As a Classical Studies Magnet Academy (CSMA) school, Los Coches Creek Middle School in El Cajon, California, focuses on fostering “educational opportunities that will support (students), challenge them, and help them grow as productive, globally responsible citizens of a 21st Century global community.” Technology is becoming an increasingly important resource for achieving this goal, and through the Dynamic Learning Project (DLP), teachers and students are reaching new heights of digital learning.
The DLP supports technology coaches in underserved schools such as Los Coches Creek to help train teachers on how to leverage technology in the classroom and beyond. “When I initially heard about this opportunity through my district, it was simply described as a ‘digital learning coach.’ It wasn't until later in July 2017 that I fully grasped the magnitude of this program,“ says Amanda Plocinski, the DLP coach at Los Coches Creek during the 2017-2018 school year.
"My experience with classroom technology allowed me to be a catalyst to do outside-of-the-box things with teachers in addition to helping those just getting their feet wet."Amanda Plocinski, DLP Coach
Using a structured coaching approach, Amanda personalized her support for each teacher. Additionally, her five years of classroom experience helped prepare her to coach teachers through many different classroom situations. “The tools and skills I teach vary depending on the experience and technological comfort of the teacher,” she explains.
Along with training educators on using technology to address specific challenges, Amanda helped ground them in the fundamentals, including supporting them as they began using G Suite for Education applications. “Whether it was a math teacher learning how to replace her paper quizzes and tests (with digital forms) or training and supporting an entire grade level of teachers in creating up-to-date digital portfolios (using websites), the tools that we work with all depend on the need(s) of the individual teacher and their students,” she says.
Teachers at Los Coches Creek seized on the opportunity to introduce technology into the classroom to spark student engagement in the learning process. One math teacher used Storyboard That, a simple yet powerful digital storyboarding tool, to help her students create visual representations of what they’d learned in class. Other teachers took advantage of their “Genius Hour” time (an opportunity to pursue technology projects they found inspiring) to expand their students’ horizons. Amanda shares how one teacher “organized and prepared her students for two video conferences during her Genius Hour to connect students with a Google employee to ask questions and share their work.“
Calling it her “mantra to my method,” Amanda says part of her secret sauce for DLP coaching is “to constantly remind myself what it is like to be in the middle school classroom full time.” Putting herself in her teachers’ shoes (and classrooms) has helped her see their challenges through the lens of her own experience.
Looking back on her first year as a coach, Amanda says that “some of my proudest achievements (involved) the work I did with a handful of teachers that are very close to retirement. They were so eager and willing to work with me that they were willing to take risks they most likely would have avoided without direct coaching support.”
For the 2018-2019 school year, Amanda is returning to her former school, nearby Montgomery Middle School, to serve as a DLP coach. “Now that I have a year under my belt as a technology trainer and advocate I am so excited to bring my experience and knowledge back to my former school site,” she shares, noting that her time as a coach at Los Coches Creek “was a year of growth and taking risks...I believe I still have so much more to learn and achieve, and I am eager to keep up the momentum.”