M.Ed. CAPSTONE: My Journey as a Lead Learner

“Students need both content knowledge and skills to apply and transform their knowledge for useful and creative purposes and to keep learning as content and circumstances change”.
(Bellanca & Brandt, 2010, forward, xxiii)

“Thus, TPK requires a forward-looking, creative, and open-minded seeking of technology use, not for its own sake but for the sake of advancing student learning and understanding”.

(Koehler & Mishra, 2009, p.66)

"...the development of school leaders is a critical component in system building if schools are to be places in which teachers learn, teaching and learning are powerfully planned and delivered, students achieve and leadership is widely distributed".

(Bush and Jackson, 2002, p. 418)

"Transformational leaders who collectively develop and share a clear vision may boost followers' innovativeness by serving as role models in the development and implementation of innovations, clarifying challenges for the school's future and the importance of developing new knowledge and practice, pointing out opportunities for school improvement through innovation, and motivating team members by envisioning an attractive future for the school." 

(Moolenear et al., 2010, p. 629)         

Engage, discuss, learn, connect, share, facilitate, discover, question. 
These are all verbs that come to mind when I think about my experiences and iterations as a lead learner. I have carefully selected this term as it encompasses my efforts to gain knowledge and insight through research and practice, as well as connecting with other educators and sharing these insights. In Leadership in Education (EU 514) I gained a more complete understanding of what it is to be a leader. Visioning, setting directions, aligning, preparing for change are all roles of a leader, formal or informal. I see myself as an informal leader in various contexts including school, school board, and faculty of education. As a lead learner I show a willingness to “puddle jump”, to try new things, test out the waters, and motivate and enable others to puddle jump alongside me. Lead learners understand that growth and change is a constant. One inquiry, one ‘puddle’ often leads to another. Hence lead learning is iterative in nature. It is a process of discovery, trial, question, and connection.

My journey as a lead learner began as a desire to learn more about innovation in the classroom. I noticed a significant change in students’ mindsets and motivations when they used computers to practice skills and engage in research. Technology enhanced learning and so I was determined to employ whatever tools I had at my disposal. As a pilot school for BrightLink projectors I joined a board committee to develop interactive resources to share with other educators. I started weekly “Lunch n’ Learns” to develop capacity at my own school. I networked with other educators and industry personnel to expand my own repertoire for using devices in the classroom. Since this first experience over 5 years ago I have remained on WCDSB technology integration working groups. What began as curiosity and interest for my own sake has led to my beginnings as a lead learner in the area of 21st century teaching and learning. Technology is always evolving. It is important that our teaching evolves with it so that these tools enhance our practice. One of my goals as a lead learner is to share this principle with other educators. It is not about the tool, it is about the learning that is enabled because of technology.

Last year I was selected to be a part of team to develop the WCDSB Blueprint in the area of the 21st Century Teaching and Learning Environment. Our focusing questions included: “How can our school and classroom learning environments be planned and developed to address our 21st Century student outcomes?” and “What are the conditions required for our staff to be successful in addressing our 21st Century student outcomes?” My experiences and learning from Integrating Technology, Pedagogy, and Content (EU 530), definitely helped prepare me for this undertaking. Because of my new learning and theoretical understanding, I contributed meaningfully to this working group.

Educators must be knowledgeable about the content they teach, possess strong pedagogical beliefs that guide their teaching, and understand the capabilities of ever-evolving technologies. Using theoretical frameworks (P21, TPACK, SAMR, TIM) we created a template that outlines 21st century skills, how they link to elements in the Ontario achievement charts and learning skills, and roles of the various stakeholders involved. Upon reflection, another question emerged- “What inhibits teachers and students from using technology for the creation of new tasks as outlined in the “redefinition” phase of the SAMR model?” To address this question I developed a self-identification tool for teachers. How could educators engage in meaningful professional development if their starting point was not validated and next steps clearly defined? This self-identification matrix is currently being used as part of the WCDSB GAFE training model.

The self-identification tool is an important artifact in my journey as a lead learner not only because it validates my commitment to advancing knowledge in the area of education (Program Goal 4), but also because it is ever-evolving. I am currently developing digital examples of learning tasks at each stage of the matrix to highlight how digital tools are used to foster creativity, innovation, and critical thinking. Educators from various divisions (JK-12) are doing the same in hopes that we can paint a picture of what 21st century teaching and learning looks like within our board. Context is critical, so to build capacity, it is essential that we provide concrete examples using the tools and technologies available. It is my hope that this professional development tool will encourage others to ‘puddle jump’ alongside me. I believe others can feel the joy of making a splash, and reap the benefits of testing new waters. This is part of my role as a lead learner, to identify when to jump out in front, to model innovation and risk-taking, and also when to step back, ‘hold hands’ and provide encouragement and support to inspire more puddle jumpers.


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