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.
Lisa Gottfried is a CTE teacher with 20 years experience as CEO of her own Video and Motion Graphics Production house. She currently teaches Digital Design at New Technology High School and at Touro University in the Masters of Innovative Learning program. She loves her job and her students!