Everyone’s a Rookie

In my five years teaching at a New Tech school, I never got out of teaching the freshman grade level. Ever. I was later told by my director this was strategic, and I now appreciate it greatly. But at the time, I had to listen to colleagues in the upper grade levels revel with enjoyment during their first months of school not having to teach how to login to the computer, how to read a rubric, how to write a contract, how to set up collaboration evaluations…the list goes on and on. And for those of you who have opened a New Tech school, you’ll understand what I mean when I say, teaching the youngest class of students in a New Tech school can be painful almost to the point of agony. Or at least that’s what it felt like to me when processes were such a large component of classroom time the first semester.

It wasn’t until I became a coach that I changed my perspective on only having taught freshmen. During a teacher residency at New Tech High School @ Coppell, I heard the facilitators referring to their year one learners as rookies. I loved this for many reasons, but most of all, because it did not really matter what grade level the student was in, but the year of experience in New Tech that indicated how much process support the kiddo would need.

Fast forward to this semester--- the first semester of Digital Learning @ NTN's PBL Online Courses. When we started the courses, I couldn’t help but be reminded of launching our New Tech school. We have four brand new learning outcomes that are not being taught at our 14 participating schools. They are unique to us and therefore each rubric descriptor needs to be taught and scaffolded, just like with freshmen, except that we have students from grades 9-12. Our facilitators, all certified teachers and three certified trainers who are very experienced in the network, have fresh, new projects that required a different structure and thought process because they are being offered online, in some ways mirroring the challenges that year one PBL implementers face. Some students have experience in online courses, though not quite like this one, just like there are some who had been “doing projects” prior to coming to a New Tech.

Perhaps the greatest thing I have learned from beginning a digital learning program is that our network is tremendous and tremendously varied. From culture to grading to project structure to learning outcomes, the beauty of starting a New Tech is that it is owned by its community. And yet some of that ownership and personalization is what is making this experience so challenging and eye opening. We are contending with groups that have kiddos from not only different grades, but also different time zones. We are wrestling with building a distinct culture online while acknowledging 16 different school cultures from our students and faculty. We are trying to teach and scaffold our four learning outcomes while realizing that these are in addition to the other 107 outcomes that are collectively being assessed in our learner’s face to face schools. We have all joined this with varying levels of experience in New Tech and yet, in a sense, we are all rookies. Our range of experiences adds to the richness of our program. Sure, there are challenges, just like any rookie experiences in a New Tech. But the best thing about being a rookie is that next year, they become sophomores with more skills and knowledge to build on.