Agora Teachers Receive KTI Awards
The Keystone Innovator Program Leaves a Legacy of Agora Teachers
The Keystone Technology Innovator Program exists to recognize and support exemplary educators who use technology in innovative ways to transform the classroom experience. The power of the program exists in the community created by organizers and identified educations—offering a foundation for engagement and the cultivation of technological expertise, creativity and, ultimately, the implementation of opportunities that inspires students to unlock new learning potential. Agora is proud to have had several of our teachers selected to be a part of this prestigious program and, as participants, demonstrate the way the Keystone Innovator Program’s visions and values align with those of our school.
The hallmark experience of the Keystone Innovator Program is its week-long summit held every July. Designed to enrich and invigorate the skills and competencies of those who are invited, the summit gives attendees the opportunity to experience hands-on professional development, attend keynote sessions provided by dynamic and innovative speakers on instructional technology, and collaborate in cohorts of similar classroom interests. Plus, at the end of it all, teachers leave with an extensive network of like-minded, technology-driven colleagues from throughout Pennsylvania.
The road to the summit
Being given the opportunity to participate in the Keystone Innovator Program summit in and of itself says a lot about the quality and dedication of each educator invited. To be chosen for the summit, a teacher must first be nominated by their school’s principal and then submit an application. Regional teams with the Pennsylvania Association for Educational Communications and Technology (PAECT) review these applications, using a very selective process to choose awardees. Of the potential thousands of applications submitted, only 100 educators are selected. For Agora, the selection of several of our teachers—Allison Keefe, 7th grade English (2021 summit); Eric Pfeiffer, science (2021); Theresa Bash, K-8, Special Education (2022); and Tawny Binder, middle school (2022)—is even more impressive, as we were one of only three cyber charter schools represented in 2022. This fact is extremely meaningful as our teachers’ selection and participation were pivotal in expanding the visibility of cyber charter schools, and the ways we can uniquely benefit different types of students by addressing their specific challenges, needs and potential.
Through their participation—and hard work at the summit, as well as part of a continuum of support created by the Keystone Innovator community—Agora’s teachers in turn bring a unique set of tools and untold educational value back to our faculty, students and families. Through the discoveries and personal and professional growth they experience throughout the program, our distinguished educators enhance Agora’s ability to reach students in innovative ways that truly make an impact in their lives today, and for their future. We are happy to highlight the journeys of two of these teachers.
Allison Keefe, exploring the new frontier of cyber
Allison, who has been part of the Agora family for ten years, eagerly embraced the opportunity to attend the Keystone Innovator summit in 2021 and bring back its lessons and resources to her students and peers at Agora. She has found the entire journey invigorating and thrilling and is particularly grateful for the many opportunities educators have to meet, collaborate and work together, for the betterment of everyone.
“It’s like Disneyland for teachers. There’s a real teacher community after the Summit, and we pull on each other throughout the year for resources,” said Keefe. “It is great that Agora is represented in that space. Many struggle with the idea of distance learning but this opens broader conversations by way of sharing ideas between creative teachers, whether brick and mortar or cyber”.
Allison’s Pillar Project—which is a requirement for all summit participants and meant to encourage creativity and moderation within the bounds of education—married gaming with education. In addition, she leveraged the summit’s focus on providing teachers with lessons and plans to improve professional development. She said as a result, she’s rewritten many of her lessons utilizing insights specifically from the summit and, since implementing the training has seen a conservative growth rate of 30% in what students are scoring on responses. Since the summit, she’s also seen higher participation.
“We are on the forefront of tech at Agora and constantly updating learning techniques,” said Allison. “Cyber is the new frontier of teaching—and we are dedicated to exploring how to better the growth of our students”.
Theresa Bash, gamifying to gain entry
An Agora middle school special education teacher, one of Theresa’s biggest challenges in the classroom is getting her students’ attention. It’s a challenge her engagement in the Keystone Innovator summit—including a companion week-long leadership conference at Shippensburg University and a Master’s course she elected to take in addition—have significantly diminished.
When Therese was sent the schedule of summit opportunities, robotics and coding really called out to her as something that would enrich her teaching—that would provide her with learning she could apply in her real world at Agora. As she pursued this path, she found there were many ways she could, indeed, translate it into the virtual learning model. Her Pillar Project focused on engaging students in lessons – developing engaging lessons in which they would want to participate.
“I met a Microsoft trainer and am now working on certification in Minecraft for education,” said Theresa. “I have a student who loves Minecraft and it gave him a whole new level of excitement. I will pull it into one-on-one engagements. He’s so excited—so am I!”
A keynote address on gamifying the classroom also really resonated with Theresa. During this session she learned how to take concepts and attributes of gamifying and apply them to lessons. One of the first examples she and her summit colleagues engaged in was gamifying opening classes to learn about rules, finding things and getting to know each other. In practice at Agora, Theresa has found these methods really got students talking.
“I bought books on how to gamify and how to apply it to any kind of unit,” said Theresa. “Lessons I learned are allowing me to connect to my students on a whole new level. We can talk coding together. We had a Girls Who Code session at the summit too, which I want to bring back to Agora. I’m also thinking about developing an Agora Days Out around robotics and coding.”
At the summit Theresa also trained in power writing, which she has brought back to Agora to help
break down the wall students typically put up as soon as a teacher says, “we’re going to write today.” Lastly, Theresa emphasizes the irreplaceable value of the peer connections she’s made and the community that has been built around the summit.
“I have so many more teacher friends, now, throughout the state. We talk constantly, share situations and help each other in making it better. Just to learn what other districts use is enlightening.”
Agora is so proud of our Keystone Innovation Program-selected teachers. And we are incredibly grateful for the time, resources and heart they invest to maximize the opportunities of the summit for the good of our Agora community. Integrating new technology into the classroom builds confidence and competence in students and educators alike. Through the Keystone Innovation Program, Agora is elevating our success in using technology to reach students in ways that make them excited to take active roles in their education.