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…
My Innovation Project
My innovation project for my Master’s at Lamar University is called “Appy Hour” and it took shape over the last 18 months, growing and changing along the way. I can’t take credit for the title, as I have seen it online, but my “Appy Hour” was created just for my campus, Moore Elementary. What I have seen at Moore is that we have a large population of teachers who aren’t all that comfortable with using technology in the classroom on a regular basis. They really are exemplary teachers, but a bit more “old school” than some other places. I gathered from many conversations that I had throughout the building, that several of them weren’t even comfortable with using technology in their daily life outside of school, and that was adding more of a barrier to them using it during the school day. So, “Appy Hour” was born, a chance for us to meet in an informal setting and talk about apps that we use in our daily life and in our classroom.
I started implementing my idea pretty much right after it’s creation. That was probably one of my first mistakes. Not the implementation, but not waiting to get further along in the process of creating and tweaking the idea. I am not a really patient person though, and diving in has always been my preferred method of doing anything. I also burn out quickly, which came about towards the end of my journey, but more on that later. My principal was very supportive of my idea, and even allowed me to give staff development credits for the sessions that we held. The push back that I felt was more the push back of time. I had many people interested in attending and in the idea in general, but fitting another piece into their already busy lives was not going to happen. It is worth noting that I had the biggest turnout of about 15 teachers on the day I was able to offer it during our “workday”.
What I realized right away, within minutes of having my first session last December, is that there are some people in my building who are very interested in leveraging technology in the classroom but they are lacking the skills to do it effectively. My co-teacher, who helps me run “Appy Hour”, and I came to the realization that we were going to have to show teachers on our campus things that we were able to do in our Kindergarten classroom, using technology. By using our own rooms as examples, where 5 year olds could use technology to do some amazing things, we felt like others might want to follow. It seemed like a good plan but like all best laid plans, there were some definite bumps in the road. Part of our issues stem from the idea that many teachers, in general, think that Kindergarten is maybe a little less academic than other grade levels. When presenting ideas, we would often encounter that look that says “because you have time, you can do these things.” What most teachers don’t understand is that Kindergarten is the first grade of the past. The things that we are asked to do in our classrooms is beyond their years many times. Gone are the days of home centers and play grocery stores, and they have been replaced with “workstations” that have the children working hard all day.
We had 4 sessions that Spring, and the same people attended most of them. Were they going back and using the ideas? We hoped they were. Towards the end of that Spring semester is when I was in the Measurement class. Finally, a chance to see if what we were doing was making a difference. What I learned through my measurement was that people could be motivated to talk about what were sharing for a chance to win an iPad party, but actually using a tool in their classroom was much more challenging. We had one participant actually go back and use a tool that we talked about, “Plickers”, in her second grade classroom. It was at that point that the frustration began to set in and “Appy Hour” began to shift it’s focus.
This past Fall, I was able to present my “Appy Hour” idea at our district technology conference. Not having a simulation, but actually the idea behind it and what we were doing at our campus. We had many people interested, but it remains to be seen at this time if anyone actually went back and implemented any parts of it on their campus. Again, a slight kick to the ego, and “Appy Hour” suffered for it. I was very hesitant to have any sessions that Fall, with the push back that I experienced before. But we were able to successfully have a “Appmazing Race” where our participants were able to complete tasks using apps. I feel like this was really the most fun we have been able to have and it really addresses the idea of not just sitting by passively and listening about apps, but instead using them in real time to complete tasks. I hoped to continue this idea for the rest of the fall. Then October happened. At my school October is the craziest month of the year, with Book Character Pumpkins, Pumpkin Carving, Hawk Fest, and many other time consuming activities.
The next transformation of my innovation idea was the online course, which I felt like could breathe new life into my idea. All the complaints about no time or ability to stay after school could be addressed by having a self-paced “Appy Hour” available to the staff. I spent hours upon hours trying to make the course a very open ended course that anyone could work on, no matter their level. When I finally put it out to the staff, not one person joined the class. I know we are all busy so I didn’t worry too much about it. But what I realize now, looking back, was it made me want to avoid the project for some time. I have a pretty tough skin, and I like to be out there on the front lines of education, trying new things. But subconsciously, I shut down on my idea. I could still write about it, come up with ideas for the next session, and even have discussions about it with my co-teacher. But I could not bring myself to schedule a session. It reminded me so much of a conversation that I had with my technology teacher about how she could not beg people to come to trainings and how she thought it was interesting how many stops I would pull out to get people to join my sessions. She was often the source of my frustration during the evolution of “Appy Hour”, only attending one session and being a bit critical in the process. We offered free iPad parties, fed them, and anything else we could think of. I was a bit put off when she said that, but now I realize I was doing a lot of leg work to get people to show up to these sessions. All while having the support of my administration in my building by allowing me to have the sessions but not having them present for all but one session. All while running my kindergarten classroom and balancing my own family commitments.
Fast forward to last month, when someone in my building asked me when I was going to have another “Appy Hour” session. I don’t think I have heard any person ask that this school year. All of a sudden, I felt a new energy. If I can change one classroom, or one teachers ideas of using technology to leverage learning in their room, I am creating that change that I wanted to create. No, it’s not on the scale that I planned on in the beginning. I’m not running a district “Appy Hour,” and I am not fielding technology and app related questions all day. But I am trying. And one of the most important lessons that I have learned through my innovation plan is trying is better than not trying. Doing what I do, being who I am, is the one tool that I can use to implement change in my building. I have also learned that although I will graduate with a degree in Digital Learning and Leading, it should be called a degree in Changing People Hearts and Minds. It’s not about the technology at all. It’s all about getting people to see what needs to be changed in their world, and doing something about it. I believe that “Appy Hour” will continue to grow and change throughout my career. I hope it becomes all that I dreamed it could. If not, I feel it will be the fire inside of me to create the next big innovation project. And that’s not such a bad thing.
My DLL Journey
I’m a kindergarten teacher so my visual representation of my journey would of course include emoji’s. These emoji’s show how I was feeling throughout the process or the different hats I was wearing throughout my journey. Enjoy!
When I first began this journey, I really didn’t know what to expect. I had been out of school for about 20 years, and a lot has changed since then, especially with technology. I didn’t get my first cell phone until I was a teacher. We used pay phones back then to keep in touch. My laptop that I got my last year of college was used only as a word processor, as internet connections weren’t even a thing yet. Fast forward 20 years where my first class was Concepts of Educational Technology. This is where I first encountered the COVA approach, I just didn’t know it yet. COVA stands for choice, ownership, voice, and authentic assignments. This means that we were going to be deciding what our focus was going to be throughout the program, what projects we were interested in, and what format to present our work in. I was immediately overwhelmed with the assignments, the structure, the posting on discussion boards. I have never done a class online, so there was that too. I wasn’t sure if I had made the right choice, and several times I just wanted to throw in the towel and give up before I invested too much money to turn back. Somehow, I made it through the course, feeling like I was in a fog the entire time. When I turned in the assignments, I had no idea if I was even on the right track, whether I had even addressed the assignments. I wasn’t using the rubrics that were provided to help facilitate my learning. Yet.
The next part of my journey was the Portfolio course. This couldn’t have come at a better time for me. It was a chance to decompress from the previous course, and learn to manage all my upset from not knowing what I was doing. I was given the opportunity to upload all my work from the previous course, and given 5 weeks to get myself back together. This was a much needed time for me in my journey. By not having any pressing assignments for 5 weeks, except to organize myself and create my portfolio, I had the opportunity to explore the format of the previous course more thoroughly and discovered many key things that would help me in the future, such as the rubrics.
By my third course, Disruptive Innovation in Education, I was beginning to feel much more comfortable with the format of the online course. It was in this course that I began to feel the demands of time. This class had us reading the entire book Disrupting Class. That was a lot more higher level reading than I had done in a very long time. It was a challenge to keep up with. I did enjoy coming to my idea for “Appy Hour” during this time. I was also pretty overwhelmed with the literature review process. I think that is where being out of school for so long became a huge disadvantage. Again, I began to feel like I was lost and drowning, spending my entire weekends just trying to catch up. This was probably the class that I found the most challenging as most of the content was a bit more business based and I wasn’t really good at making those connections. This class also challenged me in that it went against what I had always done, which was go with the flow and not make waves.
After Christmas break that first year, I felt refreshed and renewed. I took time to read ahead over the break so I didn’t feel like I was always running to catch up. The first course of the Spring was Leading Organizational Change. I had no idea what I was getting into with this course. I was still struggling to feel like I was on the same page with my professor, still needing those clear boundaries and instructions. This course was not going to be comfortable for me at all. I was taking my innovation plan, and fleshing it out in all these different formats. I had to come up with my “why” in a time that I could barely tell you what I was supposed to be doing. I wasn’t quite as low as I was after the first class, but I was still struggling to feel like I was a productive member of the class. It was probably in this class that I realized that I was going to have to trust in my instincts and do what felt right for me. There weren’t going to be any examples of what my projects were supposed to look like. I was going to have to do my best and be at peace with the results. I feel like this is when my stubbornness kicked in and I just put my head down and started working nonstop.
By the second class of the Spring, Creating Significant Learning Environments, I was starting to hit my stride a bit. Again, this class couldn’t have come at a better time. I really enjoyed all the looking at learning that we did in this class, and the Carol Dweck Mindset theories were my favorite. I have always used some of her strategies with my own children and it was nice to have a background on why it was good. I was still struggling with working on my innovation plan that was included in this course, but I was beginning to connect all the pieces in my mind so it was making more sense. I was beginning to understand the COVA approach, although I still didn’t know it’s name. I was telling anyone around me how much I was enjoying my program and having the freedom to control what I was doing. We had had several “Appy Hour” sessions at this point so I had some really good information to begin building out my idea and changing things that weren’t working.
The final class of the Spring was Digital Learning in Global and Local Contexts. This was a good class for me to practice my ability to research and look through information to find what was applicable to what I was doing. This was the point where I started to really grow and change my innovation plan based on research and things that I was reading. It wasn’t simply about what worked and didn’t anymore. I had articles and readings to back up what I wanted to do and why I wanted to do it. This was also the time that I was introduced to Nancy Duarte’s “Resonate”. I really enjoyed reading her work on how to present things. I still find myself referring to her work when creating presentations both for Lamar and my everyday life. That was a pretty profound piece of learning for me.
After a short break, I entered in to my first and only Summer sessions. I knew these were going to be less stressful just because of the fact that I wasn’t working. I did have a second foot surgery for the year early on but it really made it easier because I had a reason to focus on my work and stay at home. This was the course Assessing Digital Learning and Instruction. Or as I referred to it as the measurement course. I wish this course had fallen during the school year so I could have implemented the measuring right away. The fact that I couldn’t made it a bit harder when I went back in the fall. I really enjoyed the book How to Measure Anything and found the reading fascinating. Of course, I again was not working so had more time to sit around and read. It was during this course that I began to change the focus of “Appy Hour” a little more and to find ways to show that people were changing their practices because of their attendance. Coming up with a measurement strategy was quite challenging, I am not going to lie. I have never been much of a math person, so figuring out the logistics and the math to the “Appy Hour” measurement was not my favorite part. I do know the value in measurement now, so that is a plus.
The next course was a sharp 180 degrees from all my other courses so far at Lamar. It was the course on Digital Citizenship. I probably learned the most real world information in this course, especially as a parent of a teen and a pre-teen. We were given very specific assignments and very easy to follow directions. I found it very easy to get ahead in this class, both because of summer break and because it was very much about following directions and completing very specific assignments. I found this to be a nice little break from the COVA approach, with all of us working on basically the same assignments. At the same time, I really feel like the information that I got from this course might have. been the most relevant to my life as a parent. Knowing about all the different parts of digital citizenship and being aware of all the components is a very powerful tool. I enjoyed all of the reading in this course, although it was a pretty heavy load, and I plan on going back and rereading these books again to get more information. I feel like this is where I kind of hit my feeling of being in the “home stretch”. I began to feel like nothing could really stop me at this point, as I was so close to finishing my degree.
My first course of the second fall semester was Resources in the Digital Environment. This was one of my favorite courses because it forced me way outside of my comfort zone in publishing a piece of my work (or at least trying). My work was not published but I am still exploring other places to send it out to who might. This was also the course that I began to see a change in myself as a digital educator, which was apparent in my work and how I was able to use different tools with ease a year after almost having a meltdown in my first class. I began to feel more confident in what I was saying and doing, like a real Master’s candidate should. I didn’t find making the connection back to my innovation plan at all hard in this course, which might have been the first time that I was able to put things together pretty easily.
My next course was the Instructional Design in Online Learning. This was another favorite course for me, as I have always been very interested in online learning. The only way I would ever teach older kids would be through this format I think. I have had some experience with Schoology learning management system with my kids so it was an interesting experience for me to look at it more from the instructors side than the student’s side. This was also a class where my feeling of accomplishment took a pretty big hit when no one in my building signed up for my online “Appy Hour” course at it’s completion. I wished I was a tech liaison at this point, that I could offer some sort of real incentive. Jean’s passes don’t just seem to be cutting it anymore, even though wearing jeans any other day of the week than Friday seems to always have been an good starting point. I really feel more in tune with what it takes to create an online course, and tried to use the COVA approach throughout my course.
The last course of the Fall was the most anticipated course for me. It was on Selected Topics, but our instructors choose Professional Development as our focus. Because my innovation plan dealt with professional development, it made sense that I would find this very useful. This was where I decided to revamp “Appy Hour” again (if I had another one that is) and make it less sit and get and more move and do. I think that although we tried not to, we still did most of the talking and sharing at our events. It was in this class that I realized the importance of changing that. It was also in this course that I was able to get my administrators attention with all of the work that I have been doing. I choose a current PD session that my school already did to change, and presented my suggestions for changes to my administration. I am happy to say that they are supposed to implement several of the changes in the next school year. I felt recharged again, and began to feel like people were beginning to take me seriously. After a career of being looked over for every job promotion that I went for, that felt pretty good. Hopefully my luck can carry over and I will soon be able to land a more leadership position.
My final class was this Capstone course. Honestly, I was looking forward to this because I am a big believer in reflection. When I heard that we would be doing a great deal of reflection, I was so excited. I find that reflection is what helps me make sense of the world around me. It helps me become a better teacher, mother, wife, and friend. I think that this program has done so much more for me than given me a degree. I think that I have become much more confident in my beliefs, and more confident in my abilities. I now know that I have to change peoples hearts and their minds will follow. I know that I can do anything I set my mind to, no matter how old I am or how much I feel like the world around me is falling apart. I am changed forever by this program. I am forever changed by the professors that I have had, and the experiences that I have had. I have new friends from different places and job titles than me. I have people who are respected in their field who believe in me and see me for who I am. I feel very blessed to have been in the first class to finish the DLL program. The next part of my journey is to continue to pursue a leadership position. What I found out through this process is that I love to help teachers find out ways to leverage technology in their classrooms. I’m not sure what that will look like, a tech position or some sort of teaching position, but I am looking forward to finding out.
Books I enjoyed in my DLL program
- Disrupting class: How disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns by Clayton Christensen
- Influencer: The new science of leading change by Joseph Grenney (not an easy read)
- A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the age of the quick fix by Edwin Friedman (this was deep)
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
- Understanding By Design by Wiggins and McTighe
- Resonate by Nancy Duarte (http://www.duarte.com/book/resonate-legacy/)
- How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business by Douglas Hubbard
- Bullying beyond the schoolyard: Preventing and responding to cyberbullying by Hinduja and Patchin
- Digital Citizenship in Schools by Mike Ribble
- Teaching in a Digital Age: Guideline for Designing Teaching and Learning by T. Bates (Retrieved from https://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/)
- Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson