After a year of 100 percent remote learning, an affirmation I practice with my teachers is: “We are still here in this work for our students and community.” Some days it feels like we’re trudging through, but we take time to celebrate the bright spots and hold space for each other. In my role as Verizon Innovative Learning Schools (VILS) coach at Fischer Middle School in San Jose, and a member of the Digital Promise Powerful Learning Community (PLC) for Coaches, reflection, sustainability, and connection have been essential for me this year.
If I were to do an inventory of my most frequently used words as a coach this year, “curate” would be up there at the top of the list. Curation was one of the first topics we discussed as VILS coaches last fall. Based on my Twitter and Instagram feeds in August, I wasn’t the only educator who felt the urge to sign up for every newsletter, webinar, or online course on all things distance learning.
While the drive to push my learning was well-intentioned, it led to serious PD FOMO. If I didn’t attend every webinar, buy all the books, or read that tweet everyone was sharing, then I was falling behind. Around the end of October I realized if I’m trying to consume information at a rate and amount beyond what I can process, it’s not doing any good for me, my teachers, or the students. My learning must be sustainable and connected to the deeper purpose of my work.
Curating my own learning plan as a coach requires me to be clear about my intentions and align them with my coaching goals. This connects my learning to actions that impact teacher and student opportunities. The OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) I have worked on each quarter with the VILS professional learning team have provided the structure that keeps me focused and engages me in ongoing reflection. In my work with teachers, curating resources keeps enough mental bandwidth free for collaboration. Before I send another email to teachers, I ask myself: “Is this the best way to share this information? Is this the best time?” After a couple of minutes of reflection, I often realize I can actually just include the information in my newsletter or post it in our shared Padlet.
The work of reimagining learning and digital equity is what Digital Promise and Verizon Innovative Learning Schools have been engaged in across the country for years. As part of VILS Cohort 4, our focus for the past two years has been on sustainability of the initiative’s outcomes, and executing 100 percent remote learning for an entire year will definitely provide you with feedback on how sustainable your systems are. Working with the VILS professional learning team has helped me evaluate systems at my site and identify opportunities for enhanced collaboration and teacher leadership. The structures and practices my school built over our first three years in the VILS program set the foundation that has allowed us to be responsive to the uncertainties of this year, while still finding ways to provide students the opportunities to develop their agency, creativity, and voice as digital leaders.
As a member and community manager of the Digital Promise PLC for Coaches, I have been able to connect with educators across the nation and around the world in a dynamic online learning space. I am facilitating a cohort within the PLC focused on the Google Certified Coach curriculum. Our small but mighty cohort holds so much potential, and I am excited to see where the upcoming sessions take us through deep inquiry, discussion, and reflection. Community-wide events have taken a creative approach to online learning experiences, including the PLC launch party led by a magician with tips on engaging learners and a workshop on storytelling, team building, and presenting using improv thinking. The PLC is an incredible example of what it means to center learner voice, choice, and joy.
I have navigated this year grounded in my why and strengthened by the partnerships with my fellow VILS coaches, new PLC colleagues, and the teachers at my site. Nothing about this year has been easy, but connecting to a shared purpose opens up the space for the work to continue for our students and communities.