With 15 years of teaching under her belt, Jennifer Byrd loved her career and never envisioned leaving the classroom. But when her school started looking for a digital learning coach, she realized that the new position would allow her to influence nearly 800 students instead of the 130 who happened to be in her classes. Not only that, but the coaching role naturally appealed to her creative and adventurous spirit. “I’ve always been known as the teacher who would read about an idea that a classroom across the country was trying and want to implement it,” she says.
Gilbert Middle School encourages students to become creators of technology
As one of 50 coaches helping to pilot the Dynamic Learning Project (DLP), Jennifer encourages her fellow Gilbert Middle School teachers to experiment with cutting-edge tools and innovative methods. More importantly, she helps them overcome key challenges by identifying individual obstacles, developing strategies for tackling each one, and reflecting on the process to achieve lasting growth.
“It’s not about introducing a flashy app or a one-time activity and then walking away,” Jennifer explains. “Instead, my job is to examine the pedagogy behind our instruction and incorporate technology to support our goal of a student-centered classroom where students have the opportunity to engage in 21st-century skills.”
Jennifer cites the example of a sixth-grade science teacher who felt that traditional multiple-choice tests failed to capture her students’ understanding of the material. With Jennifer’s guidance, she created a performance-based assessment for a unit about weather. Students wrote, filmed, and edited their own weather reports—complete with green screens and fake snow—and received feedback on their work from their teacher and classmates.
A seventh-grade teacher wanted help with her English language arts students, who were struggling to stay focused during group activities. She and Jennifer chose a lesson on figurative language to test their theory that a more dynamic exercise might boost engagement. Instead of filling out worksheets, students used digital tools to design memes based on quotes they pulled from a novel, then added their creations to a shared Google Slides presentation. The experiment proved an enormous success, offering students a fun chance to express themselves, while encouraging them to collaborate with one another.
Eighth-grade social studies instructor Neil Yongue says that working with Jennifer gave him the perspective he needed to re-examine and refine every aspect of his teaching practice. “I can rely on her to provide some of the best feedback I’ve ever received and to be open and honest with me,” he explains. “The experience has been one of the best things that has happened to my career.”
Kandace Sullivan, who teaches eighth-grade math, also believes that open dialogue with Jennifer has allowed her to grow professionally. “As a teacher, we all face challenges within our classroom,” she says. “It’s priceless when you have coaches in the building to bounce ideas off and give constructive feedback in a non-threatening way. I’m able to be creative with my lessons and use technology to truly transform the way I teach.”
Ultimately, adds Kandace, it’s the students who benefit most from Jennifer’s ongoing support of Gilbert Middle School’s teachers. Principal Benji Ricard wholeheartedly agrees. “The most exciting part is that we are seeing the results in the classroom,” he says. “Our students are truly moving from consumers of technology to creators. How awesome is that?!”