These past two years of learning have reminded me how much a person can change in such little time. When you are constantly exposed to new experiences and thoughts, you either open your mind to possibilities or close it entirely. I believe that I have been able to keep my mind open and reflect on my learning to grow as a person. I am thankful that I was able to learn so much from three courses. Applying Educational Technology to Issues of Practice with Professor Emily Stone showed me how diversity can help you expand and extrapolate curriculum to benefit all students. Technology and Leadership with Professor Candace Robertson helped me solidify my values as a person and as an educator, giving me stronger conviction to continue with my work, and tools to help create change in whatever role I am in. Learning Technology by Design with Professors Bret Staudt-Willet and William Bork let me improve my knowledge of design thinking and perfect my ability to walk a problem through the design process, whether the result be tangible or digital. Although these are just a few of the classes I was able to take as part of earning my Master of Arts in Educational Technology (MAET), I believe they are integral to who I have become.
CEP 812 – Applying Educational Technology to Issues of Practice
All the courses I took were a part of the College of Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Special Education (CEP). Applying Educational Technology to Issues of Practice was my second course in the program, and it centered around Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question. I realized the importance of asking the right questions so you can solve the underlying problem. We discussed and framed our work around wicked problems. According to John C. Camillus, “A wicked problem has innumerable causes, is tough to describe, and doesn’t have a right answer,” (Camillus, 2008). Using the philosophy of Berger’s book, I found my own wicked problem example in my work: “When presented with a situation where the student is not allowed to be in the general music class, what should their curriculum look like? Should they have a music curriculum at all?” (Luft, 2019)
The students in my schools who were exempt from music on religious grounds practiced Islam, so I reviewed research studies that discussed the intersection of Islam and school music curriculum. After learning what could and could not be done within the parameters of Islam, I created a survey for my general music colleagues to gather their experiences with students exempt from music. From there I did my best to come up with possible solutions. As Camillus said, a sign of a wicked problem is that “There’s nothing to indicate the right answer to the problem.” I suggested in my work that districts consider creating an aural-free music curriculum, lead open dialogue with families around what elementary music classes look like so that Muslim students can attend without concern, and ensure music class descriptions are communicated through varied, multilingual methods at the start of each year. Through this entire process I became comfortable addressing these families in my community, creating safe environments for students exempt from music, and acting as a liaison for the general education teachers when new families ask to be removed from my classes.
The focus on diversity in my wicked problem was also important to me. My K-12 education in the Northport-East Northport Union Free School District and undergraduate work at Northern Michigan University did not include working with diverse populations. Teaching in both Renton and Kent in Washington was a big change that required a flexible, open mind to learn about various cultures, lifestyles, needs, and experiences. Kent School District is the eighteenth most diverse district in America according to Niche’s 2020 rankings (2020). To meet the needs of all the students, I needed to develop a deeper understanding of Islam and how it interacts with music in the classroom and everyday life. This research and understanding I have been able to take with me to other facets of my life to empathize with the experiences of low socioeconomic households, students with special needs, and black and indigenous people of color (BIPOC). I cannot fully understand any of their experiences but the more I can learn through what people share, I can help support and create positive environments to help others succeed.
In the 2019-2020 school year, I also aided in parent-teacher conferences with Muslim families to support their music learning in and out of my classroom. We discussed what they were concerned about, what was permissible for the child, and then created an individualized plan for each student who needed to be exempt from general music.
CEP812 and semester required rigorous time management on my part. First, I decided to take three graduate-level courses in one semester after a four year break from formal learning. Second, I was in year two of teaching full-time, with more difficult students that challenged my classroom management skills. Finally, I started wedding planning in February as my husband’s military career shifted. Managing all these responsibilities required vigorous calendar, email, and physical work, and my plans each weekend revolved around these three areas as needed.
Preparing for and having a wedding in a six month timeframe is not something I would recommend to anyone. However, I am proud that I was able to execute it while maintaining high expectations for myself in the MAET program and in my classroom.
CEP 817 – Learning Technology by Design
Defining and solving problems was also the focus of the Learning Technology by Design class that I took a year later. CEP817 in the spring 2020 semester was taught by Professors Bret Staudt-Willet and William Bork. We learned about the design process and how to apply it in educational settings. I was only familiar with design thinking and process in terms of creating apps and websites, so applying it to education was exciting! This class focused on solving a problem through Stanford’s Design Thinking Bootcamp. The problem that I defined over the first few weeks was “…Itinerant general music teachers are feeling unsupported in their transient positions,” (Luft-Dixon, 2020). After reviewing with colleagues, outside peers, doing brainstorming, research, and developing a few prototype ideas, I settled on creating an itinerant music teacher handbook. It would help guide and answer questions for new and veteran itinerant music teachers so that they would not feel like they knew nothing outside of their bubble.
My prototype testing did not go as planned; I sent an email to twenty of my colleagues to see if there was interest in reviewing my handbook and received interest from four. Only one of them did a thorough review, and none participated in an oral interview afterwards to discuss their thoughts. I was not prepared for this failure, but reviewing what happened has helped me to learn better practices for testing prototypes with colleagues in the future.
Designing for educators is one thing, designing for students is another. Creating the handbook scaffolding allowed me to create better scaffolding for my students. I coordinated Kindergarten Social Time once a week through Microsoft Teams. Creating the resources that my students could use to navigate an incredibly complex software so they could join us was easier after creating a large-scale handbook. We also introduced Seesaw to both students and teachers at my building at the beginning of May. I was able to quickly learn and then present to others on how to create engaging lessons on the platform.
It was difficult to work through a lot of my own biases that I had developed around being an unsupported itinerant and what I thought were the causes of my issues. There were a lot of opportunities to roleplay and empathize with users whether they be students, colleagues, management, or parents. Acknowledging and then working through my own frustrations is an important step as a designer and leader to be able to do my best work for my students and colleagues. These are tools I can and have already used to empathize with others in personal, professional, and digital settings.
CEP 815 – Technology and Leadership
As I move forward in education, I endeavor to be a responsible model and leader in the broader community. Taking Technology and Leadership with Professor Candace Robertson was an important reckoning and self-reflection. It helped me to understand where I was with my leadership skills, how I grew through the class, and continue to build on the experiences from the class. A large part of being a leader is communicating clearly. Professor Robertson gave us ample opportunities to express ourselves in varied forms of communication: professional emails, blog posts, professional development, personal promotional materials, and broader visions.
When we started distance learning in March 2020, I was able to take on additional work and lead our community. I provided technological assistance to the AM session educators, supported Kindergarten Social Time, created our guidelines for specialist using Seesaw, led professional developments, and created & maintained our school’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. I had the confidence to jump into these leadership roles in technology because of what I knew about myself from CEP 817.
Part of self-promotion and creating broader visions is being rooted in your values and being comfortable communicating them outwards. I have lived by my own values and code for so long, but I had not taken the time to do the self-reflection to articulate what they are. Creating my own personal leadership philosophy and visions enabled me to do this, but I felt that CEP 817 created a setting where I felt comfortable expressing myself without fear of being told “Who you are and what you want to do is wrong.” Another aspect of this is being able to listen to others’ perspectives and incorporate them into my own worldview. I now feel comfortable speaking on political matters because I know how to ground my arguments in research and make space to amplify voices that need to be heard more than my own.
So What Now?
I am not the same educator, leader, or person I was when I was accepted to the MAET program in 2018. Honestly, I think the 2018 version of myself would be intimidated by the formal and informal learning that has happened in the last nineteen months. Through the work of the MAET program I have found the strength to be an empathetic person who strives for equity in any space that I inhabit, physical or digital.
If you want to explore my MAET work in more detail, please view my MAET Showcase and Annotated Transcript.
Camillus, John C. (2008, May). Strategy as a Wicked Problem. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2008/05/strategy-as-a-wicked-problem
Luft, Lindsay. (2019). Elementary Music Experience. Retrieved from https://lindsayluft.com/wicked-problem/current-impact-on-practice/
Luft-Dixon, Lindsay. (2020, April 26). Supporting Itinerant Music Teachers Through Design Thinking. Retrieved from https://lindsayluft.com/2020/04/26/supporting-itinerant-music-teachers-through-design-thinking/
Niche. (2020). 2020 Most Diverse School Districts in America – Niche. Retrieved from https://www.niche.com/k12/search/most-diverse-school-districts/