What Have I Done?

Categories3-column tableBHAGCSLEEDLD 5313growth mindsetlearning philosophyunderstanding by designTagged , , , , ,

With this post, I am wrapping up my fourth class in the DLL program. One-third of the way to my master’s degree in education. My master’s degree in education. That phrase has always intrigued me. I don’t know if this is true for other languages, but I love the way that, in English, we tend to say “I’m working on my PhD,” or “I’m getting my HVAC license” as opposed to, say, “I’m working on a master’s degree.” It’s a very optimistic way of phrasing it–it expresses an assumption that there’s a high school diploma, a bachelor’s degree, a tech certification, a doctorate, whatever, just waiting out there for each and every one of us, and meant just for us. We don’t have to create it out of thin air. We just have to take the steps to go get it.

This reminds me a little of Dweck’s ideas of the growth mindset and the power of “yet” (2016). Nothing is out of reach; our brains, our abilities, our achievements can continue to grow, if we just recognize that where we are isn’t where we have to stay.  Recently I was telling someone about my grad program, and she asked if I was going to go on and pursue a doctorate (my doctorate, sorry). I told her that I wasn’t sure, but that at this time a year ago if she’d asked the same question about getting my master’s degree, I would have said, “Probably not.” So, clearly, a) like Jon Snow, I know nothing (Martin 2000), and b) anything is possible. 

I think this current course, Creating Significant Learning Environments, has done more to focus my ideas about learning and teaching more than any course in the program thus far. I got to dive deep into the CSLE concept, and figure out what significant learning looks like in a music classroom. Part of this process involved some difficult soul-searching, begun during some of my work in my previous class, regarding the surprising lack of creative opportunity and significant learning in what are ostensibly some of the most creative subjects available to students. This kind of realization can be disheartening; after all, after 20 years of teaching I should know what I’m doing, right? But that is fixed mindset thinking, friends. We can and should always be looking to be better. And, as a former principal of mine was fond of saying, it’s never the wrong time to do the right thing.

One thing that has helped with this resolution has been taking a good long look at my learning philosophy, and coming to understand what I really think about how people learn. By examining how I have learned the things that are most significant to me in my life, I’ve reached a better understanding of how I can help my students do the same. And, just like most other things, if you can explain how and why you’re doing something, you can improve upon it. I have already used what I’ve learned about learning to restructure my plans for my guitar classes for the rest of the school year and beyond, in hopes of putting some of my aforementioned soul-searching to good use.

I’ve also tried to use that soul-searching to structure the online Technology-Assisted Music course outlined in my innovation plan. I used Fink’s 3-column table (2003) and Collins’ idea of the Big Hairy Audacious Goal (2018) to develop an overarching vision of the course’s learning outcomes, activities, and assessments, and instructional design principles outlined by McTighe and Wiggins (2005) to create a detailed plan for some of those activities. I keep thinking of these two design approaches as strategy and tactics, respectively; both are aimed at the same objective, but the former gives a better look at the “why,” while the latter zooms in closer on the “how.”

Last but not least, I had the opportunity to revisit my very first assignment in the DLL program, my growth mindset plan. And, as I expected on some level, I discovered how little I actually understood way back in July. (See earlier statement re: Jon Snow.) I also had the opportunity to revisit some moments from one of my favorite films, and now I know what I’ll be doing with the rest of my afternoon, but that’s a different matter.

So, what have I done? I’ve completed one-third of a journey that I hadn’t imagined even beginning a year ago. I’ve reached a much-needed mental break, to renew and reflect. And I think, with the invaluable help of instructors and classmates, I’ve given myself a firm foundation to build on as I start the next phase of the program.

See you in the new year.


Collins, J. (2018). BHAG–Big Hairy Audacious Goal [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/BHAG.html

Dweck, C. S. (2016). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.

Fink, L. D. (2003). A self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning. Retrieved from https://www.deefinkandassociates.com/GuidetoCourseDesignAug05.pdf

Martin, G. R. R. (2000). A storm of swords. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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About the author

I am an instructional technologist for the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry in Richmond, VA. Before that, I spent more than 20 years as a public school music teacher in Chesterfield County, VA, primarily teaching guitar and music technoogy at the high school level. I hold a Bachelor of Music Education degree from the University of Richmond, and a Master of Education degree with a focus on Digital Learning and Leading from Lamar University. I believe that every person has the need, the desire, the ability, and the right to learn, and that as educators we must meet our students wherever they are, and help bring them to where they want and deserve to be.