As I reflect on my journey in the Digital Learning and Leading program, many thoughts and ideas run through my mind. When I was initially introduced to the COVA process, my entire life changed. Choice, Ownership, Voice, and Authentic Learning is a great way to incorporate blended learning into my classroom. After teaching for over twenty plus years, it was very refreshing to not only learn the COVA process but to actually model this process in my classroom.
The first time I had a genuine choice in an authentic assignment was in this DLL program in my first graduate degree course with Dr. Thibodeaux from Lamar University. I remember thinking WHAT? I actually get to choose something to produce? That is when the horror struck me because I didn’t know what a perfect product should resemble. I needed to see a finished product to ensure that I was on the right track. I needed the comfort of knowing that I would make an “A” because I produced “A” quality work. I remember one of my online conferences when Dr. H asked us what grade we expected to receive in that course. My immediate response was an “A” and I have received a few “A’s” that I worked very hard to receive.
Reflecting back, I now realize that I am more proud of my projects and lessons than any letter grade. Because I was taught the sit-and-get method of teaching, I automatically taught the same method throughout my career. Throughout the DLL program, we were introduced to new ways of thinking, new ways of learning, and new ways of sharing information. Sometimes it was a bit overwhelming, but I am so glad that we were forced to think outside of the box and try new and innovative methods in our own lives. When we learn new tools, tips, and tricks with technology throughout these courses, I attempt to try them out in my classroom. Now that I have the freedom to teach my students in a way that I have learned. Granted, it is difficult for some of the students when I assign a project because they want to know exactly what is expected. When I give them freedom, sometimes they get nervous, but that’s when I step back and offer a few ideas or ask other students to offer suggestions. This, in return, creates collaboration and higher-level thinking skills. These skills are not only taught to succeed in the classroom but are also taught how to use them in life. I have never taught like this before, and it is actually rewarding to watch a student take ownership and pride in a project, not just pride in a grade.
I am trying to keep notes of what I can do better next year with each assignment. I am definitely saving some of the student’s work to show to my students next year. Yes, I am actually thinking about the next school year instead of counting the days until June 1. I think that I have approached my students in a different way this year. I am trying to encourage authentic learning and allowing them to think outside the box and try something new. But, I think the greatest tool that I use this year is asking them to teach me something new each day or each week. And when they do, I praise them.
The greatest challenge that I have experienced so far about taking control of my voice is not with my students and my classroom management, but in the way that teachers are evaluated. I can not get my assistant principal to understand why all of my students aren’t doing the same project at the same time. Plus trying to align my goals and objectives with TEKS when I have students all over the place is a logistical challenge.
One of my favorite assignments was learning about our digital footprints. One of my most challenging roadblocks is still working with connectivity. Stepping out of my comfort zone has offered many new and exciting experiences, but also has given me the courage to influence those around me to seek a positive change.
My main audience for my innovation plan is the superintendent, technology department, and other administrators. I feel like I am winning on that end. I am still amazed at how everything has worked out with my innovation plan. The district has already created a Media/Communication Team and had an all-day training on Blackboard. I must admit, I am too busy this year to be on that team. I do believe that my plan will need a few adjustments due to budget restraints, staffing, and logistics, but my innovation plan is just that, a plan that evolves over time.
Creating a significant learning environment through COVA reminds me of what my daddy has always told me. He says that he uses reverse psychology on us when he wants something from us. Tell me that I can’t do something and I will try my best to do it anyway. Intrinsic rewards are more meaningful when students are allowed to take ownership in their learning and sharing. One major adjustment that I have made this year in my classroom is encouraging students to collaborate more – NOT talk more – collaborate!
Remembering my “WHY” is crucial to the success of my innovation plan, the success of combining COVA and creating a significant learning experience each day. I started teaching in 1988 so I have lived through many changes. Both in the mindset and culture of the students and in the ways teachers are evaluated. Because our evaluations follow us everywhere we go, we sometimes just give the evaluators what they want instead of giving our students what they need. My evaluator this year is strictly go by the book kind of person. He doesn’t understand that students are learning on many levels in my classroom every single day. Some struggle, some excel, and others teach me! I feel like I have made a difference in someone’s life when I allow my students to teach me something new.
I have learned that being educated does not mean that you are a learner. Some people stop learning once they receive a diploma or a degree. My daddy always emphasized the importance of a good education. He has encouraged me throughout the years to keep learning and apply what you have learned in real life situations. If he had not encouraged me to keep learning, I would have never embarked on my master’s degree journey. I now have the opportunity to pay it forward by encouraging my students to be life-long learners.
I have learned that it is perfectly normal to fail forward. Although it is uncomfortable to fail, there is always a learning experience involved. Believing in yourself, your ideas, your ambitions are key to continuing an education. Being able to value and take ownership of your work is amazing.
I have learned that I may not be there, YET. Developing a growth mindset was probably the greatest lesson that I have learned over the past nineteen months. If our students are taught how to shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, their lives will significantly be changed forever. How do you measure the success of a growth mindset with standardized testing? How do you assign a grade to a growth mindset? These are some of the obstacles that need to be addressed in education.
I have learned that creating with the end in mind is not only more efficient but also more productive in my world. Understanding by Design was another tool in my toolbox that I will use in my life. How will I use this new tool? Mainly, it will be used to frame my lesson plans. UbD is definitely a tool that will be used as I continue to roll out my innovation plan with my district.
I have learned that I have a choice in life, a choice in learning, and a choice in being happy in my world. We have been teaching “choices” to students for years. But through the COVA method, choice has a new meaning. The choice isn’t to do an assignment or not, but rather to choose an assignment that is meaningful and personal.
I have learned how to express my voice without it merely being an opinion. I can back up my voice with facts, ideas, research, and experience. Just imagine a world where students have a voice without consequences. I truly believe that students will become better learners and leaders when they conquer the art of voice.
I have learned how to take ownership of my learning, ownership of my teaching, and ownership of my mistakes. The professors in the DLL program at Lamar have not only taught the COVA method, but have modeled the method perfectly. Each professor has provided guidance in a unique way that has touched my life personally and professionally. I truly did not believe that I was capable of learning so much information at my age. Instilling life-long learning in my student’s lives is my number one priority. I am proud to say that I have witnessed growth in my students this year. I pray that we are creating a new culture of learning and leading that will create many more significant learning opportunities for everyone. As I have mentioned in several discussion board posts throughout my journey, I have been honored to share my new knowledge with everyone from students, parents, co-workers, to administrators.
Collaboration is new and exciting in my world and I have made many friends along the way. I have learned how to think differently, give encouragement to others who may not have many years in the classroom, and truly connect with other students throughout this program. Being able to collaborate openly allowed me to fail forward. Failure was never an option throughout my education, therefore I modeled that behavior to my students for many years. My new mantra is:
- Tell me one thing that you learned today.
- Tell me two things were interesting and fun in today’s lesson.
- Tell me one thing that you would like to learn.
- Teach me something – anything – just share!
Developing grit and determination has been one of my biggest obstacles since I started this program. I have witnessed the determination and grit in my fellow classmates and that has provided me with the desire to keep grinding! My colleagues at school have noticed the change in me and have started asking questions that are mind-blowing. There are not enough hours in the day to share what we have learned, but I keep trying to encourage my co-workers to think outside of the box and create a new pathway of learning and leading.
I have learned how to create a significant learning environment in all of my classrooms. It has definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. In order for all learners to be successful, the learning environment needs to be adjusted to the learner’s needs. Not every student learns the same way. Not everyone teaches the same way. It is exhausting some days, but well worth the time. Especially when a talented student knocks on your door to come inside and edit photos that she took yesterday. She wants to apply what she learned NOW. She took the photos, downloaded them, and is working on editing them in PhotoShop without me assigning that project to her. I merely handed her a camera and we went out to a baseball game. I told her to shoot whatever she found interesting. I didn’t ask her to edit the photos, she asked me if she could. Those are the moments that you live for, that’s what makes teaching meaningful. Who knows, she may have an exciting career as a graphic design artist. I know she has the talent!
Finally, my reflection over the last nineteen months in a nutshell. In my personal life, I have experienced the loss of five very close friends or family members. My daddy was diagnosed with two types of cancer. I had ankle surgery last March. I have lost and gained at least 30 pounds since starting the DLL program. I was able to take a group of students on a field trip to Lamar to meet Dr. Thibodeaux and many student’s lives were changed forever. I have taken over a leadership role as advisor for the fishing team at school. One of my seventh-grade anglers actually taught me a thing or two about shooting and editing videos. He is passionate about fishing and has learned how to incorporate learning and sharing his passion. I have learned how to collaborate with people around the world using the tools that were discovered on my journey.
I have gained a wonderful relationship with my director of technology and superintendent in my district. It is awesome to know that I can finally talk to a group of people who actually have similar ideas with where technology needs to expand in our district. Through this program, I have the evidence that I need to back up the requests that I have for future technology in our district.
Mainly, I have learned that there will always be a whirlwind, especially when you think everything is rolling along smoothly. Expect the unexpected, monitor and adjust, and embrace change.