There are many unique aspects to the Digital Leading and Learning program, but one of the most significant is the underlying design of the courses, which is built on the COVA principles and strive to use that method throughout the entire program. Prior to Lamar I had never even heard of COVA, although I was very familiar with the individual concepts it promotes. Yet I had never seen them brought together in this streamlined manner nor had I experienced it in any type of secondary educational setting. A quick break down of the concept is in order before I share the impact it has had on my experience at Lamar as well as my experience as a teacher.

C stands for CHOICE

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As an educator, when I think of my students and what we do in class, I realize there is not a huge amount of choice for them. I typically plan the units and choose the activities we do, and they accomplish them. Allowing for choice in how they display their knowledge is a significant departure from the norm. Allowing for choice in what they desire to pursue and learn about is only something they can do when selecting their courses – not once they are in them. Why should the teacher do all of the choosing? Opening the door to this concept of choosing is the first step.

O invites OWNERSHIP

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This must follow the C since we rarely own something we did not first choose. We can only own something that is authentically ours, and although the concept of allowing for student choice and ownership in the classroom flows true from what we know about constructivist thought, it is a far cry from the reality we see displayed in schools today. Students lay the burden of learning on the teachers, blaming them for their lack of knowledge and often rightly so since the system has stripped them from any deep involvement in their own learning process, only allowing them to participate inasmuch as they can regurgitate and reproduce exactly what the teacher has envisioned.

V is the students VOICE

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For the first time now the students’ voice can be authentically heard, since he has chosen for himself and taken ownership of his work. Everyone has a voice, and as educators we ought to be teaching each student to get to know theirs and to use it. Having a voice is empowering and provides a sense of belonging – when we find our voice we learn to belong to ourselves, and then we realize we have so much to contribute to the greater whole to which we also belong. Brene Brown says “True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.” (Brown, p 40). I couldn’t agree more – and helping our youth to be themselves is the highest good any educational system can do.

A is for AUTHENTIC

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I couldn’t help but mention authenticity before as all of these values are interwoven and cannot really be seperated. Authenticity flows from freedom – when we are changing ourselves to fit a mold we cannot by definition be authentic. By allowing for choice, ownership and voice, the student is left with an authentic learning experience which in turn will feed more authentic experiences. Authentic assessments are a key component to making the learning meaningful as well, and I am on an exciting learning journey revamping the types of assessments I am giving my students. The cycle of truly becoming themselves and fully engaging in their own growth has begun – in a school setting!
Is this even possible? Most of us experienced a numbing of ourselves at the best or often a belittling or discounting of ourselves as a result of schooling. Can school be a liberating, powerful experience which brings us closer to knowing ourselves and results in authentic, significant learning? I can now say YES because I have experienced it. I was trusted to learn and grow in this program and because of that, I did.

Meaningful learning
COVA gives the learner the power to learn. I think that in the Digital Learning and Leading program, the COVA approach ensures that I walk away with knowledge that I own, with experiences that I created, and with a deeper understanding of the material presented. The whole process appeals to me for many reasons, the first being that it reflects my own philosophy on education. COVA allows the freedom to choose how I process the new information, and allows me to create something personal and meaningful with it. It has been proven that personal meaning has a deep correlation with how well we can learn something. Learning is automatically activated when the experience is meaningful to me – and allowing me to choose my own project is a sure way to bring meaning into the equation.

Innovation what?stamp-114438_1280

When first faced with the idea of creating my innovation project I was stumped. I didn’t know enough about what I didn’t know, nor did I expect to have to create something practical and tangible. I thought the requirements would likely include a 30 page paper and a literature review, but this innovation project and Big Hairy Goal was an unexpected concept I needed to wrap my brain around. But I knew immediately that I wanted it to be a genuine project which I could apply and use to change my classroom. I remember talking incessantly to my husband about everything that I was reading and all the research which I was suddenly so passionate about again. I was staying up late without feeling tired, reading and watching videos, getting inspired and excited.

Bringing it to life
Once my innovation project took shape I then wanted to implement it immediately – I was too excited to wait. In hindsight more planning would have been beneficial, but apparently that’s not my style. My vision was to bring about change and use the growth mindset to help engage my students through blended learning, but this was a big hairy goal and as I progressed through the course I learned how to break it down and plan for every aspect using UBD, 3 column planning, action research… but in the beginning, before all of my other helpful courses, I reached out to a Montessori Language teacher in Ohio I found online and began to model my revolution after what she does. I decided to try it with one level of students to see what results it might yield. I rearranged the classroom. I explained the process and ownership to the students. I created lists for them

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to work from so that they could have freedom to work at their own pace. They received leadership self-evaluation forms each week. I allowed for movement in the class, and I took that time to circulate and help them individually. I played focus music in the background. I was unchained from the front of the class and after a month or two it started to hum and I was ecstatic and loving teaching again! COVA was the reason I was able to experiment and transform my students learning environment.

Learning that builds my project
Of course I was exhausted as the lack of planning began to manifest itself, but as I went further through the program I was able – thanks to the COVA design – to spend most of my energies researching blended learning in the language classroom and continued to add to my knowledge.
I discovered networks of teachers online that were doing similar things. I found books that helped give guidance. I dug into the literature and read studies, and was able to create an action research to measure the effectiveness of one of the apps I was using with my students.
Whatever the task, COVA allows me to take it and apply it to the most personal, meaningful project I have – and that was my innovation plan. I even created PD plans around how to explain Stations to my colleagues. Everything I was learning in DLL was directly influencing what I was doing in the classroom – and ultimately benefiting my students.

Breathing in new life
So the initial freedom of having a blank slate can feel overwhelming in the beginning, like going from being tied to a chair to free falling from a plane. However once I understood that I didn’t have to reproduce or regurgitate someone else’s vision but could pursue and create my own, I was all in. During the first course I was already sold, simply because I recognized so many of the philosophies I believed in. When I then began creating my ePortfolio I felt I had been given a canvas on which to paint myself, and I was able to find my voice when it comes to teaching in a way that I believe in. After 7 long and difficult years in the field, I was reinvigorated and felt hopeful again.

Yielding meaningful results
All throughout the past 18 months, I deeply appreciated a program that didn’t waste my

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time by simply requiring me to go through the motions, but that had enough faith in me to equip me, fan the spark, and then stand back so that I could take it in the direction that called to me. My voice was able to be heard. I felt – and feel – proud of my work. The result of the DLL program is a blended learning foreign language program at a PA high school. This is nothing that they could have foreseen or planned for or required. The ability to personalize our projects and direct our learning allows for the reach of this program to spread like wildfire and influence people much farther than they could have done had they approached it in the traditional manner. This is what I need to be willing to allow in my classes: outcomes I could not have planned or predicted because they are student driven and created. I need to be willing to release control and trust the student to have a hand in directing their own learning. This is one of the greatest challenges in CSLE – Creating a Significant Learning Environment. Especially in a high school environment where the maturity and the motivation of the students is often less than ideal. Achieving the balance of guidance and freedom can prove to be a tricky tightrope to walk.

Offering COVA to my students
COVA is not an easy method to offer students. I recognize this as I myself try to implement it in my own classroom. Initially I began by simply moving away from the teacher centered classroom and beginning to allow for choice with their pacing. I wasn’t always sure what to do next. However having seen it in action has helped tremendously. Not only have I benefited from the plethora of wisdom, guidance and material I have gleaned as I have travelled through the DLL program, but seeing how my professors designed and ran the courses was a fantastic example and provided priceless modeling for me. Combining both COVA with CLSE delivers the best possible environment for active learning to take place. As a teacher I am providing the needed elements to allow students to make the meaningful connections which will feed authentic learning (Cummings, Thibodeaux, Harapnuik, 2017). Being a part of the DLL program meant having the ability to experience this method first hand. It proves that CSLE is possible – and what another man can do, so can I.

Trusting students to learn
DLL promotes autonomy in learning by providing real tools, real choice and real trust. CSLE challenges the implicit belief that the student cannot be trusted with their own learning (Rogers, 1969). Carl Rogers defined significant experiential learning as encompassing 5 key elements:

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Personal Involvement: “The whole person is both his feeling and cognitive aspects [is involved] in the learning event.”
Self-initiated: “Even when the impetus or stimulus comes from the outside, the sense of discovery, of reaching out, of grasping and comprehending, comes from within.”
Pervasive: Significant learning makes a difference in the “behavior, the attitudes, perhaps even the personality of the learner.” True learning is always an awakening to something new and we should expect to see a change.
Evaluated by the learner: The learner determines “whether it is meeting his ned, whether it leads toward what he wants to know, whether it illuminates the dark area of ignorance he is experiencing.”
Essence is meaning: “When such learning takes place, the element of meaning to the learner is built into the whole experience.” (Rogers, p 5)
This concept, which was defined decades ago, still appears to be a novel concept in today’s environment. Yet it has been echoed throughout the years even before Vygotsky, Piaget or Maria Montessori. I am proud to have found my voice so that I can add it to the calls of those who advocate for the learner and who work to put education back into their hands so that they can make something meaningful from it. COVA and CLSE carry these elements at their core. Embracing this method requires a continued shift in thought for myself and the continued courage to release more and more control as I allow it to become the heartbeat of my class through the use of blended, active learning and trust in the student himself.

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Sources
Brown, B. (2015). Braving the Wilderness: the quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone. New York, NY: Random House
Cummings, C D., Thibodeaux, T. N., & Harapnuik, D. K. (2017). Using the COVA learning approach to create active and significant learning environments. In Keengwe, J. S. (Eds.). Handbook of research on digital content, mobile learning, and technology integration models in teacher education. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
Rogers, C. R. (1969). Freedom to learn: A view of what education might become. Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill.