“You can build upon [your] power by believing in yourself, your skills and the value these skills can bring to the education system and your students.” – Cynthia Gozzard, Canada

Professional development is a requirement for educators, and there is no shortage of great on-line and person options to get it done. For some educators, though, professional development isn’t just something they have to do – it’s a way of life. Microsoft Innovate Educator Expert Cynthia Gozzard is one of those teachers.

After reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, which discusses the need to set personal learning goals 18 months at a time, Gozzard was inspired.

“In the last 18 months I’ve completed my Microsoft Certified Educator exam, OneNote Office Specialist, and a specialist qualification course – Technology in The Classroom (recognized in Ontario),” Gozzard tells us. “Beyond earning certifications, I’ve learned new skills which I’ve begun passing onto my students and sharing with colleagues.”

Gozzard often seeks out opportunities to learn alongside fellow educators. This summer, Gozzard attended Microsoft’s Camp 21, a local interactive professional development event. She also participates in her school board’s Digital Lead Learner group.

“I make a point to participate in events and opportunities that I know will bring back valuable learning experiences to my students,” she says. “When I see the excitement on my students’ faces as they press ‘play’ on their Sway presentations, I know that all the time dedicated to this learning pathway directly benefits my students’ academic achievement.”

Helping her students experience the bigger world is a particular passion for Gozzard. She’s used the book, I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Got Shot By The Taliban to help young adult readers to gain an understanding of different cultures and connect to current events.

“As a Teacher Librarian,” Gozzard says, “I have experienced that helping students to make real-world connections to class reading material increases engagement and ignites inquiry in the classroom. Students are able to read current news articles from their devices and not only make connections to class material, but also use these articles as starting off points for inquiry.”

Here’s our Daily Edventure with Cynthia Gozzard.

What inspired you to become an educator? 

My mother always told me as a child that she wished she could have been a teacher, but life circumstances took her in a different direction. Going through university, I felt at a loss for career options and I failed to see a direct link between my degree and the workforce. My mother guided me towards the Bachelor of Education program and I became a teacher.

Quite often parents see qualities in their children that they aren’t aware of. Looking back, I feel like my mom always had confidence knowing that teaching was the best avenue for me, and I credit her mentorship and guidance for the happiness that I am able to experience as an educator.

What was a defining moment in your career when you felt proudest to be an educator?

One of my proudest moments as an educator happened this year at a Special Education Awards ceremony when I was able to recognize one of my students for an achievement award. I expressed my pride for her accomplishments including learning to use Windows Speech Recognition and growing 2.5 grade levels in reading in only one year. As I spoke, her mom took pictures and shed tears of happiness.

Before arriving at our school this family had gone through years of frustration with the education system. They had gone through difficult times of their daughter refusing to go to school, behavior counselors and anxiety attacks. Her mother expressed to me that only this year could she feel relaxed at home knowing that her daughter was at school receiving a quality education and making academic gains that she had always known were possible.

This student was identified with a learning disability and was granted a laptop funded by the Ministry of Education in Ontario, with additional assistive technology including the O365 environment supported by our school board. With training she quickly recognized the potential of the Windows Speech Recognition software to express her thoughts in writing using the dictation function. She accesses a variety of assistive technologies that support her reading and writing.

Before arriving at our school, her work showed limited vocabulary and lack of understanding. In the spring of this year, her writing not only conveyed a grade level appropriate understanding but she had also gained 2.5 grade levels in reading. Her success in reading was not gained through rote practice of Dolch sight words, or through endless hours of reading levelled reading texts but rather through the daily use of assistive technologies and a Universal Design approach to word study in the classroom.

She was loaned a Kindle e-reader from our school library and she renewed her loan period every month, devouring book after book all year long. The Kindle has a text to speech function that helped her to access the books and she was able to communicate verbally with her peers about what she was reading in class. I would often see her with her headphones on enthralled in a book using the Kindle at lunchtime and on breaks.

As the year progressed, other teachers and I discussed her remarkable accomplishments and we nominated her for a Special Education Achievement award for our region.

This year her mom has offered to volunteer in our school library to give back to the school community that, as she put it, “has given so much to her daughter.” It gives me great pride to see the smile on this student’s face knowing that she loves to be at school, reading her creative and insightful writing, and watching her engagement in the greater school community through the gardening program and milk delivery. I cannot think of a prouder moment as an educator than to witness your students’ achievements.

Why do you feel passionate about innovation and technology in the classroom?

I remember early on in my teaching career listening to my associate teacher explain to me that the reason she used technology in the classroom was solely for engagement, “the students are like flies to a lightbulb,” she said. I think back on that time and realize how common that assumption was, and yet at the same time how far from effective use of ICT it was. The education.microsoft.com platform training section describes how the use of ICT transforms the way that students learn causing a deeper, lasting understanding of content, while allowing for the development of ICT skills.

As a Learning Resource Teacher, I witness the use of assistive technologies across a number of different grade levels. Assistive technology can transform the way that students work allowing them to perform to their greatest potential and display learning in a variety of ways. For example, a grade 5 student is able to use the ‘Speak’ tool in Microsoft Word to have a text read to him. Following that, he can access the Learning Tools in One Note to dictate his oral response to be able to participate fully in an online group project.

Years ago a student with reading and writing difficulties would have to wait to have the text read to them by the teacher or wait to order a special version from an alternative source. Now all students can access reading materials in class in real time with his/her peers.

Using the dictate tool allows a student with a Learning Disability to participate in the same software environment as his/her peers. The assistive technology tools offered by Microsoft across the O365 environment allow students to be independent in the classroom, no longer needing the one-to-one constant support for things like reading and writing. In my opinion, when students are able to be independent, they have a higher level of confidence in their academic abilities and are able to participate more often.

Whether it’s a day-to-day challenge or larger problem, what’s the biggest obstacle you or your country or region has had to overcome, or will have to overcome, to ensure a quality education for students?

Currently technology and innovation can be found many classrooms throughout Ontario. There are however, large disparities between school boards and classrooms which can result in a disjointed experience for students changing classrooms from year to year.

As technology advances, teachers use an Annual Learning Plan document to set personal goals of learning and professional development. However, most professional development is done on our own time and with our own money. School boards often offer professional development opportunities focused on technology however again these opportunities vary from board to board.

Working to bridge this gap, Microsoft’s O365 environment is helping students and teachers by offering online versions of software that will run on any device including mobile devices. Classrooms that have older technology in their rooms can still access the most up-to-date daily working environments. It is these types of ICT advances that make student’s shifts into the next grade smoother by offering a continued and deeper understanding of the same type of software environment, as well as exposure to new experiences and innovations.

In terms of education innovation, what are you most excited about for the future?

I am most excited about the shift from traditional school library spaces to Learning Commons. This transition is happening across the globe and is well underway within Canada following the release of the Leading Learning publication.

I believe this transition to be especially powerful as it has the potential to touch every school and public library in the country. It is common to find classrooms leading with technology as islands within their school and board. The Learning Commons brings technology and inquiry-based instruction away from isolated classrooms to a hub of activity, collaboration and staff capacity building. The Learning Commons offers a whole school community area for Maker Spaces, media green screen, coding, BYOD, e-books, print books and much more. I hope our students of today will use the spaces of innovation within.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

The best advice I received was just this year when I applied for a position with my school board and wasn’t successful. Feeling devastated, I called my sister who is a Human Resources director in the private sector, to talk about the situation. She said to me, “Being the victim in a situation is debilitating. You only become the victim when you give up all your power to the other person.” Unknowingly I had created an environment wherein I gave up my power to the myths of “rules and guidelines”; job qualifications, expecting that the most qualified candidate would be successful.

What I learned from that experience and can share with others is that only you can create your own future and continue to be the owner of that future by not shedding your power to the mystical man of guidelines and rules. You can build upon that power by believing in yourself, your skills and the value these skills can bring to the education system and your students. The results of this interview gave me the motivation the opportunity to apply my skills in a brand new way as a MIE Expert. Being part of the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert team is a positive, uplifting, solutions focused experience that will continue to bring new learning to my students.

About Cynthia Gozzard

Learning Resource Teacher/Teacher Librarian

Delhi Public School/Grand Erie District School Board

Tillsonburg, Ontario, Canada

Birthplace: Tillsonburg, Ontario

Educational background: Honors Degree in Psychology, Bachelor Degree Education, Masters Degree Education Administration

Website I check every day: CBC.ca – Making global connections to what students are learning in the classroom is of increasing importance.

Favorite childhood memory: I have always had an interest in technology, spending hours playing the game Lemmings on my home PC. One of my favorite memories is spending hours riding in the combine with my dad being mesmerized by the technology of the machinery. The combine’s tech would keep track of the number of bushels of soy beans or corn collected per acre and we would measure the moisture level. My dad would point out the various numbers, lights and buttons and it all seemed so magical to me. I can remember going for evening rides with my dad after school, and my mom would pick me up after I had fallen asleep on the cab floor of the combine.

Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology: My favorite part of the O365 environment is its ability to work intuitively across all devices. As an educator and mother of three young children I am often working in less than ideal environments away from my home office. With One Drive for Business, Office Mix, Yammer and O365 Groups I have a full range of working abilities no matter if I am at a hockey practice or waiting for a dentist appointment. This flexibility allows me to maintain a high level of detail and accuracy through editing files from One Drive for Business, and communicating with group members via Yammer.

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