Beginning my journey in the Digital Learning and Leading (DLL) program at Lamar University was not an easy decision and definitely kept me up at night more than once. Although, when I started my first course and was introduced to the growth mindset (#1 below); everything changed. I began to realize that many of my fears were my fixed mindset trying to peek out from behind the corner, but I soon learned how to deal with those struggles the right way. The next idea that got my mind spinning in circles was when I was introduced to the COVA (#4 below) approach. This idea of providing choice to my students was not new, but connecting it with providing ownership and voice for those students through authentic learning opportunities truly hit me like a ton of bricks (Harapnuik, Thibodeaux, Cummings 2018). After nine years of teaching, in two states and four different districts, I may finally have understood what was needed for my learners to truly engage and learn for their future and not for the test.
When I was asked to create my own learning manifesto (#2 below) about what I believed learning should look like; I started to understand what the COVA approach really meant. I have always enjoyed being creative when given the freedom to do so, but normally in my classroom that did not happen very often. But my jaw dropped when we were turned loose with just some basic instructions during our first class in the DLL program. I know that I was led by fear during parts of my first course, but that fear finally subsided and was replaced by just a slight feeling of the unknown as I wondered what could be created or what may come of the next assignment or course. This feeling, while hard to deal with at first, became easier to understand and adjust to as I became more familiar and comfortable with the COVA approach and the DLL program. This was just the beginning though; as there would be many more instances of aha moments over the next eighteen months and twelve courses.
One of my many uncomfortable feelings at the beginning came from the idea that I was no longer going to write a paper to a professor or about a topic, but to explore and dive into what was important to me; my students and classroom. As soon as I got over that, I began to enjoy and look forward to the next part of the course and program. Changing how you think is sometimes quite difficult, but trying to convince others of change or even a whole school or district was a little overwhelming. Lucky for me, I have always loved the idea of brainstorming about the future of my classroom or what I want it to look like. I began reflecting and sharing my thoughts as a part of my courses and it was with these reflections that “The Mischnick Mindset” was born. I have always had very strong feelings and opinions about what education should and could look like. “The Mischnick Mindset” began to grow into more than just my mindset as I began molding my innovation plan (#3 above).
I struggled with choosing a topic for my innovation plan at first, but when I learned more about blended learning; it was now very clear what I needed to do. My understanding of blended learning started to grow into a very clear and directed plan for my classroom. I knew that my innovation plan would allow me to incorporate the COVA approach by creating significant learning environments (CSLE) on a daily basis for my students (Harapnuik, Thibodeaux, Cummings 2018). The excitement about my innovation plan grew as I began to make huge strides by getting approval from my principal, and then the Associate Superintendent as well. I knew that it was time to start implementing pieces of my plan so I could get feedback from students in order to reflect and improve before the final product (#5 above) . I continued to check off parts of my tentative timeline and then was stopped in my tracks.
Before I could even react, I was having to plan a major detour for my innovation plan as I would be no longer be in the classroom, but instead becoming an Innovation Leader (aka Instructional Technologist) starting right after the school year ended. This change in course forced a modification in my innovation plan that I had never prepared for, but being uncomfortable in my learning and growing had become second nature for me during the DLL program. This adjustment in mindset proved to be a large speed bump, but the COVA approach would not be denied. It would now be provided for teachers instead of students. My learners would still be given choice in their direction, ownership in the learning that would benefit their classroom, voice to express what they want for their students and an authentic learning opportunity to grow as an educator (Harapnuik, Thibodeaux, Cummings 2018).
Although, it may seem like incorporating the COVA approach will be smooth, that is farthest from the truth. My district, with all of its great attributes and forward-thinking leaders, still is bound by testing from the state of Texas and this tends to get in the way of the vision of what the leaders of the district truly want for the students. Actually incorporating the COVA approach into the blended professional learning model that my innovation plan has morphed into is still a tall task. Even with all of these subtle obstacles, I will continue to promote choice, ownership, voice and authentic learning opportunities for the teachers and staff of my district with the hope that CSLE will trickle down into the classrooms for all students to benefit from (Harapnuik, Thibodeaux, Cummings 2018).
Harapnuik, D., Thibodeaux, T., & Cummings, C. (2018). Choice, Ownership, and Voice through Authentic Learning. Retrieved from https://gallery.mailchimp.com/1bdbac4d4fbdff334a642eb11/files/8b18ae2a-8696-4d58-9b80-192f4cc6624c/COVA_eBook_Jan_2018.02.pdf