Learning and Growing through COVA
When deciding to pursue my Masters degree through the Digital Learning and Leading (DLL) program, I truly had no idea what I was getting into. While I had discussed the program with a DLL graduate, I assumed that my experience would be somewhat similar to my undergraduate program: weekly assignments, checklists of to-do items, and assessments. However, in my very first week of 5302 (Growth Mindset) with Dr. Haynes, I quickly realized that the best way for me to be successful was to throw my expectations out the window and fully immerse myself in what was shaping up to be both a daunting challenge and new adventure in both learning and teaching. Throughout the first class, I remember learning about the meaning of COVA: Choice, Voice, Ownership, and Authentic Learning Experiences. While it sounded great in theory, I remember thinking, “Do I do this in my own classroom? What does it look like in action?” I must have watched Dr. Harapnuik’s COVA video and read his COVA page ten times. The next day, I went into my classroom and couldn’t look at my lesson plans the same way. I was constantly thinking, “Where is the COVA in this plan?”
During our first major assignment, designing my ePortfolio, I realized that I had never experienced learning in such an open-ended way. It was completely terrifying, but exciting, too. I vividly remember talking with my classmates about our fears of not completing the assignment “correctly”. It took awhile for us to realize that this program was going to give us complete ownership of our work and that our professors were going to offer advice, but not provide step-by-step instructions for how to complete assignments. I found this to be truly motivating, as it allowed me the opportunity to take risks. As a perfectionist, this was the most uncomfortable feeling, but I quickly learned to love it. By the time we were creating our Learning Manifestos, I was excited to see where the creative process would lead me! It felt so liberating to channel my creative energy into sharing my understandings in a way that not only effectively communicated my ideas, but also showcased my personality. Rather than dreading the feedback that I might receive, I was looking forward to making changes. This was a completely new experience for me.
When it came time for me to shift my focus from my professor and my classmates to my own organization, I felt confident. I knew that no one in my building was approaching learning in this way, and I couldn’t wait to teach others about COVA. I remember meeting with my Principal after my first few classes to discuss some ideas I had for changes in my room. Thankfully, she was fully supportive of my thoughts and the way in which I hoped to implement COVA in the classroom. My only trepidation came when I thought about how to share the knowledge with my coworkers. I didn’t want to sound as though I was coming from a “know-it-all” place. So, I started small. I planned some lessons that incorporated COVA and shared it with my grade-level team. From there, my coworkers saw and heard what we were doing with our students, and they came to ask about it. While not everyone jumped on board, I would say that the overall response was extremely positive. It was this support from my peers that allowed me to really feel comfortable in creating and proposing my Innovation Plan. Little did I know how much COVA and the concept of CSLE would be impacting my career within the year!
Right before the start of this final course, I spent some time going through and reorganizing my ePortfolio. I decided to comb through my old blog posts to truly reflect on the journey. One of my earlier blog posts summarized my learning philosophy. As I read through my philosophy, I was struck by a question that I posed: “What are we doing to help our students develop into their most authentic self?” While I may have answered that question honestly at the beginning my journey through the DLL program, the answer means so much more to me now. Schools have one main goal, and that goal is to increase student achievement by helping learners build skills that will help them to be successful in future careers. However, as many of the careers that these students may elect to pursue are not fully developed or created yet, it is up to educators to encourage students to develop entrepreneurial skills and be capable of using emerging technology not only as a consumer, but also as a creator. In my classroom, learners work towards mastering a variety of skills. However, I truly believe that the road to mastering skills looks different for each student. If I am to truly help all my learners to develop into their most authentic self, my role needs to stay that of a coach. The learners in my classroom must always be in the driver’s seat of their education; I am simply the co-pilot on this great learning journey.
COVA and CSLE in Action
In the true spirit of CSLE, I found myself diving head-first into unknown waters when asked by my principal to create a P-6 STEAM program last year. Rather than simply expose my own classroom to COVA and CSLE, I was now going to have the opportunity to impact all the learners in my school. This was an opportunity for me to experience COVA in perhaps the most authentic way possible. While it felt very scary and overwhelming at times, it was also a once in a life-time opportunity that I couldn’t wait to begin.
One particular chance I had the ability to fully integrate COVA into my classroom was through the creation of a Fourth Grade STEAM unit centered around the book The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neal. As part of my Innovation Plan centered around utilizing blended learning, I was able to create a digital course using Schoology. The course was split into five, week-long modules. This was my first time utilizing online learning, and I was very curious to see how it could support blended learning.
After completing the build of my course, I piloted it with a class of 20 Fourth Graders. I showed them how to sign in, took a deep breath, and handed over the reigns. For the next five weeks, students worked their way through the modules at their own pace. They formed partnerships and teams, conducted research, and participated in real-world problem solving with a variety of our stakeholders. I met with students daily using an online scheduler, and I can honestly say that it was one of the best experiences I have had in my classroom. Not only were the students passionate and engaged, but they had complete control. I remember walking around my classroom, stunned, as I listened to them discuss their project ideas. I spent several lunch periods and after-school work sessions with students who simply wanted more time to work on their course. I received messages from parents who asked about the online course and wanted to know if there were other courses that their children could take. As a culminating project, my students created a playground proposal that could be presented to the Board of Education. This proposal included a Cost and Safety Analysis, a 3D print of a model, and a video that provided their pitch. I can vividly remember sitting in the Board of Education meeting, watching my students wait excitedly to present their ideas, while wondering how I was going to make this happen in all of my classes.
Realistically, the process of change takes time and patience. Not every educator or administrator in my building is going to want to jump on board with COVA or CSLE. However, as Sinek (2011) states, “People don’t buy what you do; They buy why you do it. There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.” I plan to present “My Why” to my colleagues, and I hope that the experiences and skills my learners grow will inspire others to make a change. I play to support others in finding simple ways to incorporate these concepts into their daily lessons. I view COVA and CSLE as the kindling to a campfire; they are the little pieces that help to start a successful and long-burning fire. They are the experiences that truly spark a passion for learning in our students.
Although there are (and will be) many hiccups along the way, each hiccup presents an authentic learning experience for myself and for my learners. I think that is what COVA and CSLE is truly about- learning in the moment. It is about collaborating with others in authentic ways and not being afraid to take risks. It is about pushing the boundaries of what we think we need to do as teachers and what actually needs to be done to promote true learning within the walls of our classrooms. These concepts have transformed my understanding of teaching and learning in a way that have pushed my far outside my box, and I don’t even want to go back in.