A digital learning coach can take on many roles. While most support other teachers, others take on additional roles as mentors, teach their own classes, and develop innovative practices for all of the above. This new kind of teacher has taken hold in districts that seek professional development from within. In her role as the Digital Learning Coach at Andover High School, Shelagh St. Laurent provides a diversified approach in supporting teachers, students, and her school.
Her role has evolved over the past five years into what it is today. Soon after accepting her current position, Shelagh had the opportunity to attend the Henry Ford Learning Institute in Detroit with some of her colleagues. In this program, she was immersed in ‘design thinking’, which has become the cornerstone for her innovative teaching practices. “This experience changed me through problem-solving following the engineering design process. I use the process to lead our students, lead our teams, and reimagine learning.” A life long learner, St. Laurent believes in the power of a growth mindset and persisting in new experiences to grow professionally. “We need to challenge ourselves and encourage teachers to take risks,” she said. As a coach to her fellow teachers, Shelagh brings innovation through technology integration in their classrooms. “After attending the MassCUE Fall Conference a few times, I learned of coaching models and started leading professional development in my district,” stated St. Laurent, who also believes that we need to understand and have empathy for others.
Innovative Learning Experiences
In Shelagh’s first year as the Digital Learning Coach, she led the Student Help Desk and Innovation Lab. “When BYOD was implemented at AHS, the Help Desk was essential to support staff and students,” she said. After a group of students from AHS presented at LearnLaunch, the school was offered an opportunity from MIT to learn with their Food Computer Project. Experiential learning at its best, St. Laurent’s students took the lead in building a ‘food computer’, which is a hydroponic garden with sensors connected to Raspberry Pi and Arduino devices to measure heat and humidity. “Students entered ‘climate recipes’ to grow whatever they chose,” said Shelagh. The project was a success, with a group of eight students working together to learn organization, teamwork, and hands-on programming. After presenting at LearnLaunch a second time, St. Laurent’s students were invited to compete at the Bejing Youth Science Creation Competition in China. A major highlight for Shelagh’s teaching career was when her students won the gold medal in the international category of science and agriculture, which had over 300 applicants! Read more
Soon more students wanted these learning experiences, and the AHS Innovation Lab was born. Modeled after the d.school at Stanford University, the Innovation Lab is a design boot camp rich in problem-solving through the design process. In this space, St. Laurent has guided students in designing wearable technologies, which involves sewing, building and programming Arduino circuits, and testing their creations to make sure they work. One example is the High 5 Glove where students sew a LilyPad into a glove which in turn counts how many High 5s occur based on impact. “The project is challenging and involves design, coding, and testing,” stated St. Laurent.
The iLab Course also combines the essence of design with skill-building using fabrication tools. The fabrication tools are housed in the AHS IDEAStudio (Innovation, Design, Engineering, Entrepreneurship, Arts, Sciences). These include 3D printers, CNC machines, Laser Cutters, sewing machines, vinyl cutters, and hand/power tools. “We continue to learn more about these tools as students and faculty take advantage of having them on a regular basis,” said St. Laurent. “The machines are a part of my iLab curriculum, but are also used by our Robotics and Helpdesk teams and for independent projects.”
Shelagh is also the program coordinator for the Global Pathways Program, supporting about 250 students on their journeys to global citizenship, alongside a faculty advisory team. The APS Global Pathway Scholars (GPS) program is a series of experiences over three years for students and faculty to thrive as global citizen-scholars, in our complex, dynamic, and diverse global society. GPS students are guided by faculty advisors as they travel their global path through world language study, immersive travel, service learning, a Capstone research project, course work, and other experiences that lead toward the Endorsement for Global Engagement. “We currently have approximately 250 students in the program and anticipate it continuing to grow as we recruit freshmen later this year,” said Shelagh. In response to recent developments with the COVID-19 pandemic, Shelagh is looking to leverage global situations to connect with Global Pathways students and keep them thinking. She and the rest of the AHS Library Team have also developed a website, along with a collection of enrichment activities and lessons in support of distance learning.
A Passion for Innovation in Education
It is clear that Shelagh is passionate about her work and its impact on education. “Through the years I have learned a lot about myself as an educator. I have learned that the best way to engage students is to let them lead their own learning pathways. To do this, we need to rethink who we are as educators and design our classrooms in ways that meet diverse learners.” St. Laurent’s ultimate goal is for all students to feel like active members in their learning journey, and to have a voice in the process. She believes that students should be challenged intellectually, but should also learn about real-life skills that they can transfer into their everyday lives and future. “Simple concepts like team building, problem solving and collaboration all play a large role in my work and classroom,” states Shelagh. “Although content is extremely important, I have learned that students are more motivated when we get to know them better, help them to feel safe and supported, and create a learning environment that sets them up for success.” Thank you, Shelagh, for making a difference in education for all!
Shelagh St. Laurent is a Digital Learning Coach at Andover High School in Andover, MA. Her professional role includes collaborating with teachers and students through digital and fabrication tools, facilitating the Innovation Lab and working with a team of colleagues to lead students in the Global Pathways Scholars Program, as the program coordinator. She is in her 13th year teaching and is currently pursuing her second Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership at EDCO Collaborative, planning to complete her program and administrator certifications in June 2020. She is also the proud mother of two children, ages 6 and 11. Follow her on Twitter at @mrssaintlaurent and on Instagram at @ahsglobalpathways.
Print this post