A Full-Circle Connection Customer Success Story with Microsoft in Education

Makayla Mota

When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, educators were faced with huge challenges while transitioning to virtual learning. At the time, Cindy Danielsa former Principal turned Professional Learning Consultant and certified MIE at Connectionhad been working with and training K–12 teachers. She quickly transitioned her own approach, and began virtually training educators on how they could use Microsoft 365 to better reach students and organize their classes and content. Amid the chaos and questions regarding education in those first few months, she had a lingering thought:

Why Are We Not Helping New Teachers?

Never one to shy away from challenges, Cindy reached out to a former professor at the University of North Carolina with the hopes that she could offer training to students enrolled in the Teaching Fellows program at UNC Chapel Hill. Here, Cindy met Dr. Jennifer Diliberto, the Director of UNC Chapel Hill Teaching Fellows and Clinical Associate Professor of Special Education and Literacy. The two formed an immediate bond and immediately set up a series of Microsoft Pilot Academies for Jen’s students.

“I look at things as an opportunity,” Jen says, “and now is a prime opportunity to make sure that we do, in teacher education, what we should have been doing for a long time in making sure that our pre-service teachers have a level of comfort with teaching face-to-face as well as virtually. So, we just organically started digging into all of the Microsoft tools last year and for me, as an instructor, I’ve embedded the use of Teams in all of my projects.”

Through Cindy’s Microsoft training, Jen continued incorporating Microsoft tools into her own teaching, in turn, allowing her students to experience first-hand the power various Microsoft programs can have in the classroom. After struggling for a way to log case studies virtually, Jen began using OneNote and creating sections for each of the exceptionality areas and then pages for each of the cases.

“Through all of Cindy’s wonderful trainings, we’re helping to give the students some ideas of how they might be able to utilize the tools,” Jen shares.

Powerful Education Tools for Better Learning Outcomes

Dasia Toone is one of those students. She is a bright and energetic student teacher enrolled in the UNC Chapel Hill Teaching Fellows program. She is currently teaching in an EC Resource class for K–5 students in Durham, NC. The night Cindy covered Flipgrid in Jen’s class a light bulb went off. Dasia had been struggling to extract information from one of her 4th grade students, explaining that he is very verbally expressive but checks out when it comes time to write.

“We only have 30 minutes and half of those minutes are transition times, so we had to get down to the nitty gritty and it just wasn’t happening. I could see that this student was getting frustrated. We really were working on detail and beginning, middle, and end in his writing. I went to class, and we started talking about Flipgrid and I thought—hmm maybe I could try this with my student and so we tried it literally the next day.”

Flipgrid is a video discussion app that allows teachers to create prompts for students to respond to. The student is then allowed to create a video answering the prompts and presenting material. It excels at allowing students to be creative and silly and has a unique and special power to draw out even the most introverted kids. I know because I have seen it. I have seen it work wonders in the classroom for both students and teachers. As Dasia talks about her student and the strides that he has made using Flipgrid this year, her eyes light up and a giant smile plays across her face. The pride and accomplishment of reaching a student and presenting another option to something that may have been difficult for them is written across her face, and soon all four of us on the Teams call are grinning from ear to ear. Education is powerful, and when teachers are presented with the right tools, they can do anything and all students can succeed.

“It has been a turnaround for that student. I am seeing him write, or speak, more in detail without that frustration and he is able to really give us some quality work. I would say that it has been a transition for me, as well. Going into this program, my teaching philosophy was a bit anti-technology. I had this idea that you couldn’t truly learn if there was so much access to technology. I am already seeing a shift as to how much I use it as an elementary school teacher. It has been a way to break through to my students.”

Dasia is also using Flipgrid for her social emotional check ins. A few weeks ago while doing a Flipgrid prompt, her student got visibly frustrated and had a meltdown. Dasia then flipped the activity on its head asking her student to create a 5-minute video on how he was doing that day. The student responded so well that she has incorporated this technique into her solution strategies.

“He likes that a lot because he doesn’t have to talk directly to me, but he knows I am going to listen to it and comment. He has a little room where he escapes for privacy, even though he knows I am going to see it. He gets to perform and express himself—through his writing and his emotions—to the computer.”

Empowering the Students of Today

Dasia has also seen him grow tenfold in confidence over the course of the year, even taking on a mentor role to new students, something she doesn’t think he would have ever done without that Flipgrid confidence boost.

“We have some behavioral issues, and he is generally resistant to everything I say except Flipgrid! He loves it. We also just got a new student, so yesterday he made a Flipgrid and showed the new student how to make a Flipgrid alongside him. It was really cute.”

As Dasia speaks about this student and the ways that he has grown, she suddenly has another idea of how she could use Flipgrid with her 3rd grade math students. She envisions asking them to be the teachers and creating videos explaining the mathematical concepts they are learning for each other, explaining that Flipgrid is so versatile that you can use it for any subject. She’s excited and vibrant and I can see what a great teacher she is already, and the impact Microsoft tools have made on her teaching style thanks to the training and innovative leadership of Cindy and Jen. Teaching has gone through a big and tumultuous transition these last few years, but through my conversation with Cindy, Jen, and Dasia I see a whole lot of hope and promise for the future of education. These three educators have impacted so many students—from K-12 to Higher Education—in the past two years by using various Microsoft Education tools and tailoring them to their specific classroom and the struggles they face. Training educators on how to use Microsoft tools makes the possibilities limitless.

The Power of Wow

Before we end our conversation, I ask if there is anything anyone wants to add about their experience using Microsoft in the classroom and Jen says, “the wow power,” and laughs. I ask her to elaborate.

“I had a meeting with a student just a little bit ago, who’s one of my interns, and she needed some support with her own learning. I was sharing Immersive Reader because she’s doing a lot of reading right now. She said that what’s always been so hard when doing research is getting through all of the material and reading it. So having the screen reader and using the dictation piece can be so empowering—to anybody, not just someone with a disability. It equals the playing field for someone with a disability, but then it just makes life simpler. I was telling the student you can have the Immersive Reader read the article while you’re listening, then you don’t have to focus on deciphering and comprehending the words. You just need to focus on comprehending the language, and then you can take notes while it’s reading to you. Kind of like you would during a lecture, right? Wow. So, yes, the wow power.”

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.