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