Prior to beginning my journey in the DLL program, I remember reading through the program map and course descriptions with anticipation. However, one particular course description stood out above all others: 5305- Authentic Innovation Plan. As I read through the course objective, I can remember feeling a very distinct sense of panic when reading the words “proactively use those changes as catalysts to enhance their institution or district’s learning environments” (Harapnuik, 2018). That was the very moment I realized that I would not simply be learning about other innovators, but rather working towards becoming one myself.
While I was comfortable with trying new things within the four walls of my classroom, creating plan for a school/district-wide innovation seemed overwhelming and intimidating. I can remember sitting through the first weeks of that course thinking, “What have I gotten myself into?” I read through countless examples of former student innovations, and I still could not visualize my plan of action. My biggest hang-up was that I didn’t want to do something that someone else had already done. One little taste of living life outside the box left me refusing to follow the same path as those that came before me, and I was not alone. I spent many nights speaking to classmates who felt as though they couldn’t quite narrow down their possibilities into a plan that was truly authentic. Thankfully, Dr. T took the time to listen to my ideas and mold them into something that would well for me: A new “Innovation Station” at National Park Elementary School. Through the Innovation Station, learners would experience Blended Learning through the Station-Rotation Model. They would also have the opportunity to experience COVA through the creation of a brand new makerspace.
Throughout 5305 and my other courses, I had the opportunity to bring my plan to life. I wrote a literature review to support the need for my innovation, and created a call to action video that could be used to present my plan to my colleagues. I also developed a comprehensive plan for implementing my innovation. While I was confident in my direction and planning, our Action Research course provided me with an opportunity to explore gaps in my original thinking and ensure that my school would be able to effectively implement the innovation. My research centered around the question “To what extent does Professional Development on Blended Learning increase the use of Blended Learning in the Elementary Math classroom?” I created an Action Research Outline and completed an additional Literature Review. The results of my research allowed me to see a need for more intensive Professional Learning opportunities, and I adjusted my original Implementation Plan to include more of these opportunities. With the road to innovation stretched out before me, I was ready to get started.
The 2018-2019 school year saw the “Innovation Station” come to life at National Park School. While I had originally wanted to build the makerspace in a central location within the school, space restrictions resulted in the makerspace becoming part of my STEAM Studio. However, I found this to be amazing, as it allowed the makerspace to become an organic part of learning. As I was coteaching one period each week, teachers had the opportunity to grow comfortable with using the makerspace, and they often requested to come in when my room was empty to let the students create!
While the makerspace was definitely successful, I feel as though the Blended Learning piece of my innovation surpassed my wildest dreams. My learners truly loved rotating through the stations, and they often took the concepts they were learning and applied them to their makerspace creations. I loved the small group and individual time I was able to spend with learners who needed additional support, and many teachers came in to see how I was using blended learning in my classroom. This led to several Professional Learning offerings on Blended Learning, and I co-taught in several Math classrooms to help teachers ease into the process.
This year has been such an amazing learning curve. While my Innovation Plan didn’t go as expected, those little “failures” were so much fun! I loved the freedom in trying to fix things I hadn’t anticipated and make things work however I could. I’m so amazed by the buy-in from my school, and it definitely made me more confident in taking on leadership roles. I learned that the old saying “actions speak louder than words” is even more true in adults. Several individuals who “supported” my innovations verbally seemed to resist the physical changes they would to make. However, after seeing others having success, they immediately jumped in and gave it a chance.
Looking forward, I have several goals for the coming school year and my second go-round with my Innovation Plan. First, I am finally going to have the opportunity to create a centrally-located makerspace in my school. I’m looking forward to teachers learning to use the space independently, and I’m excited to see how much more the community will also utilize the space. While many teachers accepted Blended Learning in Math last year, this year they will be striving to incorporate the Station-Rotation model into ELA classes. While I still intend to use Blended Learning in the STEAM Studio, I am also looking to curate some online classes uses Schoology. I hope to create a few after-school course options for students, as well as some mini-courses using Design Thinking and Digital Citizenship for my classroom. Additionally, I plan to work towards revolutionizing Professional Learning in my district and creating more meaningful, personalized experiences.
Of all the lessons I’ve learned from this experience, the biggest one has been faith in myself. While I may look cool, calm, and collected on the surface, the inner battle rages on. I still hold on to the idea of perfectionism in some form, but my experiences in DLL and this Innovation Project have shown me that the only thing really “perfect” is failure. It humbles, grounds, and motivates a person. It increases one’s curiosity and pushes them to go further and dream bigger. Going through this process has really allowed me to feel comfortable in defining the overarching goal of my big ideas and working backward to plan for success. No matter how big the dream, it really is possible with the support of the right people and a strong understanding of the “why”. I’m so thankful for this experience, and I know that I will carry the lessons with me as I seek to tackle future innovations.