I'd had my eye on taking the Innovative Learning Master program for several years now and got my chance to attend, thanks to a generous grant from NapaLearns and a scholarship from the Napa Valley Retired Teachers Association. I finished by degree in 18th months because Touro gives some credit toward the degree through the work already done by teachers when they go through their credentialing process. Finishing my degree in December of 2016, I've had the remainder of the 2016-17 year to apply some of the great knowledge I had attained through the program.
The time and money was extremely well spent. I had time to explore new technologies, study educational models and theory, connect with motivated and wonderful teachers from around the district (K-12) and explore what innovative and successful education looks like across our nation and around the world. We were asked to create an action research paper to study how to use qualitative and quantitative practice to deepen our teaching and solve problems for our students in our classrooms. We had the chance to really understand what a rigorous inquiry cycle of learning looks like, both for us as teachers and also how to apply that to student lessons.
Pedagogy Shmedagogy, What's that all about?
After having gone through this process, I can truly say that I feel so much more rooted in pedagogy and theory. It's one thing to instinctively know when you are succeeding in the classroom, and another to take the time to explore all the data points, triangulating as needed to verify what you know intuitively, and to be able to apply new approaches to the problem when that data gives you the clarity you need as a teacher. It means that I'm not just shooting from the hip as a teacher, but have backed up my teaching practices with known strategies of success AND I can measure the success of my students over time with student work, observation, survey data and more.
Expectations that Touro grads will take on leadership positions
I feel much stronger as a leader, both in my school and in my district. After graduating, I became a PLC (Personal Learning Community) leader for a group of five teachers who met on a regular basis to help examine student work and deepen teaching practices. When faced with a lot on our plates to do as teachers, there is often push back from teachers when they are asked to conduct an inquiry cycle. And, as expected, there was pushback from my PLC, even from myself. But I knew, having done several inquiry cycles in graduate school, that the work is worthwhile and really does get results. If I had not had those experiences and understood the value of doing that kind of work, I would not have been able to effectively lead my PLC team toward the findings and learnings we came to. I felt that, in some wonderful way, that I helped other teachers to also find the value in data-backed inquiry learning. At the end of the year, we all agreed that the work we had done was exciting, useful, fulfilling and got us some great results with student outcomes.
I've also had the opportunity to serve on the Deeper Learning Team at New Tech High, exploring ways that we can continue to innovate as a school. We are the flagship New Technology school, the first of over 200 across the country and abroad and we continue to innovate and looks toward the future of education. I didn't feel like an imposter on that committee, but instead felt a sense of pride that I could contribute my knowledge and experience to the team after going through the Innovative Learning program. It felt as though my master education prepared me well to serve on that committee as I will continue to serve next year, both as PLC leader and committee member.
Lastly, I took a lot of my newfound technical skills and turned around and taught what I had just learned to other teachers through the Digital Innovators program sponsored by Napa Learns. I hope that many of the teachers who attended my workshops on the Start-up Classroom decide to also get their masters in the Touro program and that we continue to build a strong community of engaged and excited teachers who understand best practices as we move forward in innovative learning.
Surprises along the way
As a Digital Design teacher, I was unsure as to how I would be challenged in the program, since I work with some high level software and am very comfortable on the computer. Although it was true, that often times, I already had the technical knowledge being taught, I do not always get the time to explore the apps and processes that I would like to. The class gave me the time and structure to explore some new apps, try on skills that I often teach, but do not have time to practice myself, and to see what other teachers and other grade levels need and want in the classroom. Often working in teams, I got better insight into what would work and not work for other teachers who don't have the same level of technical knowledge I have. This in turn helped me to create workshops for the district that better met the needs of ALL teachers at all different levels of technical comfort levels.
The other learning that touched me deeply and really surprised me had to do with the educational models such as TPACK, The Pebble in a Pond Model, Design Thinking, and The Gap Model. I am a practical person who does not always like to think in abstract ways. I struggled, at first, to find the relevance of such models in my classroom. But once I realized that these are just tried and true structures upon which one can hang lessons and curriculum, it became clear to me how valuable they were. They provided the much needed teaching templates for me to structure some really big programs I had been working on. These models guided me as a developed a whole school eportfolio/blogging program for New Tech and helped me to organize and clarify my thinking about a huge project.
I'm in the process of working with the Digital Innovators program to leverage the work that we as Touro Fellows have learned in our program. We envision graduates getting together in more informal, relaxed settings to share ideas and concepts that are working in the classroom, while providing some basic structure for continued engagement. I am also working on leveraging the success we've had at New Tech with our school-wide blogging program to bring this concept to other schools throughout the district as well as on a national and international level. I like to think big and have a big impact when the innovations are really showing results. If it's working, others should know and be able to harness the newly tested strategies and my focus next year will be on refining those innovative practices and then sharing with the world. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to have gotten my post-graduate degree at Touro and would recommend the program to any teacher considering it. It will only continue to strengthen our district and ultimately, our students.
In our PLC, (Professional Learning Community) we are working in a new cycle of inquiry.
Our question is:
How can we better support students to document their growth over time?
We are finding that some students just DO NOT like to write reflection pieces, or planning documents, or documents that show what they are learning. We believe there are several factors at play in these situations.
1) Students can have resistance to writing no matter what
2) Students just want to learn, but not document their learning.
3) Students feel that writing about their learning is just a thing that needs to be done to appease the teachers.
We have a theory that if we make documentation easier for those students who resist, that are percentage of participation with increase. We will be mining our data from the last two progress reports to see what percentage of participation we got for past reflections and documentation activities. We will then provide video blogging as an alternative to writing and compare percentages of participation again. This will be a 2-3 week research action cycle.
Our lives have changes so much in the last 5-10 years due to changing and disruptive technologies. We can not think that we can continue to educate our students in the same manner as has been done for the last 100 years and expect positive and useful outcomes. My personal goals as a teacher include using the classroom as a lab for teaching in innovative ways that speak directly to the needs of 21st Century students. I would like to then take what I have learned to other teachers and administrators, so that others can deepen their practices and better serve the students they teach. I get so much satisfaction out of using the Design Thinking process to improve my own teaching. If we live in world where iteration is the keystone of our new technology-based world, it's imperative that we not only teach Design Thinking, but use it in our daily practice as teachers.
I love the hands-on, on-the-ground application of teaching ideals, by being in the classroom at New Tech High on a daily basis. I am given a great deal of freedom to try new ways of teaching and often involve my students in the process of improvement. This is the norm at New Tech, for all teachers and administrators to collaborate. Collaboration between staff and students is one of the biggest strengths of our school.
In that vein, I am working on establishing a robust curriculum and library of resources to teach students and staff the value of blogging and social media. Using the Design Process last year, a committee of two staff and ten students redesigned what used to a brochure-like academic portfolio. We opened up the concept to blogging and, instead of asking students to jump through hoops to create a portfolio that no one every looked at, we decided that it would become a living and useful document.
Students are now allowed to write blogs on anything that interests them. They are also expected to use the blog as a public forum to teach others what they have learned, to document their work and to reflect on their learning practices. Blogs can then be shared within the learning community and with the community at large. Last year we began the program with some basic tutorials on how to set up their blogs, as well as some videos explaining the value of blogging and the history of what we have done with portfolios and how we arrived at our new blog-based portfolio.
My goal this semester is to fill out the curriculum for portfolios more fully, while having those lessons be informed by learning models and theory, including Baggio, Clark and TPACK. I will be creating more tutorials, both written and recorded, so that different learners can access the information in different ways.
Having a digital presence on the web is so essential these days if you want to get a job, find professionals to network with, or to create a following for businesses purposes. Having every student understand how to use their portfolio to be successful as an adult allows ALL students access to valuable and incredibly useful skills in the 21st Century. In order to compete in the marketplace, either for jobs or as entrepreneurs, one has to understand how to use one's digital presence to create credibility, show proficiency and to show a sense of agency.
This has led me to, what in my mind, is an obvious inquiry question: How can students effectively participate in and contribute to a learning community through blogging?
Originally my inquiry question was: What is the effect of Digital Tools (Nearpod) on Reading Comprehension, Focus and Engagement?
Interestingly, these seemingly different inquiry questions are related, in that I have an active presence online and use my digital presence to keep my professional network informed about my work in the classroom. Last semester, I posted an article on my blog about my first inquiry question, and the news of my work got to the VP of Marketing at Nearpod. He contacted me about my action research paper. From there, he and I agreed that Nearpod would publish my paper on their website. I am excited to say that it looks great and will soon be made public. It has helped me make important relationships with folks in the education software field and will now further establish my credibility in the field of Innovative Learning. Powerful stuff.
So, although I did not stick with my first inquiry question, I do believe, that ultimately, my current inquiry question addresses a more broad and pertinent question that has a strong relationship to the first question. I have shown, through the process of my first inquiry paper being published, how critical it can be to success to know how to participate in the greater community through blogging. If students can harness the power of blogging, there will be no stopping them, as they go out into the world to get jobs, create businesses, and ultimately, to make a difference.
I only go to conferences maybe once or twice a year, so how can I make that magic happen throughout the year?.....Social Media. Twitter and Facebook, are for me, a chance to dip into the gigantic ocean of people and experience out there and find those topics and personalities that attract me. And if I do the same, post what is happening in my professional life, I automatically attract those people who have my same interests or areas of expertise.
And the great thing is, I don't have to fly hundreds or thousands of miles to get there. It's all doable, from the comfort of my computer, at any and all hours of the day.
Connections I have made
Lisa Gottfried is a CTE teacher with 20 years experience as CEO of her own Video and Motion Graphics Production house. She currently teaches Intro to Digital Media, Video Production and Game/3D Design. She loves her job and her students!