the course, I always like to expose my students to photographers before and during our time that have made an impact on the art world.  Many of these artists have had countless struggles and setbacks throughout their life and I can promise you that none of them were just handed a God given photographic talent.  They worked to get where they were/are.  I love the graphic I posted above that breaks down the fixed and growth mindset and I plan to have it displayed in my classroom.  It is a visual to show them that you have a choice in reaching your goals.  It may not be easy, but you have a choice.

I have set goals for myself as both an Early Childhood teacher and a middle school Fine Art teacher, including my plan to implement student ePortfolios in middle school and my Beta Storytelling project.  With both of these endeavors, I realize that I may not get it right the first time, but I welcome the challenge.  My goal isn’t to just come up with ideas and receive a “check mark”, instead, I want my organization to climb up the ladder in educating our students with the purposeful use of technology.  The only way to do that is to model my own learning philosophy and to take “growth mindset action”.


Dweck, C. (2008). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books.

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset. Retrieved June 29, 2016, from

Sundberg, K. (2016). The Welby Way Beeline.  Retrieved June 30, 2016, from

Utilizing the Backward Design Model

In my last post, I discussed L. Dee Fink’s A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning, and the impact is has had on my teaching and learning strategies and beliefs.  What Fink’s research provides is an outline of desired course outcomes, keeping his six-part taxonomy in mind (Fink, 2003).  This week, I’ve had the opportunity to research another beneficial tool in the planning and designing phase of classroom units and modules, taken from Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s work in Understanding by Design.  What I’ve essentially been doing is designing course units, modules and projects with the Backward Design Model at work.

If you remember from my last entry, I created a 3 column table of a storytelling project with my Betas, putting to work Fink’s beliefs of tying together foundational knowledge, application, integration, human dimension, caring and learning how to learn to create a significant learning environment.  I have used the same storytelling project and applied it to my UbD template discussed by Wiggins and McTighe.  Both of these tools are very similar in that the teacher, or designer, has first addressed what the desired outcomes for the learner are for the specified project or unit.  As opposed to thinking about what new tools might be used in the classroom, what projects might take place, the teacher must first rethink the purpose of the unit.

What do we want our students to understand in this unit?  What will they have learned and what will they be able to do?

three-stagesOften times, we get sidetracked from our initial lesson because of new gadgets, programs, crafts or activities, but it is important to keep our goals at the forefront of our lesson.  Wiggins and McTighe go into detail of “the twin sins of traditional design”, the activity-oriented approach and coverage-oriented approach.  As an Early Childhood teacher, I found myself fall into the error of activity-oriented design.  In any particular unit, I found myself multiple times engaging my class in these great hands on activities that I initially thought worked wonderfully with what was being taught, but I now find myself rethinking alot of our crafts and activities in our units, asking myself “how is this going to enhance learning for my Betas?” Once we have laid out our desired outcomes, only then, can we move on to acceptable forms of evidence of learning and class activities and instruction.  This approach to planning is referred to as “backward design” (Wiggins, McTighe 2005).

In both examples, I’ve started with my desired end goal to help keep me on track with the rest of the planning.  I found both tools to be highly useful and beneficial in the planning of course units, however, I found the UbD template to be incredibly detailed and a bit overwhelming.  Keep in mind, I come from a school that does not require lesson plans to be turned in for review.  There is, however, a lot of grade level planning that takes place, we are just not required to turn them in for review.  I really embraced the concept of the 3 column table because I felt it addressed all the aspects of significant learning, while giving me the opportunity to further the lesson beyond classroom application.  I really like how Fink’s work allows us to think beyond foundational skills, application and integration.  An important focus of the education we provide at our school is how our teachings help build the character of our students and not only their minds, and I believe the 3 column table allows me to tie in our core values with instruction through the human dimension, caring and learning how to learn categories.

I think both of these tools have given me a deeper understanding of the importance of effective planning.  Too many times, we fall victim of the “twin sins”.  Either we have these grand crafts and activities with no real learning taking place, or we are trying to cover all the required material, leaving out valuable learning goals.  I have already been applying both of these models to my innovation plan in middle school.  Now that I will be piloting the student ePortfolios in my class next year, I plan on sharing my UbD template for student portfolios with the rest of my middle school colleagues and administration.  Although I just commented on the super detailed and overwhelming aspect of the UbD template, I feel like this would be especially beneficial in getting the rest of my colleagues on board.  I already have my Director of Fine Arts excited about this implementation in my class, but since my goal is to have all middle school students utilizing the ePortfolio, I know some of the other middle school teachers might find this to be one extra thing they need to incorporate.

Backward design planning has proved to be very successful in the classroom and in life.  As with anything- sports, a job, a project or unit… we need to keep our eye on the prize and not get sidetracked by all the “extras” that are around us.



Fink, L. D. (2003). A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning. Retrieved June 23, 2016, from A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning

Hamilton, M. & Weiss, M. (2005). The Power of Storytelling in the Classroom. Children Tell Stories: Teaching and Using Storytelling in the Classroom.  Retrieved June 24, 2016 from 

Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2006). Understanding by design [2nd Edition].  Upper Saddle River, New Jersy: Pearson Education, Inc.


Creating and Implementing Significant Digital Learning Environments

You might remember, if you frequent this blog or have read my “About Me” section lately, that in addition to being an 8th Grade Photography Teacher, I am also a Beta Teacher (Prek 3) at a private school in Houston, TX.  In reality, I am a Beta teacher 90% of the time and go up to middle school every other day for only 45 minutes while my little ones are napping.  You may have forgotten that tidbit since a lot of my focus for my innovation plan has revolved around my middle school class, but for the purposes of this assignment, I’d like to go back and focus on a project that I’d like to expand in my Beta classroom.  At our school, we are already pretty involved in the Rice Literacy and Culture Project, specifically, the Classroom Storytelling Project, but a goal that we had this past year was to incorporate more student stories throughout the year.  My co-teacher and I met our goal for the year, but now I’d like to expand it even further with a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG).

My BHAG, or Overarching Goal, is to develop and create the Beta Storytelling Museum where learners will identify problems and present solutions in each of their dictated stories, while incorporating descriptive language with the assistance of teacher prompts.  In addition, learners will create digital stories through the use of educational technology and electronic devices to demonstrate effective implementation of their digital learning environments.

taxonomySince the start of my graduate studies, I’ve invested a lot of time in reading and researching educational literature, some of which that have already made a significant impact on my teaching and learning strategies and beliefs.  One of the pieces of literature that I have found to be especially significant is L. Dee Fink’s, A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning.  In his guide, Fink explains, in detail, the importance of designing courses (or learning units, models, etc.) with his six part taxonomy in mind.  He stresses that each of the six kinds of learning, pictured left, are all interactive ways of learning, and must be considered when designing course outcomes (Fink, 2003).  In addition, I’ve been able to build an outline of my course goals by addressing specific situational factors that Fink addresses in his guide.

As a part of our school’s partnership with the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, I’d like to start start a grade level project in which we put on a Beta Storytelling Museum to showcase our Betas dictated and digital story creations.  We will continue to take student dictated stories throughout the year following Rice’s storytelling strategies, however in addition, I’d love to incorporate student created digital stories as well.  This is a creative way to allow students to create a visual for their dictated stories, while encouraging them to utilize our digital learning environment.  Once the learner has a collection of dictated stories and at least one digital story, we will publish them and showcase them in our Beta Storytelling Museum.

Taken from the ShadowPuppet Blog, I’ve included an example of a digital story below.  In this example, a Kindergartner tells us a story while also sharing her art.



Fink, L. D. (2003). A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning. Retrieved June 16, 2016, from A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning

Use in the Classroom. Retrieved June 18, 2016 from