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.  

 

 

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.

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!

The Cyberbullying Epidemic

I watched two videos this week that addressed cyberbullying, and I found them to be very interesting and thought provoking.  The first was a Ted Talk by Monica Lewinsky, who you’ll remember became known as the young White House intern that had an affair with then President Bill Clinton (Lewinsky, 2015).  Monica Lewinsky’s talk was particularly interesting to me because I remember living through the whole Lewinsky/Clinton scandal.  While I was young (12-13 to be exact) I remember it so vividly, and I remember the cruel words that were used to describe her.  Even worse, many people in my immediate circle of family and friends were ones that used some of those words to describe her.  Words like “mistress”, “the other woman”.  Although we didn’t use the more vulgar words, she still had this negative image painted about her.  And what’s sad is that while I remember living and hearing of the whole ordeal, I don’t think I really knew the whole story, and hearing her point of view in the talk was a bit of a wake up call for me.  My biggest takeaway from the video? There are always two sides to a story, and we (the whole world) got one side of it… what the media wanted us to see and think.. for nearly a decade.  Yes, the circumstances were unfortunate, but having to live through the ridicule played out for the whole world to see has got be incredibly difficult.  But can you imagine what it would have been like had it have happened in a time where everything is posted on social media?  I actually feel a bit sick to my stomach because I can easily see how some people would think it is unbearable to live through.  Society scrutinizes every single thing about celebrities, politicians, etc.. and society is relentless.  The Lewinsky/Clinton scandal broke out before Facebook and Twitter, but we did have the internet.  If anything, watching her speak made be feel guilty, a bit shameful but inspired by her courage.

The  second video was also an inspiring Ted Talk given by Shane Koyczan.  The video was really amazing.  He not only spoke truth of what often times is considered “taboo” to talk about, but he put on quite a performance.  He words were so so powerful and nearly brought me to tears, because he is the voice of so many people, young and old, that endure such hateful words and harassment.. and many times when the issue is brought up to an adult, family member or parent, they blow off the issue.  “Oh, toughen up”, “it wasn’t that bad” (Koyczan, 2013).  But what are we telling our youth?  That how they’re feeling and how someone is treating them doesn’t matter?  This is what is scary.  I want my kids coming to me with any issue that might be bothering them.  I am their advocate and if I don’t stand up for them and let them know that they matter, no one will.  What would I do to prevent cyberbullying and promote kindness if I had unlimited resources?  I really don’t believe that this epidemic is a matter of resources.  Parents need to be involved in their kids lives.  Kids need to be shown and taught respect.  Respect and Compassion trump nearly everything for me, and my kids will show respect to their elders and to their peers.

Just two days ago on the way to school, we were listening to the radio and the father of a local girl that committed suicide as a result of cyberbullying and harassment back in November was on the air speaking with the radio hosts of two arrests that were recently made in the case.  My 7 year old son was listening and casually asked me, “Mom, what are they talking about?”  While I didn’t get into the way the girl passed, I simply told him, “A young girl that passed away was being bullied and made fun of by other people, and even though the bad things they said about the girl were not true, she believed them.  The words we use with others can really affect how they feel about themselves, which is why we always need to be respectful and use honey sweet words with everyone.”  There is also another local situation going on in a neighboring school district that goes a long with this topic.  Another beautiful girl, 17, passed away this passed Sunday by taking her own life.  While the family and student body are coping with her loss, several students approached the school’s yearbook committee asking them if they could create a memoriam page dedicated to her to celebrate her life.  They quickly declined stating, “you know we can’t do that because of the way Hannah died”.  Instead of celebrating the life of a beautiful student and friend to many, they are afraid of glorifying the way she died.  I feel like THIS is part of the problem.  Ignoring the situation does NO good.  I understand it is a touchy situation for many, but these sorts of things need to be talked about.  We need to do better and be open with our children, teach them and our students important values like respect, compassion and forgiveness, and talk about these sorts of things, should they come up.

References

2 People Charged in Connection to Texas City Teen’s 2016 Suicide. (2017, March 16). Retrieved from http://abc13.com/news/2-arrested-in-texas-city-teens-suicide/1803923/

Bludau, J. ((2017, March 22). Family Petitioning for Daughter’s Memorial Page in Yearbook After She Took Her Own Life. [Web Log Post]. Retrieved from http://www.click2houston.com/news/family-says-pearland-school-denies-yearbook-page-in-memory-of-daughter-who-took-her-own-life-

Koyczan, S. (2013, March 8). “To This Day”… For the Bullied and Beautiful. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sa1iS1MqUy4

Lewinsky, M. (2015, March 20). The Price of Shame. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_8y0WLm78U

Applicable Resources

Diep, F. (2014, September 30). Confronting My Cyberbully, 13 Years Later. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/09/confronting-my-cyberbully-thirteen-years-later/380888/

Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J.W. (2015). Developing a positive school climate: Top ten tips to prevent bullying and cyberbullying. Cyberbullying Research Center. Hinduja_Patchin_School-Climate-Top-Ten-Tips-To-Prevent-Cyberbullying.pdf

Hoffman, J. (2010, June 27). Online Bullies Pull Schools Into The Fray. [Web Log Post]. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/28/style/28bully.html

Strut Central. (2012, March 22). The Cyber Bullying Virus. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5PZ_Bh-M6o

What Is Cyberbullying? (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/what-is-it/index.html

 

 

 

Footprints & Technology

I found this week’s readings, videos and topics in my Digital Citizenship course to be so interesting because we are all forced to evaluate ourselves and think about something that we love, something that has become so second nature to us and yes, something that we are addicted to- Technology.  We are also forced to think about the affect it has on ourselves, our students and our own children.  I do happen to remember a time of no cell phones and I remember writing papers in early middle school on a typewriter instead of a computer.  After finally getting a family computer, I remember having to print out directions on MapQuest before we went any where new.. I mean, the thought of no GPS on my phone or no Waze is frightening to me now! I also remember my mom always having her nose in the encyclopedia trying to answer my many questions throughout the day.

Technology has made our lives much more convenient, but has it made us dumber?

For some reason, this thought always pops into my head, because I have those memories of my mom.  When we didn’t know something, we turned to a book to find out.  Now, we just google it on our smart phones or ask Alexa. When I think about my own kids (and my very young students) and the access they all have now to digital technology, the only thing that I can try my best to do is to be sure that there is a balance with the amount of screen time they get, whether it be on the T.V., iPad or phone, and allowing them to discover the world in an adventurous, hands-on sort of way.  What I do not want to happen is for the technology use to take away from the opportunity for gross motor learning and discovery.  I work with 3 and 4 year olds on a daily basis and I’ve seen kids that know exactly what to do with an iPad or phone… what those devices have become to them are an extension of their own bodies, and while they have all this tech knowledge at such a young age, what they need to be doing more of is playing with play-doh, or digging in the dirt, ripping some paper and building with blocks.  These activities will help their gross motor skills and core development.  We still need to discover ways in which we can continue to explore this big world we live in and I just don’t want to see technology take away from that.

As we get older and we continue to grow up in a digital world, we begin to leave traces of who we are and where we’ve been.  A digital footprint/tattoo refers to the information that can be found online about a person based on their online activity (Common Sense Education, 2013).  What we search for and what we post on our social media accounts are all bits of information that can be gathered about us, whether they be intentional or not.  I think, whether a person’s social media accounts are private or not, they need to be conscious of the things they post, and even the things others post about or with them.  While photos and words are only snippets of a person’s life, it doesn’t take much else to use these things to form opinions of a person’s character.  It’s important to teach our children to have an awareness of how the information they post online can affect their personal, educational and ultimately, professional lives.  By building this awareness, students can have some control over the digital footprint they leave behind.  Student ePortfolios are a great way for them to be deliberate in how they portray themselves, in that there are plenty of opportunities for self reflection.  An ePortfolio can act as an electronic resume by letting a person know who you are, what your interests are, where you have been, what you have done and where you are going.

While technology and internet access have for sure made our lives much more convenient, I do believe that we are where we are now because of the incredible minds and hard work of many people before us.  We just need to be sure to teach our kids, from an early age, on what a healthy balance of screen time might look like and as they get older, how to problem solve on their own.  While technology has made our lives much more convenient, I think it’s important to still teach traditional life lessons like how to use a dictionary and how to look up other useful information without a tablet or smart phone.

References

Common Sense Education. (2013, August 12). What’s In Your Digital Footprint? [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4P_gj3oRn8s

Applicable Resources

Boyle, J. (2014, March 8). 11 Tips for Students to Manage Their Digital Footprint. Retrieved from http://www.teachthought.com/the-future-of-learning/digital-citizenship-the-future-of-learning/11-tips-for-students-tomanage-their-digital-footprints/

Common Sense Education. (2013, August 12). What’s In Your Digital Footprint? [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4P_gj3oRn8s

Internet Society. (2016, January 12). Four Reasons to Care About Your Digital Footprint. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ro_LlRg8rGg

Pfeffer, J. (2014, August 21). Your Digital Footprint: What is it & How Can You Manage it? Retrieved from http://www.rasmussen.edu/student-life/blogs/main/your-digital-footprint/

Sheninger, E. (2016, January 8). Your Digital Footprint Matters. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-sheninger/your-digital-footprint-ma_b_8930874.html