A Connection Customer Success Story with Microsoft in Education

Makayla Mota

Rachel Hatten, Director of Professional Development at the David C. Anchin Center for the Advancement of Teaching, is a big believer in the “tinkering mentality” when exploring tech tools, particularly when it comes to teaching.

“The more we can get our pre-service teachers engaged in that mentality, the more willing they are to let students take risks and try things out. It is okay to use a tool you are not fully versed in and let the kids teach you! They will explore. They will become the experts.”

The David C. Anchin Center for the Advancement of Teaching is part of the University of South Florida College of Education and supports the space between the College of Education and practicing teachers and administrators in partner school districts. Their purpose is to support practicing teachers by putting on professional development for teacher recertification and continuing education. Though their outreach is community-based and primarily focused on practicing teachers, Rachel was excited when Nicole Caldwell, a Professional Learning Consultant and MIE Expert at Connection, reached out with a desire to set up Microsoft trainings with pre-service teachers during the pandemic.

“This stemmed from remembering what I felt as a first-year teacher, feeling like I was drowning and reflecting on how unprepared teachers were when the pandemic hit, and we all got sent home,” Nicole shared. “They didn’t have good preparation to be able to survive virtually at all—and that is not a knock at teachers—all over the world educators were not prepared for this.”

Getting Teachers—and Students—the Tools They Need

After getting in touch with Rachel and Ashley, the Administrative Specialist at Anchin, the three of them began brainstorming about different offerings they could provide for both pre-service teachers and USF professors and decided to run several Microsoft Innovative Educator programs allowing them to become certified MIEs. Their first two sessions were held in the Fall of 2020, one focusing on faculty and one focused on the pre-service teaching students and staff, with the main objective being to open people’s eyes to how much power the Microsoft tools had to offer and to get better implementation across the board within the College of Education.

“The professional development with Nicole and Connection fit this really important need, because we were still in the middle of the pandemic and everyone, including our USF professors, was figuring out teaching online for the very first time. So we have USF professors trying to figure out how to use USF tools, we have USF students trying to figure out how to use USF tools, and some of those USF students are student teaching with K–12 students who are in an online setting for the first time,” Rachel said.

Nicole approached the MIE Academies with an eye toward implementation. Knowing that the pre-service teachers are likely going into school districts that are also Microsoft customers, she knew that by training USF professors on the Microsoft Suite they would then be modeling how to best use the tools in class, thereby better preparing the students for their student-teaching practice. It was important to Nicole to centralize her efforts around using the Microsoft platform only, rather than several, in turn creating a full-circle attempt to fully take advantage of teacher modeling.

“Teachers teach the way they were taught,” Rachel said. “So Nicole approached the college from the place of—how can we make implementation and the use of Microsoft tech tools better in the College of Ed so that pre-service teachers see their teachers using these tools, and are modeling for them how to best use these tools, then when these students go into their student-teaching practice experience they are well-versed and prepared to use the tools with the student they are going to serve especially when they are going into schools districts in the Tampa Bay area that are also Microsoft customers.”

This full-circle approach is beneficial for everyone involved. The USF professors are getting trained on what the entire Microsoft Suite has to offer, and by implementing those tools into their day-to-day practice, the pre-service teachers are getting more prepared in their student-teaching roles, taking that aspect of training off the plates of the partner school districts that work with the Anchin Center. Providing this training and the in-class modeling for the pre-service teachers felt like an opportunity where they could give them practical and hands-on tools that they could use immediately within those partner districts, and the partner districts would not have to worry about training them on the Microsoft Suite.

“It felt like a way to bring both of those sides together and say—this is part of what our preparation looks like. We know we’ll send them to you with at least this space covered,” Rachel stated. “It makes hiring USF grads a major selling point to districts. Constantly trying to PD new teachers on new curriculum, new standards, new district ways, even how to take attendance is overwhelming and to have this one thing we could lift off the district’s plate in terms of training new hires on the Microsoft Suite and having pre-service teachers see that through-line from I had this as a student, I practiced this in my student teaching, and now I can implement it as a teacher. That kind of learning, if we could replicate it in other places, is really powerful.”

Opening Up New Possibilities with Training Sessions

The Fall MIE Training Sessions provided by Connection were a huge success that garnered positive feedback from USF professors, staff, and pre-service teachers alike. The attendees were constantly surprised by how much they didn’t know about the Microsoft 365 Suite and consistently wanted to learn more. Where Teams was thought of as a virtual meeting tool only, the attendees learned how Teams could be used to collaborate, learn, and teach in a virtual environment and then carry those practices back into schools as they returned. Microsoft Sway also got a lot of attention from Nicole’s trainees, several of them expressing that they found the tool so useful for asynchronous consumption because they can build content and their students can access it independently.

The positive feedback led to planning for Spring 2021 Connection Introduction and Advanced MIE training sessions that Nicole conducted in innovative ways. She focused a lot on instructional practice and how to use programs and tools like Teams, OneNote Class Notebook, and Reading Progress in both the in-person and virtual classroom and real-life scenarios. She also planned for a lot of free time throughout the training sessions, allowing the attendees to play with the applications spread across a Tic Tac Toe board at the front of the room, again encouraging that “tinkering mentality” that is so important in training a new teacher.

“Go ahead and click—you’re not going to break anything. What’s going to happen?” Rachel said. “Pre-service teachers seeing that modeled by faculty are more likely to do that in their own classrooms. A willingness to explore, back out of something, and try again. Those are skills we want kids to have, we just call them fancy names, like 21st century skills, but really we just want kids to not know how to do something, try it and explore a little bit to learn as they go, and I think that is a major piece of what those workshops did for those folks.”

This is only the beginning of Nicole and Connection’s partnership with the University of Southern Florida and The David C. Anchin Center. The importance of training pre-service teachers is something Nicole kept coming back to throughout various points of her career and she is thrilled to see this partnership flourish, expand and be a source of guidance for pre-service educators in the coming years.

Please see Connection’s Academies and Workshops for Educators for more information about planning a Microsoft training session and encouraging your teachers to tinker.

Makayla Mota is a Partner Marketing Specialist at Connection with a background in educational technology training on Microsoft solutions in the classroom. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, spending time with her family, antiquing, hiking, and watching movies.