Seeking to increase educational equity and powerful use of technology through digital learning coaching, Digital Promise launched the Dynamic Learning Project (DLP) in 2017, with generous support from Google. After just one year, research suggests the DLP is changing school culture, as teachers are more collaborative and more open to trying new things in their classrooms.
“The DLP seems to have taken hold and has been embraced by everyone,” said Teresa Engler, technology coach at McGuffey Middle School in Pennsylvania. “I’ve seen the staff sharing ideas, working on projects collaboratively, showing interest in what others are doing, and teaching one another how to use new tech tools and devices. We’ve always worked well together, but there is a true camaraderie among us now.”
Learning something new involves risk—and the possibility of making mistakes. Feeling safe enough to try something new, despite the potential of it not working as well as hoped, is necessary for learning, so the DLP encourages teachers to take risks and try new things in their classrooms.
By the end of the pilot year, 87 percent of participating teachers reported that risk-taking is encouraged in their school. Principals report that the DLP pushed them to model risk-taking, experimentation, and continuous learning within their schools. Principal support of coaching is a critical component of the DLP, particularly when creating a culture that supports trying new ideas.
“One of the things we’ve communicated to staff…is that we want people to be risk-takers, and to fail forward, and we’ve reassured them that there’s not a ‘gotcha,’” said one DLP principal. “Please don’t give up if something’s challenging or doesn’t work the first time.”
Teachers appreciated the encouragement from their principals to take risks. “I think more than anything, [our principal] celebrates when people try new things in their classrooms,” a DLP teacher said. “So when she comes to observe…she sees what you’re doing and then includes it in newsletters that directly celebrate what people are doing in their classrooms. I think that makes you feel like, ‘Oh, then I want to try some new things.’ … It’s a really friendly growth environment.”
Amanda Plocinski, the DLP coach at Los Coches Creek Middle School in Southern California, was excited that even some of the most veteran teachers at her school were open to integrating technology into their classrooms. “Some of my proudest achievements (involved) the work I did with a handful of teachers that are very close to retirement,” she explained. “They were so eager to work with me that they were willing to take risks they most likely would have avoided without direct coaching support.”
At one low-income middle school in suburban Texas, the administration focused on “building trusting relationships with respect to taking risks,” so the teachers knew they wouldn’t be penalized if they tried something new and it initially failed. As a result, teachers became more open to taking risks, and a once “contentious [and] divided” staff now worked together and supported one another.
Moreover, the DLP teachers in the school promoted coaching to their colleagues by inviting them to visit their classrooms when they implemented technology and by suggesting that their non-coached colleagues speak to the coach about challenges they faced. Even teams that were initially reluctant to engage students in new ways eventually began to embrace the potential.
For example, after one DLP teacher had success using an escape room activity where students employed critical thinking and creativity to “break out,” the entire seventh grade team approached the coach to ask for help in creating an interdisciplinary grade-level activity following the same model. Once they successfully implemented it, the idea then spread and sixth grade teachers started to adopt it as well.
Increased collaboration and a willingness to be open to change are promising indicators that digital learning coaching is a game-changer for schools—and particularly for under-resourced, low-achieving schools. If we want students to be innovative risk-takers, teachers need to be inventive and adventurous, as well.
Said Laura Beckham, the DLP coach at Pelion Middle School in South Carolina: “I’m excited that with the tools and support provided through DLP, I am pushed to stretch myself and continue to grow as an educator.”