Wednesday, February 17, 2016

If there is no “WE” then Challenges will Arise - Guest Post by Kimberly Cawkwell

University of San Diego Mobile Technology Learning Center
Professional Learning Specialist

In mid-July of last year, I left my position in the classroom at a local charter school and  began working for the University of San Diego. It was a large transition for me to embark on a new career. Although I’ve founded two schools, mentored teachers, led new initiatives and a multitude of professional learning, I have never endeavored such a challenging and high-stakes position. My new objective, as a Professional Learning Specialist at the Mobile Technology Learning Center, is to partner with school districts to develop systems and structures that support pedagogical shifts in teaching and learning. 

The work that we do at our center is inspiring, innovative, demanding and thought-provoking. Every week poses new obstacles and case studies to tackle. We work diligently to ensure that our professional learning is actively engaging, modeling the type of pedagogical shift we strive for, energizing educators to collaborate together for a common purpose, and strategic in design to be sustainable over time. The catch is, every district, every principal and every teacher is different; and thus, all of our work is always personalized and tailored to each audience, each interaction and each agenda. Due to this personalized approach, the challenges we face for each situation vary. 

Although these challenges may differ, they often resonate across similar themes. It might be that the infrastructure in the district does not support the teaching and learning they desire, or there was a lack of training on new devices, and teachers don’t feel comfortable incorporating them in their lessons. Or maybe there is just a lack of devices, and teachers don’t know what to do with one iPad in the classroom. Maybe teachers don’t have clarity on expectations or a clear direction of how to use technology purposefully. Or worst of all maybe there is a culture of fear in the district. In order to overcome these challenges and support pedagogical shifts, there needs to be systems and strategies in place that build trust, ownership and a culture of learning. 

For our work to be successful and sustainable, districts need to start with a clear vision that honors the voice of all stakeholders. From my experience, constructing a clear vision with a leadership team comprised of district members, principals, teachers, TOSAs and even students and parents can make a large impact on the work. When the vision is developed in a collaborative manner like this, there are clear expectations, clear lines of communication, and everyone is empowered. In the end, a feeling of “WE did this TOGETHER” will move the work forward. If there is no “WE”, then challenges will arise, and phrases such as “I can’t” or “They won’t let me,” impede the path for the district to truly make a pedagogical shift. 

After we collaborate with all stakeholders to develop supportive environments that foster trust, ownership and a culture of learning, then my work as a professional learning specialist is more apt to be successful. With this energy and shared vision to transform the classroom, our work moves towards building systems to support the shift and movement forward. Our USD Personalized Professional Learning Cycle highlights the process my colleagues and I use to design learning experiences with clear outcomes and expectations. Using this cycle, along with collaboration and the shared ownership of the stakeholders, my team and I are better equipped with a comprehensive, research-based approach to supporting the pedagogical shifts for each district.

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Making strides towards a pedagogical shift is never easy. As with any transition, there are so many layers of difficulties that anyone could encounter. With ownership and collaboration from all stakeholders and a strategic design, districts can engage in a smoother transition process and overcome challenges that may arise when making a shift in teaching and learning.

About the author: Kimberly Cawkwell is a Professional Learning Specialist for the Mobile Technology Learning Center (MTLC). Kimberly received her Bachelor's degree in Liberal Arts: Sociology and Education from the University of California, Riverside (UCR) in 2008. She also completed her Masters in Education and Multiple Subject Credential with an Elementary Mathematics Emphasis from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in 2010.

Prior to joining MTLC, Kimberly spent over five years as a teacher and mentor to new teachers. In addition to working with Title 1 schools in National City, CA, Kimberly was a founding teacher of two San Diego elementary charter schools: High Tech Elementary Chula Vista (2011) and High Tech Elementary North County (2013). Kimberly has collaborated and led several professional development sessions globally with educators.
She continues to be passionate in her pursuit for understanding and sharing best practices for children. Through MTLC partnerships, she looks forward to cultivating deeper learning opportunities in education that provide children equitable, collaborative and rigorous learning environments and also foster children to become advocates for their own learning.

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