Christine Voigt is a secondary educator and award-winning author from Dallas, Texas. Her background is in English, geography, and life sciences and her specialty is infusing technology across the curriculum. She currently serves as the Director of Curriculum and Instructional Technology at Bishop Dunne Catholic School. She has been recognized at the state and national levels for her contribution to geographic education and has received multiple honors for the books Mapping Our World: GIS in Education and the Our World book series. She holds a Master of Education degree in Educational Leadership from Southern Methodist University and a Master of Science in Computer Education and Cognitive Systems from the University of North Texas.
Daniel: You went to your staff today and said, "This year, I'm thinking that we should really consider going paperless, who would like to pilot this project" or maybe you're a super crazy Ruckus Maker and go building wide. Although I would not suggest that pilots are more effective for a reason. Imagine doing that today, what would be the friction that you might've experienced with your staff, especially if there's a veteran members of the staff? Now imagine pitching that idea of going paperless building wide over a decade ago. This is where we're going to start today's podcast with my guest, Christine Voigt. Hey, it's Daniel, and welcome to the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast, a show for Ruckus Makers, those out of the box leaders making change happen in education.
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Daniel: All students have an opportunity to succeed with Organized Binder who equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning. Whether that's in a distance, hybrid or traditional educational setting, learn more at Organized Binder. Ruckus Makers,Today, I am joined by Christine Voigt, a secondary educator and award winning author from Dallas, Texas. Her background is in English, geography and life sciences in her specialty is infusing technology across the curriculum. She currently serves as the Director of Curriculum and Instructional Technology at Bishop Dunne Catholic School. She has been recognized at the state and national levels for her contribution to geographic education, and has received multiple honors for the books Mapping Our World GIS in education, in the Our World book series. She holds a master of education degree in educational leadership from Southern Methodist University and a master of science in computer education and cognitive systems from the University of North Texas, Christine, welcome to the show. We have a really fun story to open up with. It's the dream that started it all. How can we go paperless?
Christine : Yes. Yes. That's very true. We decided several years ago that we wanted to figure out how can we do things without so much paper? One of the things we thought, "Okay, let's try out eBooks." We started offwith that. In order for kids to be able to read easy books, they have to be able to have a computer. When we first started, we actually used iPods. Back in the day when iPods had like a little bitty screen, not whenever we have something that looks more like an iPhone today and that was kind of the way we could get an inexpensive technology at the time for all of our kids in each of their hands. The teachers were recording podcasts, so the kids can review things at home. We said, "Okay, next step is going to be eBooks."
Christine : In order to do that, they needed to have a full laptop to be able to take advantage of that. Again, this was back in the day, whenever you could have a phone with apps and everything on it. We have evolved quite a bit from there. Those first eBooks were really pretty much four or five PDFs, but that was the first step. We had a bring your own device model. All the kids brought in their own laptops, whatever it could be. Some of them were passed down from who knows and we didn't want to make it where it would be prohibited to our kids because they come from all different kinds of backgrounds. We didn't want to make it cost to be a barrier for them. It could be something that was five, six years old. It could have been something that was brand new, but as long as they could get to the internet. We set up the whole building with wifi and again this was back when it was brand new. That's what started us on the journey of really incorporating technology in classroom every day.
Daniel: You mentioned you have students that come from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences, and as this planning has evolved. I'm just curious what you've done school-wide? What I heard to reflect back students can bring back older devices to the school that's fine, or brand spanking new whatever the flashes technology is, but is there anything else the school might do when a students are economically disadvantaged and could use some support?
Christine : What we did was, we try to have as much available. Again, as technology changed and updated and became more and more accessible that made it much more easy for our families. We also do quite a bit of grant writing to help provide for those that are in need. It's been successful with all the kids having access to something. Again, it's not always something brand spanking new, but as long as they can hit the internet they've been able to take advantage of the different resources that we have available.
Daniel: When you're bringing that idea, I don't know if you want to bring us all the way back to when you started this or to modern day when you're doing a lot of stuff with integrated tech and going paperless. I'm just curious how the staff reacted and how you got them to also own this vision because that's quite a shift. What, what worked for you?
Christine : What worked best for us was we started with those that were the innovators. It was like, "Okay, Hey, here's this crazy idea. We want to try to go and use eBooks or not use textbooks", propose the idea, "if you're interested, let me know." I actually have some of my world language faculty members, say, "Okay, we'll give this a try." They started off by using it, just in their classrooms as a teacher. As part of that pilot program, they really just had a teacher ebook account and they showed it to the kids and got their opinions. What do you think, how will this work for you? After trying that out for two months, one semester, they're like, "Okay, yeah, we want to continue on" and then we took the next step.
Christine : That was the first class to adopt using an ebook in the classroom. We grew from there more and more became available. And then it's, "Okay, everyone, we want to have a teacher in each subject area, try it out, find out again, what is best." We wanted not the technology to drive the curriculum but we wanted what was best to teach the kids. We wanted the curriculum drive the technology. A lot of times people were like, "Oh, we have to go and incorporate all this tech stuff, but it's not really about the technology. It's about what is best for teaching and learning. I want them to look at it like you're adopting a book because you're adopting curriculum materials for your classroom. If there's not one that is a traditional, but a traditional publisher then find what is the best tool to meet the needs of your students and meet your needs as a teacher to conduct instruction in your classroom.
Christine : That's what was the driving force behind it. I think because it was done from that approach rather than we have to use technology, or we have to do paperless, it was really more, what's going to be best for instruction, and what's going to be preparing our kids for the future nowadays, where we're incorporating a lot more, especially with last year. We had kind of a hybrid situation and because we were paperless, it was very easy for us to make that kind of shift through all these different changing times. As our kids go on to college, they're prepared because everything is online now in college and that's how you communicate with your professors. That's how you go and get access to your course materials. It's just an expectation now. I think our kids are really well-prepared for those next steps and the college into career, look at how we're doing this interview. We're doing it through a Zoom meeting. It's just a part of every day or work and it should be a part of everyday for education.
Daniel: A couple of quick shout outs to Ruckus Makers that I had the pleasure to serve. You said, look at how we're recording this and yeah, Zoom. What's funny is I've been playing on this platform since 2015 and it was like, I feel almost like those bands that you love, but they're not quite popular yet and then they blow up and everybody knows about them. It's like almost not as cool to like connect on Zoom, but long story short, two times within the last 60 days, E-Money and Patrice, if you're listening, these are both school leaders, principals. They send me a text because with Demetrius, Spotify recommended a podcast I did in 2017. The first time I was on the cult of pedagogy with Jennifer, the host. We were talking about Masterminds and at some point in the conversation I go, "We connect on Zoom, have you ever heard of it?" Demetrius was just reflecting that back to me. Can you believe how far you've come?
Daniel: Same thing, Patrice, was basically the same conversation just a different individual. It is wild what is available, what you can do and what I heard from you in terms of it being collaborative. A bottom up approach on how do we really prepare kids for the future? The key point that I really want to highlight for the Ruckus Maker, listening that you said, find tools that will work for your students and work for you, what a beautiful invitation that is the way to approach it. I want to honor your approach because that really works and you see how it's worked. Christine, speaking of tech as a tool and don't do it just because everybody's doing it. How do you think about using technology and identifying what works for the student? What works for the teacher? What is meaningful?
Christine : A lot of times what I have people start with what is it that you want to do in your classroom? What are you trying to do? What concept are you trying to teach? How are you approaching it? Then I go out and I'll find here's some different tools that can help you with that. I'm also hoping they model that for the students as well. So then that way there's not one answer to it. It's not like, "Well, you have to do it this way." There's many different approaches to find the tools that will be the best to solve that. A lot of times, people aren't aware this available to you? There's these resources available to you?
Christine : Again, resources don't necessarily have to be a technology per se. It could be a way of instruction. It could be a methodology. It could be some great research that's out there that can be used as a tool. There's a lot of different things and it's not necessarily about the software and the hardware. That's hard because a lot of times with technology, people always think about the hardware and the software. They think about the stuff just because that's where your brain goes. That's like, oh, your technology. You like fix things and install things on computers. It's like,"Well, if it's needed, but it's really about instruction." That's the key point. That's why I'm instructional technology. I'm also curriculum. A lot of people think that's an odd combination to be both curriculum and technology. It's like, well, that's the whole reason why we have it as a tool. It's not it's not just technology for technology sake. Exactly.
Daniel: I think one thing that I realized about you is, you assert an integrated approach to leadership. Sometimes people get the title and all of a sudden they're trying to separate themselves, as if that works. Christine, who's the leader, Christine who's outside of school is the same person. I'm just curious, what would you like to share in terms of this idea of integrated leadership?
Christine : The biggest thing is you need to start where people are at and this is with whether you're working with your colleagues, or if you're working with students, you have to start wherever they're at. You can't walk in the door of class as a teacher and say, "Oh, okay. I expect, you're a ninth grader you must be able to go in and write a great essay. You don't know, you don't know where you've never met them. If you've never set up that relationship, you don't know where they're at. You have to find out where they're starting at same thing with teachers. As an instructional leader, you have to know where are they coming from? What are the things that they're most comfortable with? What are their challenges? What can you help them to grow? How can they help you grow as an individual as well? That's all important. It's building those relationships and having an understanding of where people are at so you can help them to move forward and then what can you learn as well? It is a two-way street.
Daniel: It is a two-way street. I think people can make some assumptions based on our conversation, but you're obviously a Ruckus Maker and innovator making change happen in education. You started going paperless way before it was cool. You were a pioneer in that space for sure. I want to open up and spend some time if you have anything to add because your lens, the way you view education is unique to you. Right. What might you offer the listener? When a lot of times they might look at school through the typical constraints? In terms of a eight period class day or eight to 3:00 PM desks, way back when typewriters, but you use different constraints and think about it a little bit differently. Anything else you'd like to add?
Christine : Always be open to learn. There's always something new that's out there. It's funny because as we're getting ready for the school year, I always go through and I started ebook folders from whenever we really first started. The first year I started to document across the board was 2010-2011. It's been over for 10 years since we've been doing this. It was way back before it was even cool because of course even knew what it was. It's weird. What's so bizarre about technology is it becomes so integrated in what we do every day that we stop thinking about it. But yet back in the day was just such a new thing so out of the boxe, strange, and I think that's what gets hard is as you get more comfortable with it it becomes every day. It's like, okay, how do we keep pushing those boundaries? How do we keep learning? How do we keep growing? What other opportunities are out there and available that we might be missing and how do we keep moving forward?
Daniel: It goes by so fast, in the blink of an eye. 10-11 years, with what you've been doing and how you've been innovating. This show's releasing this September 2021. It's our six year anniversary of starting this podcast. I feel like I feel like I just started it. Six years, it's a little bit of time that you've invested. Just amazing. All right. We're going to pause here just for a very short break to get in a message from our sponsors. When we come back, I want to talk to you about authentic learning.
Daniel: Take the next step in your professional development with Harvard's online certificate in school management and leadership, learn from Harvard faculty without leaving your home, grow your network with fellow school leaders from around the world as you collaborate in case studies of leaders in education and business. Apply now for our cohorts at betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard. That's betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard. Are you automatically tracking online student participation data during COVID? Innovative school leaders across the country have started tracking online student participation using Teach FX because it's one of the most powerful ways to improve student outcomes during COVID, especially for English learners and students of color. Learn more about Teach FX and get a special offer at teachfx.com/BLBS. That's teachfx.com/BLBS. Today's show is brought to you by Organized Binder. Organized Binder develops the skills and habits all students need for success during these uncertain times of distance, learning and hybrid education settings.Organized Binder, equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning routines so that all students have an opportunity to succeed, whether at home or in the classroom. Learn more at organizedbinder.com. All right, we're back with Christine Voigt, a secondary educator in award winning author from Dallas, Texas. Christine, let's talk about authentic learning. First, how would you define that?
Christine : I would define authentic learning as anything that is real. It ties back into what is going on in the world. You can't look at things just within a box and you have to really look and see why are we learning this? Why did we select this? Why does it matter? How does it impact our community? I think taking those next steps. It's like, "Okay, here we're learning the content and the information, and here's how we apply it. And this is what is it? Meaning this is." Why we bother doing it. If we can't answer that question for the kids, then they're like, "Why, why are we doing this?" Is it just Because? Nothing in life is just because. It has to be real, it has to be authentic.
Daniel: Were talking about tech as a tour earlier, and obviously we talked a lot about paperless. I know that you have piloted this app, which is awesome. Also a sponsor of the podcast, but Teach FX, which I think really helps students own their classroom experience. I'm biased for sure. You have used it, you see the fruit of what Teach FX has produced in your classrooms. Fom a leader ,from a user standpoint, what's that experience been like?
Christine : We did with other things, we piloted it with a few teachers and then we had some departments try it. Again, having the opportunity starting small and then having those conversations and it wasn't just about the tool. The tool helped the teachers to realize, "Okay, I'm controlling a lot of the conversation that's going on in classroom", as opposed to the kids. Even when you think, "I'm awesome. I'm great. I can go. We have great discussions." You realize, after you look at some of the reports, you're like, "Wow, I really talked a lot more than I realized." Having that completely objective third party it is the software, it's just recording what's going on. It's not doing anything but recording and then analyzing that data.
Christine : It turns that conversation into data. Whenever you have data like that, you can go and you can get a better picture of what's going on. You can also see, are there certain kids having more control of the conversation than others? Are you always calling on, are the kids driving conversation or new driving conversation? Are you calling on the kids or are they asking questions? Are they helping with driving that conversation forward? I think that's some of the things that were eye opening, but not just that. It's not just about the technology. It was also the professional development. That was a part of it. Teach FX has just done an outstanding job of really helping us understand how to create an environment in your classroom that drives student engagement and student discussion given a lot of insight into that.
Christine : What started off with something small, helped us to grow. What we're going to start to do is something that's very defined by different departments because different departments have different needs and the content that they're trying to get across. Some things within like the humanities, social studies and English, you can have some great dialogue around literature, but then when you get into math, how do you have a dialogue around a math problem? What does that look like? That looks different than if you're discussing a work of literature. My background obviously is with English and literature, but also even life sciences, you can have more discussions around the environment and things like that, but it's harder to have, I can't, even for me wrap my head around how do you discuss insert math equation. It's more of a challenge on how do you construct that? We want to make sure it's something that's relevant.What we want learning to be authentic for our kids it has to be authentic for us as educators. We can do something that applies directly to our classroom and what is unique about that?
Daniel: Yeah, that's great. I knew how effective it was as a tool, but to hear that they really offer a wrap around support professional development. I think what you said was, teaching your faculty, how do we drive student owned, student led engaging lessons. And that might be a paradigm shift that educators need to go through. Then this tool, it tells you, because we could all have the best of intentions. I'm going to give all the thinking to the kids and I saw some questions, get everybody involved, but then if you have an objective, just data report, like, Nope, you called on three kids and you talk 80% of the time. It tells you a different story. If you could put on all school marquees around the world, one message Christine for a single day, or would that message read?
Christine : I would probably say it's something that we actually have above the entrance to the doors of our school as you walk in, there's a little plaque baove door. It says entrance to learn. As you leave on the other side, it says, go forth to serve. I think that really embodies the idea that you're coming into a place you're going to learn. You're going to grow, but you're not just going to keep it all in the building. You're going to go out and you're going to take what you've learned and you're going to do something outside in the world and serve your community and help it to grow and to learn as well. And so that's what I would put.
Daniel: I love asking this last question to everybody. You're building a school from the ground up, Christine. You're not limited by any resources. You're only limitation is your imagination. How would you build your dream school and what would be your top three?
Christine : My first priority is there would be no desks. A lot of the times the things that are, and not just limiting it to desk, but anything that can constrain how a classroom is going to function. A lot of times you go in and that's the thing that you're tripping over. How do we get things where you can have a good conversation? It's hard to do that when you have traditional desks in the room. How many workspaces are all where you just have everybody, I guess you could be in an office with a bunch of cubicles, but those kinds of things are going away. And especially after the past year or everyone's working from their home it looks really different. How do we set up the kids for this, the way the world is going to be, it's already, it is now.
Christine : You have to be able to be good at time management. You have to be able to be functioning in a variety of different situations, but if you're stuck in a desk in a row and you can't have conversations or it's just not conducive for conversations and it's hard. The first thing. I would not have anything that would dampen having that kind of natural flow conversation and work in team building. So that's why I say desks, but you could answer it, whatever thing can that constrain the way a classroom flows. The next thing I would make sure everyone has access to technology to the hardware so they can get to the learning. Not having access is criminal at this time. . Again, this past year we saw those families that couldn't get access to the internet or to technology that limits.
Christine : Now that limits how far somebody can go in the workforce, because if you have that opportunity to work from home and don't have reliable internet access. That puts you at a huge disadvantage or for others, for a lot of jobs now. I think we want kids to be able to be set up or just in general, we want to make sure that people can have access to technology, not just the hardware, but also to be able to get out, to be able to communicate, via different kinds of tools like the internet. The third thing, opportunities to go outside the building, whether that be a physical space on a campus that's outdoors, I love outdoor learning, or it's actually going out into the community, which is even better. That's what I think is the ultimate thing that needs to be part of everything.
Christine : A lot of times, field trips and after elementary school and this is when it really should just be beginning and not just your standard kind of field trip, but going out, let's go out. Let's do community service. Let's see a business that we can help out? Is there a community group that we can go and volunteer for and help serve? How can we apply what we're learning in the classroom to go and, and bring more meaning, to others? So that's important. I think that would be the third thing. That would be a requirement of my dream schools, that everybody, every class, all the time is, applying what they learn and serving the community.
Daniel: Christine, thanks for being my guest here on the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast, we've covered a lot of ground. If there was just one thing you wanted a Ruckus Maker to remember, what would that be?
Christine : Build relationships with your teams, with your kids, with your teams and listen to see where people are at and help them to grow and move forward and always be open to learning. I know that's more than one thing, but I got it in a run-on sentence. There you go.
Daniel: Thanks for listening to the Better Leaders, Better Schools podcast from Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel F betterleadersbetterschools.com or hit me up on Twitter @alienearbud. If the Better Leaders Better Schools Podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode, extra credit for tagging me on Twitter @alien earbud and using the #BLBS level up your leadership at betterleadersbetterschools.com and talk to you next time until then class dismissed.
- Tech as a meaningful tool to authenticate personalized learning. Incorporating technology every day despite economical disadvantages and different experiences in the classroom.
- Successful shift going paperless or implementing Teach FX with this approach.
- A bottom up approach to prepare kids for the future with these tools.
- Tips to determine meaningful technology for your teachers and students.
- Select technology as methodology and not hardware and software for instruction.
- Assert an integrated approach to leadership to make radical changes.
- A different approach to learning through typical constraints in education.
“We didn’t want technology to drive the curriculum. We wanted what was best to teach the kids. We wanted the curriculum to drive the technology. A lot of times people were like, ‘We have to go and incorporate all this tech stuff’, but it’s not about the technology. It’s about what is best for teaching and learning.”
– Christine Voigt
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