School Year Reflections

Like sand through an hourglass, so are the days of an educator...

2020-2021 - Year of DO and APPLY 

This school year began like none other in all my now 28 years of teaching. When the Back-to-
School merchandise started to hit the stores (the ones left open due to COVID-19 business closures),

when the calendar flipped to September, and when the 1st school bell rang of the 2020-21 school year, the hallways at my school in my school district were SILENT. My classroom was empty and all my students' faces were on a school-issued laptop screen and/or new teacher docking station monitor. After a racially charged emotional and political Summer of 2020 that highlighted inequalities, this new school year placed EVERYONE in the seat of LEARNER equally-- teachers, administrators, parents/caregivers/guardians, and families as we navigated the REMOTE learning environment. EVERYBODY is working OVERTIME to meet the needs of students and their families given the virtual/remote teaching and learning arrangement. I'm actually writing this reflection after only 1 month into the school year...because this start of school has been a lot of work! While I personally absolutely LOVE the remote learning environment for its ability to give more pointed attention to students individually and in small groupswith a few keystrokes; for the option to work from home or onsite at school; for the ability to gather data to inform teaching, learning, and administrative tasks like attendance; for the ability to schedule a meeting with critical stakeholders by sending a video conferencing link; and for having the opportunity to actually do and apply standards of quality online teaching in terms of social-emotional learning, instructional design, online engagement, and online learning community building--with my students and colleagues. [I reference this point being quoted in the Sterling Heights Sentry News/ Sept. 23, 2020/Vol.31. No.21] 

I will not lie. I has been exhausting! I'm struggling with time management... Did I say I'm crazy exhausted? Yet, I can absolutely appreciate a few things I have learned in all of this...
1) students miss socialization beyond their fancy mobile phones and video games
2) family members need to separate from one another to escape responsibilities of homelife & build appreciation for one another
3) teachers are more empathic of struggling learners as we have experienced "the struggle" firsthand AGAIN ourselves this year
4) online learning forces us all to demonstrate and apply deliberate communication skills in terms of speaking/listening to basic writing to dynamic use of images, video, and gifs.
5) students are missing some critical hands-on skill development right now. Of course, I believe VR & AR could assist in this area.

It's only October as I write this... Phase II is about to commence with plans to RETURN to F2F instruction plus the virtual school component in place soon... THIS SHOULD BE INTERESTING... 

We are on semi-quarantine to be safe after many folks left Michigan for Spring Break. I deem it "semi-quarantine" because it is SAT/PSAT testing week. The tests must go, only 10th & 11th-grade students will return to school face-to-face 2 of the 5 days for testing. I decided to take the opportunity to engage my students in a virtual reality experience. We used FrameVR-- an immersive meeting and presentation tool that works on desktop, mobile, and most VR headsets. No downloads. No installs. We accessed it right from our web browsers. I had my all class just do some exploratory learning. I plan to have them help me brainstorm ways to use the space (and other settings) for learning our required curriculum. I'm looking forward to grouping them to design a space around a curriculum theme as a performance-based assessment of their learning.

The VR experience above had two required stations. Each station sought to help me gain some insights into their emotional state upon returning to school after a wonderful break from school. Michigan's weather was superb during our week off. #blessing The following QR code took students to a 1-question survey item powered by a unique machine learning algorithm that detects user behavior patterns and emotions whatever the question asked! My new friend Victoria Gerukh CEO of uTrigg designed this powerful tool. uTrigg empowers me by putting a "mood ring" on any question I ask my students. If this data is trustworthy, I can proceed with in-the-moment insight into how to connect with my students emotionally and academically. Game-changing for infusing social-emotional learning insights into any lesson or interaction, right!?
Immersive technology has captivated my psyche over the break. I'm entirely invested in leveraging VR for its research-based boost to learning, retention, and transfer of learning.

2019-2020 - Year of Reactive Online Teaching c/o COVID-19

Well... what can I say about the close of School Year 2019-2020...WOW!
I hold a graduate online teaching certificate that I have always wanted to use in my present place of employment AND do so working from home. Welp! THAT HAPPENED all right... but hardly under circumstances that I had EVER imagined.

I was so excited about transitioning to the online environment in the beginning; after all my doctoral research interest is squarely about designing dynamic collaboration in online learning environments (See A DESIGN-BASED RESEARCH STUDY EXAMINING THE IMPACT OF COLLABORATION TECHNOLOGY TOOLS IN MEDIATING COLLABORATION). Of course, the major finding of my research was that online learning is MOST effective when deliberately designed within the context of the established online class culture and social context of the activity system of transformative teaching and learning systems. What we experienced during Quarter 3 was nothing short of absolutely reactive to what we all came to realize was a WORLDWIDE COVID-19 PANDEMIC! Given THIS SET OF CIRCUMSTANCES, I'd say that educators, parents, school administration, and truly the community at large did the best we could. It was a CRAZY TIME that exposed digital access inequities in terms of internet connectivity and electronic hardware. It exposed the digital skill gaps of teachers, students, parents, and business owners. It rocked the social-emotional state of those in a professional position to serve the needs as their expertise. Personally, the experience gave me absolute clarity that my passion is to empower those with resistance to technology integration so that they can begin producing transformative teaching and learning experiences for their learners as educators or simply leverage technology with agility for daily life purposes of work or play come what may in terms of ever-changing technological advances. AGAIN, what must be underscored was the unprecedented circumstances under which we ALL had to shift into at the moment. By the end, I must admit... I WAS OVER IT! 

I don't know about you but... I have had a GREATER 1-to-1 touch with my students being online than F2F. I'm NOT saying one way is superior to the other... I AM SAYING that the tech has enabled multiple means of representation, action & expression. It's been exhausting...but empowering. (My June 3rd Facebook post)

On the bright side, all technology is being considered for its pros & cons, its best practices, and its limitations. My greatest concern however is that the reactive online learning experience we all had to shift to-- as a first academic experience for most-- was largely perceived as negatively in terms of its utility for deep immersive learning. I can assure you that it is my goal to continue learning and involving myself in what's NEXT in elearning (AR,VR, machine learning or AI, and more) for more immersive learning and transferable skill development. #GOALS

One thing is for sure... the Governor’s Executive Order, which required the school building closure for this school year due to the COVID-19 outbreak has accelerated or dare I say FORCED businesses and schools to rethink distance learning and confront head-on the ramifications of other big concerns with technology use: privacy, equity, accessibility, professional development, curriculum design, Universal Design for Learning principles, etc. 

I will be an agent of change in public education through direct support to my colleagues & other educators everywhere. STAY TUNED...

TO THE CLASS OF 2020... I celebrate you... It has definitely been something entirely unexpected on sooooooooooooo many levels... One for the history books to be sure... the personal diary, SnapChat &  IG stories, Twitter and Facebook feeds.  Nevertheless, CONGRATULATIONS, YOU MADE IT!!

2018-19 Year of a More Relational ME

"I want you to be my Black Momma, Mrs. Dr. Waddell..."  I heard this more than a few times this school year. What changed? Had my students changed? The school system? Nope. Largely, it was me; I had changed.
I made a conscious decision at the beginning of the school year that I was just going to essentially find my pace of grace this year. Meaning I decided that with all the unexplained crAzY in the world today that I would purpose to be the change I wanted to see in terms of social-emotional development learning modeling. Social-emotional skills support student achievement. Technology is ever-changing. Social norms are shifting. Change and general disruption bounds today in every aspect of our lives. This change can be distressing or exciting depending on one's mindset.
Even as a middle-aged adult, I had noticed my own stress levels rising due to what seemed like a never-ending quest to just RELAX and not take things so seriously. Further, in the past 3-5 years, I took notice that my students had become increasingly anxious, stressed and fearful as manifested by requests and almost the NEED for levels of student support that bordered on modifications to the general education curriculum over accommodations in a way that made even me uncomfortable to a certain degree. I wondered why students with mild to moderate learning disabilities required such support that tended to diminish returns on learning. It disturbed me. By definition, accommodations change HOW a student learns course content. A modification changes WHAT a student is taught or expected to learn. I'm the kind of educator who believes that learning is a holistic experience that goes beyond the mere learning of facts & figures. Learning for the 21st century should develop transferable skills that build character required to critically think and ideate innovative solutions to sticky global problems. Instead, it seemed that some accommodations modified the social-emotional learning outcomes that were to result in a more conscientious, emotionally stable, open, and altruistic student. Skills I believe are critical as a foundation for all the academic strengths a learner may possess that could determine his/her future relationships, interactions, and employment.

Coping skills are at a deficit these days in the common citizen. Understanding that I could truly only change my own behavior over that of others I decided that I would be more purpose-driven in my interpersonal engagement with my students. I would be sure to model peace, self-control, organization, openness, and interest in the personal lives of my students. THE RESULT. 
I experienced hopeful flashes of socially responsible behavior from my students one to another during my class period. We were a community of learners sympathetic to the differences of others with an openness to communicate our fears, frustrations, and concerns about our world. Empowered with this candidate feedback I suppose I responded less like a stern schoolmarm and more like a confidant this year-- I became school-mom. My students sensed my concern for their futures. They began to accept that all the academic demands I required of them (my expectations are high) were to truly prepare them beyond just the facts and figures of our state curriculum but to build resilience and wonder in them again. If my students learned nothing else from Dr. Waddell this year I know they understood that our world needs them to express the best parts of being human in the face of increasing artificial intelligence, robotics, and other automated systems.

2017-18 Year of Pre-Employment Transition Job Exploration

The future of work is changing for everyone enabled by technological advances that impact societal expectations and demand new skills. Individuals with barriers to employment experience unique challenges that must be addressed early. Given both circumstances, I purpose to empower every learner I have the opportunity to serve with intentional learning experiences that incorporate real-life authenticity and applied digital skill development.

Transition planning came alive this year with two very different job exploration field experiences. My students were given a rare opportunity to engage with conservation and entertainment from the perspective of employment and training. Our daily school work and IEP activities were made more relevant to my students. They began to understand that their high school coursework and the work of outside agencies like Michigan Rehabilitation Services (MRS) exist to eliminate or reduce difficulties they may encounter in making the transition to adult life.

I will continue to open my class to Pre-Employment Transition Service opportunities through Michigan Rehabilitation Services (MRS). Next school year, I'd love for MRS to identify individuals who have disabilities and can offer first-hand accounts to share with students about their work-based experiences.

This school year I decided to incorporate the FREE resources of Google's new Applied Digital Skills Curriculum to teach and accomplish the challenging and long-term 10th grade research paper process. My students' understanding was supported using this tool being from a trusted 3rd party: Google. My students learned how to leverage technology to research and develop a research topic. The lesson included designing a research question; performing basic and advanced internet search strategies; evaluating the bias of digital information sources, and selecting sources of information for credibility, accuracy, and relevance. (Speaking of bias... I LOVE my Google products and services! I'm Team Android all the way...) I'm all about collaboration and Google just ROCKS in this functionality... ijs
Image result for google applied digital skills

2016-17 Year of Opportunity: Digital Literacy Partnerships

I love NoRedInk! Having introduced the platform to my co-teachers McCarthy and Walczak last year and using NoRedInk with our students, this school year I was honored to participate in a pilot of NoRedInk's Writing program along with seven other UCS teachers. I was interviewed by Partnerships Lead, Ned Lindau to share valuable feedback towards the continuous improvement of the site. NoRedInk's School Partnerships Manager Marc McCann said of my contributions:
"Dr. Waddell is one of the few teachers across the country piloting a program this year that we hope to release in the future, and her feedback has been essential in determining what changes need to be made prior to launching the program. Her experiences in the classroom with students allow us to better understand the successes, concerns, and frustrations felt by our users. This information is critical for us to enhance student learning and ease the workload of teachers. Dr. Waddell's feedback resulted in our team providing teachers with much more flexibility and customization so that they can better tailor instruction to meet students' needs. She also helped us identify more valuable ways to organize and determine the amount of content students experience at a given time. These outcomes will significantly impact the effectiveness of teachers who use the program across the country and will help millions of students improve in fundamental writing skills."
During Teacher Appreciation Week 2017, I received an email from NoRedInk
Customer Success Manager, Jeremy Crouthamel sharing that my quote about NoRedInk's impact on me and my students was featured on the homepage of What an honor!!
(Shown above and below) My students use NRI's newly designed passage structures with the improved mastery system. They truly appreciated the changes!!
At the beginning of this school year, I purposed to make active use of the district-provided Office 365 cloud-based tools in my classroom. By year-end, I challenged my students (and myself) to only use Office Mix or Microsoft Sway for our final projects. I was abundantly pleased with the level of collaboration, creativity, depth of thinking, and engagement this challenge wrought. My students most fearful of doing presentations really embraced the tools' ability to give them voice. I was very pleased with this first attempt at requiring my students to produce content using Office Mix or Microsoft Sway. It will not be my last. 

2015-16  Year of Budget Cuts

This school year started with the elimination of my K-12 Instructional Technology Consultant position due to cutbacks. Many if not all "teachers on special assignment" were sent back to their classrooms to no longer function in their special duties.
  • Became Special Education Teacher Consultant again this year
  • Defended my doctoral dissertation, graduated Fall 2015, and was conferred my PhD
All was NOT lost... my impact to students was somewhat greater through my direct support to teachers at my high school.  This year my co-teachers integrated technology to facilitate daily student collaboration and greater instances of transformative teaching and learning experiences. We were so proud of our students this year as so many of them demonstrated deeper comprehension and synthesis of literary themes & social sciences to their own lives through their projects and presentations. Both our students and the teachers I co-taught with this year leveraged technology with greater creativity and digital efficacy.  There is opportunity for growth for us all... Desperate times require desperate measures. Leveraging technology helps facilitate this change! I'm very proud to be one of technology's ambassadors for personalized instructional interventions toward student/teacher academic progress and instructional improvement.

    2014-15 Year to Complete My Doctoral Dissertation

     December 2015 Graduation is my goal!

    2013-14 New Challenges / New Beginnings

    Some of the FEATURES of this school year included my:
    • Functioning in dual roles in my district: K-12 Instructional Technology Consultant & SpEd Teacher 
    • Passing Doctoral Qualifying Exams--written & oral 
    • Surviving the 2014 Arctic Blast & the Breaking the 133-Year-Old Detroit Snow Record 
    • Experiencing 7 unprecedented SNOW DAYS that required county school calendar adjustment
      I learned so much this year about next-generation teaching & learning strategies and assessment methods: PBL, NWEA, MEAP Online Version, and Smarter Balance. I met new colleagues (NGLC committee) & forged new relationships throughout my school district (DLMD & NWEA support at the elementary level).

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