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.  

 

 

Sway With Me!

I took the opportunity to play around with a new digital tool (for me at least!) for this digital resources reflection.  I hadn’t heard of Sway before this week, but thanks to a fellow classmate and teacher, I got to playing around with it and really loved it!

I used Sway to address crucial questions when reflecting on how digital technology has impacted my life both personally and professionally.  Additionally, I talk about ways in which educators can stay current on changes, updates and trends in education, and how we can continue to further our own learning opportunities.

Please take a moment and Sway with me!

Converting Courses to an LMS Platform

I’ve worked endlessly the last 4 weeks on creating an online course for a fun collaboration project between my 8th Grade photography students and my Betas.  I’ve been SO pleased with the outcome, and I’m ecstatic that my idea for this has been accepted by my department heads.  I’ll be starting this course THIS week in my fine art elective class!

The process of creating this online course has gotten my wheels turning.  I’m beginning to see the potential and the convenience an online course can bring for our students and even teachers and faculty in my school.  I’ve mentioned before that this year, Presbyterian School is focusing on looking at our assessments.  Is the way we are currently assessing our students in the classroom effective?  Are there alternative forms of assessment we should be looking at?  Throughout this year, PLC groups have been meeting monthly to brainstorm, research and present different ways we can be assessing in the classroom.  There’s a mathematical mindset, EC assessment, creative writing and ePortfolio group, just to name a few.  At the end of the school year, once school has let out, there will be a large group, professional learning meeting in which each group will have the opportunity to present their findings to all of the faculty.  I’ve started to think- What if we somehow created an all online PL course in which each of these “assessment groups” have a designated unit in the course so that teachers and faculty can access and complete the course on their own time?  I obviously haven’t worked out all the details yet, but I think it would be great to enter in all of this great information into Schoology, or another LMS and have teachers join the course on their own time, instead of losing valuable time in the classroom.  I think it’s something worth looking into!

Another idea I’ve had recently is to create an online course for middle school students as they prepare to begin creating their own ePortfolios.  I’ve had the opportunity to pilot ePortfolios in my 8th grade fine art elective, however the goal is to have all middle school students in grades 6-8 to have an ePortfolio.  One that they can use to house important artifacts and projects for their school work.  In discussing this with my supervisors, we realize that we do not necessarily want them to use a school template, or to create the ePortfolio through their school email, because we want our students to continue to use the ePortfolios in high school and college.  Trying to teach students how to create and maintain an ePortfolio during normal class time is challenging, because there is so much information to relay, and while I want to cover that information, I cannot afford to loose too much of my class time for ePortfolios and not be able to cover the class information I need to be teaching.  I’ve already said, teaching students about ePortfolios and helping them in creating one is another class entirely, and well, why not create an online course on ePortfolios?  I can break down the course in different units, and post all materials and assignments in Schoology.  I think something like this would be so beneficial for our students, and will not take away valuable class time from teachers.

There are just a couple ideas I’ve had since starting the process of designing an online class.  The possibility are endless!

An Action Research Plan

In my most recent graduate course, I’ve been able to refine and tweak things in my innovation plan.  I’ve revisited the literature, and with the help of a few of my classmates, have worked on a collaborative literature review in which we take an in depth look at what a student ePortfolio is, how they can be of benefit to the student, and how maintaining an ePortfolio can boost student engagement in class.  This has been a year long project for me, and every time I think I am happy with it, I realize that this isn’t something that is every going to be complete.  My plan is constantly evolving, just as technology is constantly evolving around us.  

With help of my classmates, colleagues and professors, I’ve developed this Action Research Plan, in which I address my topic of research, the focus of the research (my research question), and my collaborative literature review, among other things.  This has been a long, but worthwhile journey. Thanks for joining me on this ride.

 

The topic of the action research

As is the norm in middle and high school elective courses, students may elect 2-3 courses offered that might be of interest to them. This doesn’t always mean that student schedules reflect what they picked. Often times, students are put into electives that are of no interest to them, which then presents its challenges in seeing meaningful, conceptual work from the student. How might the use of the student ePortfolios enhance student engagement?

The purpose of the study

If one were to think about what it means to enhance student engagement in an art course, what is really sought after is an increase in student ownership. The idea is to have students involved in the discussion of art and passionate about the art that they create, readily available to support their art in writings and discussion. For many students, there is a lack of generated interest in the electives they choose, which in turn affects the effort they put forth in creating art.

The fundamental research question

What impact will the regular posting of photographs, artifacts and student reflections through an ePortfolio have on student engagement in the 8th grade photography elective?

The research design and research methods

The mixed-method approach will be used to gather the necessary data in this action research study.

The type of data to be collected

The data collected from the mixed-method approach will provide a supportive balance between qualitative and quantitative data. While the voices and opinions of students recorded through interviews and reflections are of great value, so is the data collected from pre/post student surveys. Ongoing observations and documentation of student engagement and work ethic will also be taking place.

The measurement instruments that will be used

Data will be collected in a variety of ways.  I will continue to use my personal observations of my students throughout the elective course, along with individual interviews during and after the course has been completed.  Students will be able to compete surveys anonymously to protect their identities and keep their information private.

Literature review

The literature review provides an in depth at ICT in schools while also providing an understanding of what an ePortfolio is, how they can be beneficial for students, and challenges that might arise in implementation of ePortfolios in schools.

The literature review also focuses on the effects ePortfolios have on student engagement, specifically in fine art electives in the middle school level.

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.

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.

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.

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

 

 

Rolling Out ePortfolios-An Update

For about 6 months now, I’ve been working endlessly on creating a plan that I believe will truly transform the way our middle schoolers learn while also embodying our “THINK-MAKE-TALK” philosophy introduced last year.

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Details of my innovation plan to implement ePortfolios in middle school can b e accessed in this blog post, written last May.  In it, one can find links to my original proposal, a review of global trends and a digital presentation that embodies the reason why I decided to focus on student ePortfolios.  Here, one can also find the WHY, HOW & WHAT of this whole plan.  The reason I feel this is so important.

So, what’s happened since then?  

Well, this post will serve as a benchmark- an update, if you will, to the original plan.

In May of last year, once school let out, I sat down with my Director of Fine Arts and presented her with my proposal, a literature review of global trends and showed her my Story Behind the Story presentation.  It was all received very well, and I was given the go ahead to pilot ePortfolios in my Fine Art elective course, 8th Grade Digital Photography.  Fast forward to October of the new school year, and the piloting process went great on my end in the first quarter, however, the issue that I run into is that I am an Early Childhood teacher that happens to teach one middle school elective class.  Usually, I teach my class year round, however, this year, I’m flip flopping with another teacher who teaches another fine art elective.  So, I am only teaching my class in quarters 1 & 3 of this year.. not year round.  That limits me quite a bit as far as how much time I can work with my kids.

As I reflect on what has worked thus far, I cannot deny that the kids didn’t love creating the ePortfolios.  I gave them a few points to keep in mind, and they flew with the idea.  They were not limited to Wordpress, Google Sites or Wix.  They had the choice to choose what platform they wanted to use, the only direction I gave them was that they needed to create an About Me page, a blogging area for posting, and a tab for collected projects.  Most of them ended up going with Wordpress and it worked wonderfully.  I really wanted their personalities to shine through, after all, their ePortfolios should be a reflection of their personalities and interests.

One aspect that I have found challenging is that although I have been given the complete go ahead from my Director of Fine Arts to pilot the ePortfolios in my class, it is just that.  A pilot of ePortfolios in photography class.  So, as you can imagine, the websites the students have created look more like photography websites than they do ePortfolios.  I’d love for them to get more substantial content on there, however, we were only able to post some photo projects.  I also struggled with getting my students to WRITE.  Many times, they’d post their photos, and only “caption” them with a sentence or two.  I can’t tell you how many times I explained that we are not simply posting snapshots for social media purposes.  So, how could I get my 8th graders to really write in Photography class?  I want deep, content rich, thought processing going on, and I just wasn’t getting that.  After talking to one of my classmates in my masters program, I realized that my students have probably never seen a real ePortfolio before.  Although digital natives, the only “profiles” these students know are Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat profiles.  So, what I plan on doing is to show them examples of effective ePortfolios that will be of interest to them and not be considered “too boring”.  I also need to be creative in the assignments we do.  Having them create a photo project on something of importance to them will hopefully do the trick on getting them to elaborate more.  Also, maybe collaborating on a project with other teachers might be a good idea.  Coming up with a project that can be worked on in English, History and Photography could be a great way to encourage further critical thinking and writing skills.

Providing Ongoing Teacher Support through PLC Mondays!

In reviewing the literature and various case studies, one of the recurring issues that came up with plans that didn’t pan out, was the lack of ongoing teacher support.  Insufficient teacher support can serves as a major roadblock in ICT in education.  So many schools are NOT providing their teachers with the proper training needed to use ICT devices in the classroom.  

Our school does a really great job of offering great opportunities for professional development in a variety of ways.  I’m in my fourth year at the school, and I’ve never felt like the time spent was a waste.  A couple years ago, we started reserving select Monday afternoons as “PLC Mondays”.  Teachers had the opportunity to see what PLCs were going to be offered, and could sign up via Google Sheets for a PLC that interested or applied to them.  We found these to be great, but as with anything, they could be better.  We know that collaboration is great, and that it’s how we learn best, but we can’t collaborate just for sake of collaboration.  It must be purposeful and ongoing.  It was great that I could sign up for something that interested me.. Maybe a new tool I wanted to learn and use in my classroom, but as we know, I’m not going to get it all down in one hour of PD.  Many times, I left those PLCs inspired… GREAT!  Now what?

So this year, PLCs work a little different.  This year, our school is taking a good look at assessments.  Is how we are currently assessing our kids working? Should we start looking into alternative forms of assessment? There are about eight different PLCs on Mondays- Mathematical mindsets, early childhood assessments, creative writing assessments, and ePortfolios.  I was asked by my Head of Early Childhood and Lower School to lead a PLC on ePortfolios. What’s different this year, is that teachers are not going online to sign up for a PLC that sparks an interest for them. We have all been assigned to different PLC groups and when you attend this PLC it doesn’t stop there. Teachers are to stay in theses same PLC groups for the entire year.  The school has acknowledged that our learnings, must be ongoing.  We need to have continuous support if we are going to effectively change our teaching practices.  Again.. It’s a focused, ongoing learning environment.

While I am only half way into the year with piloting ePortfolios in my middle school class, I don’t feel the need to “change” my plan in any way yet.  Since my time with them is limited (as I am primarily an Early Childhood teacher), I’d like to see this year through, and continue to reflect on what has worked, what could be done better, and how to apply lessons learned.  The monthly PLC meetings are a great way to see how we are doing and to take notes on what we might need to tweak as we bring in more subjects into the implementation next year.  It’s been a great learning experience so far, and I can’t wait to see how my next group of students take to the ePortfolios in quarter 3!

 

 

An Innovative Approach to Professional Learning-Our Students’ Futures Depend on HOW Teachers Learn

Monday morning, I will be entering into my 4th week of school for the new year.  Before the first day of school arrives, teachers go back for a week of meetings, classroom setup and professional development. Ahhhhh, yes… the dreaded professional development meetings.

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Is that what you think to yourself when you see “professional development” written on your calendar?  I know a lot of people do- and that’s because 9 times out of 10, they are stuck in an gym or auditorium type room with 80-130+ other teachers, spanning all grade levels and positions, listening to someone lecture them about what we need to be doing differently in the classroom or about a new tool that they should be using with their kids, as if that information applied to each and every one of them in the same way. Sound familiar?

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http://gettingsmart.com/2016/03/teaching-the-teacher-lesson-planning-and-powerful-pd-in-one/

I’m blessed to work at a school that understands that effective professional learning is not a “one size fits all”, however, the sad reality is that the majority of professional learning that takes place in our country’s schools is exactly the scenario I just described.  For the past 9 months, in talking to classmates in my graduate studies, my eyes have been opened to the realities that other educators face on a daily basis at their own schools- it’s almost as if I’ve been living in my own little bubble that is Presbyterian School.  Teaching at PS is all I’ve known, and while I am very happy there, I know that others struggle just to have their ideas heard, much less embraced.  So, now more than ever, I realize the need to be innovative in the ways that we teach our students, but in order to do that, we must first be innovative in the ways that WE (the educators) learn.

So what do we do now?

I’ve had an amazing opportunity to collaborate with two other educators, Chad Flexon and Kathy Darling, and what we’ve tried to do is to give teachers- from all over the country- a voice in letting us know how THEY learn best.  We are teachers from different parts of the country and we recognize that teacher professional learning needs to change.  “Change” can look different in any school.  What might need to change in my school, may be TOTALLY different from what needs to change in your school, so in order for schools to be able to provide effective professional learning, we first need feedback from YOU.

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Since Chad, Kathy and myself are all from different parts of the country, we decided that working in Google Slides would be most effective for us.  This way, we could each go in and work on our project either on our own time or simultaneously and have our work saved.  As we are trying to divert from the traditional “sit and get” model, we really didn’t want to treat this as a “presentation”.  This isn’t a Power Point that we are requiring everyone to view.  On the contrary, this a way to reach out to all educators, learn what works for them, and then collaborate with each other. This is an experience.  Furthermore, we wanted to personalize it by having our voices in it, and opted to create video of each of us speaking.  We considered having voice over, however, that option didn’t seem to aide in our attempt to make this an experience that could be fully controlled by the viewer.  Another way we’ve personalized this, is by adding some of our own photos from our school’s professional learning sessions into our slides.

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-5-15-13-pmI’m excited to post this and I welcome all educators to click the link below and take a look. To get the full experience, please be sure to click the “present” button in the top, right hand corner.  This will bring you into present mode and you’ll then be capable of fully participating in this experience.  Once you reach the above screen, be sure to click on the photo.  By doing so, you will be brought to our survey screen.  Please take the time to quickly fill this out!

There are also some great collaboration opportunities in this experience.  We’ve benefitted greatly from our professional learning communities and we want to be able to connect other teachers as well.  We’ve created a Padlet page that you can add information to and have offered up other digital PLCs that have helped us along the way.

****Enter in the experience HERE… don’t forget to click “Present”!****

We have the opportunity to shape our own learning!  Will you help be a part of it?