The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but significance, and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.

– Oprah Winfrey

Looking back on the past 18 months I am so thankful that I dared to embark on this journey, and so glad that I stuck with the program even when it was difficult.  Digital Learning and Leading is a fully online Masters program which may not be for everyone, but I found that it fit my needs perfectly and although it was a lot more work than I had anticipated, I can now say that the effort was worth it, because I am ending with more than just knowledge and a degree.  Much more.  It has given my teaching significance again.

The following is a sampling of some of the projects and topics that I tackled during the program.  Come with me on a stroll down what has become memory lane for me, but not so long ago was a busy highway of learning and discovery!

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Carol Dweck says “If I don’t try, I automatically fail.”  This first course was instrumental in establishing the right mindset for the program.  We read Dweck’s New Psychology of success and learned about the growth mindset, a powerful way to engage with learning and defeat the fear of failure.  I would need remind myself many times throughout the course and the program to persevere through the discomfort,  as I was stretched beyond my comfort zone.

I established my first PLN or PLC, a professional learning network and I discovered many fantastic sites and professional groups that continue to inspire me and help me grow.  Putting myself out there on “social” media was very much against my introverted nature, I kept referring back to the growth mindset and trying to embrace that discomfort as a sign of growth.  Becoming part of these communities helped me to realize that I am not alone and there are infinitely more resources available to me than I will ever have time to use.

In this first course I was also introduced to COVA, the foundational approach to the DLL program and a concept that I believed in long before I was familiar with the acronym.  It stands for Choice, Ownership, Voice and Authenticity. Dr. Thibodeaux encouraged us to make a choice as to what we wanted to learn, then own it by making it something that was personal and meaningful and fully ours.  She pushed us to find our own voice, not to give the regurgitated answers most professors want, or canned responses that make teaching predictable. Finally the authenticity flows from applying and living the first three concepts.  I came into the program expecting a boring course on technology integration, and instead found myself excited and enlivened and so grateful to be involved in something that would actually be meaningful and impactful, instead of simply busy work to reach a higher pay scale.

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In this course I put hours into “owning” my ePortfolio and mastering the art of working with WordPress. I worked with various other sites and because of that I was able to help my students when they embarked on creating their French ePortfolios, since I already knew how they all worked and had created demo sites for them to see. WordPress was not an easy one to work with in the beginning, but through frustration and with the growth mindset I eventually got my ePortfolio to a place where I felt proud and comfortable that it truly reflected part of who I am.  I owned it, and in the process began to discover my voice. The thought of having an audience was daunting but I slowly got used to having others view my work without feeling self-conscious. COVA gives you the permission to be who you are and to bring that to the stage. I ended this course very satisfied with a product that I believed could serve as an ongoing project to house all of my ideas, resources and ultimately that I could share with others to help them also discover everything that I was learning.

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In this course we read some fascinating books on being a leader (and really on psychology) and I had to grapple with the fact that I, little quiet French teacher, signed up for a program on leadership, so I had best get with the program and begin to think of myself as a leader.  Simon Sinek challenged me to dig into my WHY, and once that was settled I developed an innovation plan that incorporated the blended structure I love with active learning in the classroom. I learned about setting Wildly Important Goals (WIGS), and in my 4DX plan (modeled after the book) I broke down the steps I would need to implement my new innovation plan with my team.  I learned about lag and lead measures and found myself having lively conversations over these topics with my husband who is a manager and a fantastic leader. I learned about the 6 sources of influence from the book The Influencer and how I could use those to help create and establish my plan even if others might be reluctant at first. The key is to engage all six sources of influence. Be a measurement maniac! I learned about the importance of a score board and how to identify the vital behaviors and then measure them for change over time.  Just as important is the need to take an honest look at all 6 sources of influence which might prevent the vital Behavior from happening: personal motivation – do they enjoy it? Personal ability – can they do it? Social motivation – do others encourage them to enact the wrong Behavior? Social ability – do others enable them? Structural motivation – do rewards and sanctions encourage them? And finally structural ability – does their environment enable them?  You can’t bring the simplistic solution to a complex problem. If There are six sources of influence preventing a behavior from changing and you only address one, change will never happen. You can boil it all down at the end of the day to two questions: am I able? Am I motivated? Finally we read about crucial conversations and how to have them. By the end of this empowering course I found myself seriously contemplating going into my boss’s office and talking with him about my innovation plan –  this alone was a huge step!

This course was crucial in providing a concrete path to making the innovation plan actually happen, as well as truly equipping me to take on this monumental task.

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In this course we looked at disruptive innovations and I finally got the chance to really spell out my innovation plan which I had been hatching the past few courses.  In this course I created a video to help to promote the idea and it was a fun time as I had my students help me and I also recorded some of the regular classroom happenings.  I was so excited about the changes that I had already begun to implement and this call to action simply cemented that even more. Even though the quality of my video was poor due to old high school equipment, after spending 12 hours creating said video I felt very accomplished.  I had never created a video before with movie magic and even though it was very challenging it helped to boost my confidence. I also made a 3 year implementation plan to go along with my innovation plan – this is the road-map to making it happen, and it truly helped me to think through every aspect of it.  It began to feel real.

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What is my learning philosophy?  Am I constructivist, behaviorist or cognitist?  And what on earth is a big hairy audacious goal? In this course I created my big hairy audacious goal and then wrote my course plan into the 3 column table, where I truly thought through every aspect of this French 3 honors unit.  I also used the Universal By Design approach to further break down the course and ask some important questions. In order to get where you want to go, it turns out you need to begin with the end in mind.

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We read about various case studies and examined what went well and what they could have done differently.  We then had the opportunity to look back and make modifications to our innovation plan and then we added more research and sources (and many more pages) to our literature review.  I also created my call to action video in order to spread my now more streamlined big idea.

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What even is Action research?  Am I a researcher? This course was eye opening to me and I discovered that I have been applying the principles behind action research my whole career I just  didn’t realize it. Teaching truly is a daily experiment, and being able to identify a problem, plan out a potential solution, try it, collect data, and then analyse and make changes when needed… this is what educators do every single day in the classroom as they attempt to meet the needs of their learners.  I found a problem which I believed could be solved with the use of technology, and so proceeded to tackle that. I have collected a fair amount of data and am now in the phases of putting it together in some sort of cohesive data bank and graph so that any connections can appear and guide my teaching. Should I continue to use this app?  Is it wasted time or a worthy investment? Only action research will tell. In my constant quest for improvement this is an indispensable tool.

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What does it mean to be a digital citizen?  What is fair use? How do I know if something is protected under copyright law? In this course I learned what it means to be a digital citizen and the ins and outs of copyright law.  We looked at multiple study cases involving one or more of the 9 digital elements that Ribble outlined in his book. This is crucial knowledge not only for modern day educators but also for their students – it is imperative to train our youth to be responsible and moral citizens as they navigate their new digital world.  Two topics that were of particular significance to me were health and wellness and also the effects (and permanence) of our digital footprint.

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Roger schank introduced us to the concept of using cognitive science to teach in a way that helps the students learn.  I researched and wrote an article which I would like to publish called “Teaching to learn” and had the opportunity to poll my students and find out which of the technological tools we use routinely actually help them the most with their learning.  Finally I created a video to introduce some of the best tech tools I have discovered in the foreign language classroom.

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Where does one even start when designing an online course?  Or even a blended course for that matter?  We read Tony Bates book Teaching in a digital age and examined how exactly to create on online course.  Using elements from Behaviorist theory, Constructivism, and cognitivism I created an fully functioning online course for a Unit of my French 3 class.   In this course I developed an understanding of CSLE and created my online course using Schoology while also following the principles we learned in UBD.  This was a huge undertaking.

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In this course I looked at what true Professional learning should be and the elements it must include in order to truly make a difference in the classroom.  I created a PD session which I hope to someday lead about using Stations in the classroom and I modeled the day long session after active learning environments I have been in and also after the information we read about.  Teaching the teachers is a phenomenal study which outlined how to help teachers shift and adopt new methods in the classroom. It’s all about the support! I also created a course on Google classrooms for when my PL goes live.

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And now that I have read more than I can process, experimented with the creation of so many varied projects, researched and collaborated with truly outstanding colleagues, I come to the reflection phase again.  This is such a crucial phase in learning – yet often overlooked in education. I love that COVA builds that in – as always, the COVA approach continues to exemplify the process I desire to follow for my own students. Confucius said that “Learning without reflection is a waste”.  This time of going back over my journey, my progress, my work has been both rewarding and inspiring, and it has given me the time to deepen my understanding and has rekindled some unanswered questions along the way.  Mostly it has reminded me how grateful I am to have begun this journey.  18 months ago, honest truth, I was asking my sister to submit my name for a translation job at her French pharmaceutical company – I was so disillusioned with my teaching job. And yet here I am 18 months later, feeling like I can actually make a difference and maybe even spread this idea – this crazy big hairy audacious innovation plan – and lead others to a better way of teaching.  I have been enriched by all I have learned, and have found my voice thanks to all of the encouragement and guidance along the way from Dr. Harapnuik and Dr. Thibodeaux, the founders of this outstanding program. 

The realization, as I reach the top of this mountain, that the journey has only really begun is also invigorating to me. It’s OK that I can now see more mountains to climb and little valleys and nooks that I may have missed on the way up. The trek continues, the summit is only a place to pause – not to build a home.  I will continue in the COVA way, to pilot and refine my innovation plan, to maintain a growth mindset, to use my energies to become more of an expert – I have found a field that offers lifelong learning as well as a place to experiment and don’t intend to stop now.