Heather Gauck: Harrison Park Teacher Practices Innovation

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Heather Gauck, a special education teacher who has been with GRPS for more than two decades, has been making headlines as a recipient of the Michigan Educator Voice Fellowship 2014-15, and a participant in the "Teach to Lead" initiative begun by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. In early April, Gauck was recognized by PBS as one of 2015's digital innovators.

Gauck has earned these accolades through her classroom innovation and professional leadership, using technology to further her students' understanding of curriculum, and sharing her experiences with other educators.

"CCSS [Common Core State Standards] is pushing higher expectations of my students. It's kind of like a set of stairs—the framework encourages higher level thinking skills, pushing students to the top of Bloom's taxonomy." Gauck's use of technology to help her students achieve CCSS goals began with one student who couldn't read. Gauck's student used a borrowed iPad, employing a program that allowed him to manipulate words using letter tiles. The success this student experienced inspired her to explore how else she could use technology to address students' needs. She built up her supply of devices by collecting recycled Droids and other smartphones, programming them with free apps to help students record stories and practice academic skills. Eventually, she piloted four iPads in her resource room, and now has eight. She also has access to a cart of iPad minis that she uses for whole class lessons as she pushes into general education classes.

The possibilities for their use seem limitless, and the educational rewards are encouraging. Gauck uses the iMovie and Greenscreen by Doink apps for vocabulary lessons. "You can almost see their thinking happen," she says. "The technology allows students a new way to show what they know." Gauck says the technology allows her to differentiate instruction to a greater degree, meeting the specific needs of each student. "I'm more a facilitator of their learning. I can provide individualized feedback." To that end, Gauck can set up appropriate programs on each student's iPad, depending on what particular skills they need to work on. "As a teacher, I feel much more effective using technology."

Gauck is also using technology to keep parents abreast of their children's progress, and to communicate with other tech-minded educators. She has established a Facebook page for her classroom, uses Weebly to maintain a webpage, and has a blog to share her journey of raising her voice as a Michigan Educator Voice Fellow and share ideas with other educators. Sharing her work, and providing support and training for other educators to incorporate technology into their classrooms is the reason for her involvement with the Michigan Educator Voice Fellowship and Teach to Lead.

"By providing a platform for sharing best practices, and giving educators a voice in local, state, and national discussions about public education, the impact of the program extends beyond the individual fellows and into the communities we serve. As one of fifty fellows in this program, I will develop skills to significantly impact students in West Michigan." Gauck has provided professional development for teachers in her district and on the national level, through online PD discussion groups, and continues to seek new opportunities to help fellow teachers. "My main goal is to share what I've been learning—the incredible power and possibility of technology."

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, West Michigan Woman congratulates Heather Gauck on her accomplishments, and thanks all local teachers for the important work they're doing!

Written by Jennifer Reynolds, West Michigan Woman staff writer.


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