This journey that I have been on the last 17 months has changed my professional life forever. I look at what I do with kids in an entirely different way now than I did before beginning the DLL program at Lamar University. This masters program was, initially, a way for me to quiet my restlessness with my current job. I have taught Kindergarten and first grade for a total of almost 21 years. Everyday, I ask myself is this all that I was meant to do. Not that I am unhappy with my choices. I cherish every child that I have been a teacher to. But, as in most professions, sometimes people get a little restless. This program was my chance to add to what I already do, to improve on my technology use in the classroom.
The first class was where I was first introduced to the COVA approach. COVA stands for choice, ownership, voice, and authentic projects. I went in to the program expecting to be handed expectations and assignments to complete, without any real input from me. That is the typical master’s experience. Right away, I was thrown into a constant state of discomfort. Not discomfort because I am afraid of hard work or putting myself out there. Discomfort because as a teacher for the last 20 years, I was not given the choice of what I wanted to learn professionally for the most part. The district chooses what they want us to do on staff development days. We only really have choice on our own time. So here I was given some very broad assignments with all these choices of how to turn them in and what tools to use to create them. I had a really hard time wrapping my mind around the lack of, at the time I considered, direction. I considered quitting many times in that first 5 weeks. I questioned if I was too old for this. I questioned if I was tech savvy enough to be able to complete the assignments. I questioned if being out of school as long as I have put me at a disadvantage. I questioned everything. One of my first published entries into my Eportfolio shows how uncomfortable I am in this process. The writing was very stiff and sort of uninspired, at least compared to where I ended up.
Throughout the program, I was challenged to choose what I wanted to work on, to take ownership of my own ideas, to create projects that I could use in my classroom or work environment right away. I was challenged to step outside my comfort zone at least once a five week period and share my ideas with others in my organization. I was taking this idea that I had, Appy Hour, and adjusting it at every turn, with every failure, and asked to make it better and more relevant.
As the program moved on, I became more comfortable with the COVA approach. It is much easier for me to fight for something that I created, from the ground up. I have more passion when talking about Appy Hour than any program I ever been asked to implement in or out of the classroom. It is like my child. I have grown it from infancy, guided it through the hard parts, and learned what to do to have it be successful.
The COVA approach has also encouraged us to initiate change in our organization. That is something that I have never had a hard time doing. Complaining about how things need to be changed, coming up with ideas, has never been a weakness for me. But this approach, giving me a way to create a vehicle to promote change at my school has given me the voice that I never really felt like I had before. This program, and focusing on my own choices, has taught me so much about how to promote change. Even something that I did not enjoy as much, such as literature reviews, have taught me so much about how to show people the evidence that is out there about why we might need change. I have never been much of a researcher but I feel very prepared now to back up what I say with research every step of the way.
My innovation project, Appy Hour, created throughout this program is a much more authentic piece of learning for me than something that a professor could have chosen for me. With each class, we took our project and fleshed it out, from how to measure our success to how create an online version of it. This project is more important to me than most things I’ve done in my career. I have been implementing it, off and on, for over a year, and it is still growing and changing. I have no intention of ending it with the end of this program. I am hoping with a change in my position, I might be able to make this idea more far reaching than it is at this point. I have a feeling I will be playing around with my innovation project for the rest of my career.
This approach to choice and authentic learning aligns with my teaching philosophy. Unfortunately, it is a lot of work to have students working on all different projects so I don’t see it being something that many people are going to be able to get on board with, especially with the younger students. I hope to implement more choice, voice, and ownership in my classrooms with the addition of 18 iPads that I won a grant for in December. I can see during our research unit, having small groups of students creating different representations of what we have learned about our animals. I can see some creating Chatterpix and sharing their facts. I can see some choosing a book creator and making a book about what we have learned. I can even see some budding filmmakers in my classroom making a video to share what they have learned. The opportunities with the COVA approach are endless. It is just about getting out of the box that we have ourselves in as teachers. The students never really wanted to be in that box to begin with so getting out will be easy for them.
The biggest challenge I see in my future, with using the COVA approach more in my classroom, is getting the other teachers onboard with what I am doing. Again, time is going to be a big deciding factor. I know it takes our professors a significant amount of time to mark our work because we are all doing different things. I can see others around me complaining about that. I think the key will be telling others about how profoundly this experience has changed me, a 43 year old adult. And if it can change me that much, just imagine what it could do for children. Kids who just want to have their ideas heard. Which really should be one of our goals. We should want to have students who can think outside the box and show their thinking in any number of ways. That is, in my opinion, what is going to get them the jobs they desire in the future. We are no longer a society where we want everyone to do the same thing in the same way. We desperately need innovators. Our children will be much more prepared for that role if we give them choice, ownership, voice, and authenticity in their learning. By using the next opportunity that has presented itself to me, the IPads for our kindergarten classrooms, I hope to be the kind of person who does prepare children for the world that they are growing up in, not the world that I grew up in. As my Appy Hour tshirt says…