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Dynamic Learning Project coach helps bridge the digital divide at McGuffey Middle School

After three decades in the classroom, Teresa Engler couldn’t picture herself anywhere else. But she yearned for more time to spend helping fellow teachers harness digital tools, a task she’d savored in her role as McGuffey Middle School’s technology leader. So when the opportunity arose to join the Dynamic Learning Project (DLP) and become her school’s full-time technology coach, Teresa was excited for the opportunity to embrace a new challenge.

“It was a tough decision to make, but this was my chance to truly make a difference,” she says. “To be involved in a research program that uses technology tools to bridge the digital divide in rural communities across the country was seriously a dream come true for me.”

From the very start of the 2017-2018 school year, Teresa noticed that McGuffey’s staff members greeted the DLP with enthusiasm. Many teachers invited her into their classrooms on the very first day of school, eager to learn. To build awareness and provide motivation, Teresa introduced a badge system that rewards teachers for mastering apps and trying them with their students. By the end of the year, instructors had earned as many as 20 badges, experimenting with everything from Google Classroom and Twitter to the presentation platform Pear Deck and the coding tool Pythonroom.

“The most rewarding part of being involved with the DLP is seeing how much of an impact it's made on the staff. I also feel as though I'm helping to bridge the digital divide for our middle school students.”

Teresa Engler, DLP Coach, McGuffey Middle School

Like all new programs, the DLP generated a certain amount of skepticism: some McGuffey teachers were initially unsure about integrating technology in their classrooms. Teresa won them over by observing their unique teaching challenges and recommending tools that could solve real problems they faced. For example, she showed a math instructor how to speed up the grading process using Google Forms, and she helped a veteran science teacher post differentiated lessons to Google Classroom. Support for the DLP grew and, to Teresa’s delight, even one of her most hesitant teachers signed up for the final cycle of the school year.

Two women explain a topic, one of them speaks holding a microphone in her right hand

“The DLP seems to have taken hold and has been embraced by everyone,” Teresa says. “I've seen the staff sharing ideas, working on projects collaboratively, showing interest in what others are doing, and teaching one another how to use new tech tools and devices. We've always worked well together, but there is a true camaraderie among us now.”

When she isn’t meeting with teachers to hatch new lesson plans or help them achieve their Google for Education certification, Teresa finds herself back in the classroom, witnessing the impact that her coaching has had on students. The DLP gives McGuffey students a unique chance to experience technology in meaningful ways. Over the course of the 2017-2018 academic year, McGuffey students blogged about literature, played online vocabulary games, learned Python, simulated science experiments, created digital art installations, and much more. Teresa says they get excited when she shows up in their classrooms, and some have even asked her to help their teachers adopt a specific tool they learned about from their peers.

A woman talks holding a microphone in her right hand

Now, heading into her second year of technology coaching, Teresa draws inspiration from the positive anecdotes and appreciative remarks she hears from students and teachers alike. But even more so, she’s galvanized by concrete data on the McGuffey community’s widespread support for the DLP. In the spring of 2018, when it was announced at a faculty meeting that the school board approved her position for another year, the entire room burst into applause.

“Our school has decided that this is a program worth investing their time in and I continue to see energy going toward innovative ideas in the classroom,” Teresa says. “I will be forever grateful for this amazing opportunity to work with the staff on using technology tools to enhance student learning experiences. I finally found my niche.”

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