Educators-start your engines!! Let’s do something different this year. Source: Leaders- Let’s Model not Mandate #OutsideTheBoxED
My Learning Journey
Two years ago I began learning about who I wanted to become. A friend reminded me that time would pass no matter what I chose to do with my life. That conversation prompted me to begin the Digital Learning and Leadership M. Ed. (DLL) program at Lamar University. It has been the perfect compliment to my business undergraduate degree and my work as the Technology Director of a small school. If you’re interested in knowing what I accomplished through the program, take a look at the interactive presentation on the Facebook post below. It has links to everything I created through all of my course work. If you are curious about what I learned, keep reading.
The Impact of Significant Learning Environments
Reflecting on the past is only useful for lamenting regrets and assessing one’s potential for change. My experience in the DLL program has given me cause to reflect upon both. Of course, I have no regrets except that I didn’t find the program sooner – although it probably didn’t exist. What I have discovered about my own potential for change is immeasurable.
In the beginning of my DLL (Digital Learning & Leadership) journey I was skeptical that academia could help me become a better, more effective leader in education. Not that I knew everything, it’s that my views about education tend to rub traditionalists the wrong way. Many of my battles in life have been centered around academic versus practical knowledge. I’ve always had a different view about teaching and learning. I entered the DLL program with the goal of learning. My focus was about finding out what I didn’t already know that seemed to separate me from my teacher friends. Frankly, I wasn’t looking forward to it. Fortunately, from the very beginning of the DLL program I could tell it was different.
I discovered early on that the program was looking for real opinions from real experiences, by real people. Shortly after it began, the COVA approach was introduced – Choice, Ownership, Voice, in an Authentic environment. It caught my ear – it was what I believed was missing from K12 education. Climbing to the top of the class to chase a grade wasn’t important, in fact, the format of the program didn’t lend itself to that type of thinking. Contrary to every other type of academic institution, students were only competing with their own ideas. But make no mistake, COVA made learning far more challenging, especially for me. Living up to the program’s expectation was far easier than living up to my own!
We were judged on our ability to apply our ideas in our work environments. That’s what the “A” stands for – authenticity. Course professors didn’t have a list of right answers for us. We had to apply our coursework in real-time, with real coworkers, and with real students. We could choose our projects and methods but had to make them authentic. Occasionally my thoughts wandered to the movie “Truman” with Jim Carey. Unknowingly, he lived his entire life in a perfect world which had been staged and televised. When he discovered the truth he set off to escape. The DLL program was an example of the same significant learning environment we were striving to create (a CSLE – created significant learning environment) in our own schools and workplaces; the difference being that the program goal was to allow us to learn how to create the same significant learning environment outside of this wonderful, perfect world.
COVA was the method by which we practiced. It was like telling someone to burn 100 calories in an hour using any equipment in the gym – we had choice, ownership, and a voice – the gym was our online classroom. In time we each discovered what worked individually, and partnered with others for accountability. Eventually we tried out other equipment until our confidence improved. By the end of the program we were fit and eager to mentor others.
Course content was all about teaching and learning, thinking and analyzing, but mostly about how to identify what needs to be changed and developing ways to accomplish that. It was current, insightful, and thought provoking. It was inspiring. My greatest takeaways, however came from the significant learning environment itself, and the COVA approach by which the courses were presented. Here are my top 5 DLL program takeaways in a nutshell:
Love What You Hate
Among the hundreds of nuggets of information I encountered through my time in the program I came away with a sense that if I can force myself to love something I hate, I won’t let it suck the life out of me. No amount of complaining would make required projects leave my to-do list, so I overcame my procrastination. COVA allowed me to start with the skills I had and build on them.
There is no path to success except through failure, like chipping away at a stone block to reveal the statue inside. I learned to treat failure like success. I wanted to get to it quickly. I wanted to get rid of ideas that wouldn’t work so I could get them out of the way. My success was often the result of vetting ideas through a panel of my peers. Many of them had experience that changed my way of thinking, or offered suggestions that changed my course entirely. Perhaps I knew this theory about failure before DLL but I rode the wheels off it in the program. Submission deadlines were at midnight for a reason.
Know When Something Matters
Mindset was a large part of both the content and environment of the program. Conversations with classmates were very challenging. I learned to recognize when my opinion didn’t matter in another person’s journey. For example, when a ship is both on fire and sinking, offering a sailor either a fire hose or a cork won’t make a difference. He may have to board my ship to survive. Some captains would rather go down with the ship. The same is true in reverse. Sometimes I was smarter to abandon my ideas for something else. Authentic learning environments are the best teachers of all.
Stop Talking – Start Doing
If time is spent creating a plan, it needs to be executable. The program expects its students will execute, analyze, revise and re-execute them. COVA is about real experiences. Learners must walk the talk. The innovation project I developed was based on real work I was paid to do. Administrators at my school didn’t have the time to discuss the plan so I stopped talking about it and got to work doing it. Rather than waste time and effort explaining the details, a simple explanation and an action plan were all I used. When I stopped talking and started doing, my plan came to life.
Without a doubt, the #1 greatest takeaway from COVA and the DLL program was learning to embrace community. I’ve completely changed my view about relying on others. Times have changed and learning isn’t the result of my own hard work, it comes from the work of many. People who share what they know seek to build a nation “in the know”. COVA includes ownership and voice. I have learned to own what I believe and voice what I know. Sometimes I know less than others, and sometimes I know more. I have gained the wisdom to understand how lucky I am to be the dumbest person in the room.
No one can predict the future but we certainly can plan for it. The five most important lessons I’ve learned from the DLL program (loving what you hate, the importance of failing, knowing what matters, taking action, and the value of community) are supported by an enormous amount of pertinent content. It can be applied in any learning environment. In the short term my intention is to implement the remaining two years of my technology integration plan using the innovation plan format. It will continue to be adapted, changing as my action research reveals ways it can be improved.
Using COVA and creating a significant learning environment is well underway at my school. Every year our teachers become more skilled and innovative, incorporating technology in teaching. As they see success they become more comfortable encouraging students to be independent as learners. The process is leading them to embrace their new roles as learning facilitators.
The challenge ahead is to show teachers how to measure the effects of COVA in learning. They need to understand how to measure more than student enthusiasm. In some cases teachers may be disappointed with the results and unwilling to return and try again. My goal is to help our teachers raise the bar for achievement while loosening their grip on how students learn. I can’t possibly achieve this with only a technology plan – no matter how innovative it may be. I will continue to plant the seeds and cultivate other leaders within the school.
I will help our teachers learn the lessons I have taken away from the DLL program. I will create a significant learning environment for each of them, with choice, ownership, voice, in their authentic classrooms. I will help them love what they hate by supporting them, and celebrate their failures on the way to success. I will help them see what matters in learning and model ways they can take action. It’s what I’ve always done.
We have entered the front edge of the digital age and all organizations must adjust. Being an education leader can happen in any industry because learning is infinite. My challenge is to fit new methods into an old system with better results than the status quo. When I achieved that, I will move on.
Images Chalkboard (Graffiti) by Gerd Altmann pixabay.com CC0, (fortune-telling) by Tumisu pixabay.com CC0
You Can Make it!
We all need motivation, especially at the end of a long school year. Every year comes crawling to an end, but some years drag you through potholes and over mountains to get there. No matter what your line of work, having someone who can help you re-calibrate is vitally important, especially to teachers.
Teachers want to leave a mark on the world and they do it through others. They are the messengers. Like the pizza delivery guy who never contributes to the diner conversation, but who is still extremely important to the experience, teachers feed students so they may grow. I believe the messenger is often the single most important person in students’ lives.
While looking for a new motivational resource I came across John Maxwell. He is a wonderful story teller who has a history as a pastor and author. While watching his YouTube recording I became completely engaged, listening as if he was speaking to me directly. Good speakers know how to make listeners feel that way. His words answered questions I’ve been asking in my head for months; what is my purpose here? Should I stay? Is this where I belong? Maybe you are hearing the same questions from your inner voice.
He said something I’ve never heard before; “if you don’t have your own dream God has someone else waiting for you to join him. Your purpose could be to build the work of others. Put your purpose into the purpose of someone else” (Maine, 2013). I think these words are life-changing.
Maxwell went on to say that if you really don’t know what purpose you serve in the world, use these two clues; first, feel your passion, and second know your skill. Hopefully you are a teacher because these two clues collided in your life. But if you don’t feel re-energized after your summer break, and you truly dread the road full of bumps ahead, please look for different work. Imagine how awful the dinner conversation would be if the pizza guy didn’t make every effort to do his job well.
To see Maxwell in action, watch what he has to say about leadership.
Maine, N. (2013, Dec. 13). Finding My Purpose – John Maxwell. [Video]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/0Qr_vJvqItY
Have you considered if the kids in your class or home are socially ready for the technology they use? How do you know? Look for future articles about starting the conversation about kids, technology, and how to know if they are really ready to collaborate.
Photo credits: all images retrieved from Pixabay.com under creative commons license CC0.