TransformEd Change Agents: Lynn Thomas

Two students work on a laptop, with the headline "TransformEd: Class of 2030"

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Lynn Thomas is a teacher, digital lead learner, and prolific blogger from Grand Erie District School Board in Ontario. She has a passion for global digital learning and empowering student voice. For TransformEd, we asked her how she puts that passion to work in her classroom. Read the thoughts she shared with us!

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The biggest challenge students in kindergarten will face when they graduate is a rapidly changing work environment. Being flexible is essential, and flexibility requires confidence. Confidence is the by-product of strong emotional intelligence, and it will be necessary to successfully navigate the work world of the future. Social-emotional intelligence ensures that students are self-aware and socially conscious, and that they have good self-management, relationship, and decision-making skills. These skills can be acquired in a variety of ways, but student voice and personalized learning are two very effective ways to encourage growth in these qualities.

Student voice can be supported in a myriad of ways and can be very easy to incorporate. It doesn’t require huge changes but can be accomplished in small ways. I’ve utilized a number of methods, but my favourites are Flipgrid and blogging. Flipgrid offers a user-friendly platform with a big impact. Students are already pros at selfie-style videos, so they readily catch on and enjoy voicing their opinions on a variety of topics. This obviously encourages student voice, but it also opens the door to looking at social and global issues, thereby supporting not only voice but social awareness. The best thing about this sort of forum is that students are able to film themselves privately, thus eliminating the “scary” audience that so often holds them back. I find that even the quietest students get their chance to be heard. Similarly, when I use blogging, my quiet students shine. They’re able to express themselves on their blog in creative and unique ways, and I’ve found that they gain so much confidence that they start to come out of their shells orally in the classroom afterward.

While Flipgrid and blogging are excellent platforms, student voice also needs to be fostered and supported with tools like Microsoft Dictate, Translator, and Learning Tools so that every student is able to participate. New language learners and students with learning needs often find expressing themselves difficult because their writing skills don’t match the level of their thoughts and what they want to express. Being able to use Learning tools, Translator, and Dictate allows these students to fully participate with their peers and gain confidence in their abilities.

John Hattie’s Visible Learning Research involved over 300 million students and showed that student efficacy is one of the top five elements that increase learning outcomes. When we support student voice, we’re fostering increased student efficacy. Likewise, personalized learning is an impactful method that boosts student efficacy and social-emotional intelligence.

In the past few years, I’ve integrated more and more student-led and self-directed learning into my classes. Again, this is not something that has to be overwhelming, but can be done in small steps. For example, merely offering choice can be a great way to begin moving toward a more personalized learning environment. Students are inevitably more engaged when they’re able to choose what they’re reading or writing about in my English class, so my students often read books related to a central theme where they select a book from 8 to 10 options. Invariably, I try to choose themes that are relevant to the students. These themes tend not to be the sort that’s generally associated with English class as I try to broaden our scope and incorporate social issues and global goals—mental health and climate change are two themes I’ve covered with great student interest and involvement. In fact, it was student observation of a lack of mental health and wellness teaching that prompted the development of our mental health unit. Statistics show that today’s students are under much more stress, and the rate of mental illness—particularly anxiety and depression—have risen dramatically among teens in recent years. Embedding mindfulness and explicitly teaching about mental wellness supports students not only in learning how to be empathetic and understanding, but also how to handle their own stress, and therefore helping to improve their social-emotional skills. Furthermore, using a variety of texts offers a whole new perspective in our discussions because students are drawing from a number of sources. This method also encourages them to informally teach each other—another bonus when we consider the skills that will be in demand tomorrow.

Microsoft’s Summary Report, The Class of 2030 and Life-Ready Learning: The Technology Imperativestates that “Overall, social skills such as persuasion, emotional intelligence, and teaching others will be in higher demand across industries,” so incorporating student voice and personalized learning is on track to make students life-ready for the world of 2030, however that might look.

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To learn about ways you can empower future-ready education in your classroom visit microsoft.ca/transformed. Explore edtech tools available to teachers at microsoft.ca/education. You can find resources, courses, and a community of likeminded educators at education.microsoft.com.

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