Heidi’s enthusiasm is contagious, and I could tell right away that she brings something special to education. Learning a language can often be a laborious experience leaving a wake of frustration for the learner (at least it has in my own experiences with language learning), but not in Heidi's French class. Here’s her story about how she brings the world to her classroom each day.
“Do what you love, and love what you do.” This is a quote that one of my mentors shared with me when I was in college. As a senior, I was unsure of my future; however, I knew that I had a passion for the French language and culture. There were numerous career options available to me, but one seemed to rise above the rest - teaching. All through my years in public schools and college, I was blessed with wonderful teachers who truly cared about me as an individual and made me believe that I could do anything I put my mind to. These individuals instilled a love of learning in me. It wasn’t until I started tutoring a young girl in French that I realized I had the passion not only for French but for teaching. I knew from that moment on that I wanted to share my love of French with others and be that source of encouragement and inspiration that my teachers had been for me.
As I began my career in education, I was filled with many emotions - excitement; passion; fear; nervousness. Even though I had attended graduate school and had completed student teaching, nothing can truly prepare one for the events that happen in the classroom. My first few years at Skyline High School were filled with highs and lows as I started to find my way and build the French program. As I began to build the program, I realized there was a need to bring in real-world connections.
The day I received the email from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) announcing that Virginia had signed an agreement with the Academie de Reims, I knew I had to take a chance at creating a partnership with a school in France. The long-awaited day finally arrived – I learned that Skyline High School would have a partnership with the Lycée Bazin in Charleville-Mézières, France. I was ecstatic, along with my students and administrators. The partnership was really going to happen. Filled with enthusiasm and anticipation, I immediately contacted my new colleague, Nicolas Houpert, a math teacher at the Lycée Bazin. Even though we both teach different subjects, we realized that we had the same common goals and interests for the partnership. Any fears and apprehension that I had about the partnership were erased once I began communicating with my new colleague in Charleville.
The school year began, and the magic happened. I explained to my students that we would have a partner school in France that we would be working with throughout the year. The students became even more excited about French class. Suddenly, it became real to them. They were no longer just taking a foreign language to fulfill the advanced diploma requirement - it was now a real-life application of the language! The excitement that was present on the first day of the partnership continues to this day.
After several successful exchange visits, I realized that to take the partnership and my teaching to the next level, I would need to create an atmosphere that would allow for daily interactions and collaboration. The easiest way to achieve this goal was to use Google Apps for Education. As a Google Certified Educator, I was completely comfortable integrating this technology into my classroom. In addition, I received a grant for a classroom set of Chromebooks. The addition of the Chromebooks created a 1:1 classroom and has allowed for collaboration among my students and their peers in France.
When I began this partnership with Nicolas Houpert and the Lycée Bazin, I would have never imagined the impact it would have on my students. I quickly learned that the students thrived off of using the technology. Not only were they communicating and functioning in a manner that they are very comfortable with, but they were also applying their knowledge of French to real-life situations.
Foreign Language learning needs to be active. It is not rote memorization and paper/pencil exercises. Having Chromebooks in the classroom allows my students to have first-hand experience with native French speakers daily. It also allows them to function in a way that they are most comfortable. My students’ French has greatly improved by allowing them to utilize technology to communicate with our partner school daily.
If one had asked me when I submitted my application to the VDOE in 2012 if this is where I imagined the partnership would be, I would have said no. This partnership has exceeded my expectations, and my principal has said on many occasions that it is the epitome of what collaboration should look like. Amy Poehler summed up the power of partnerships and collaboration best during a speech at Harvard, “As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.” By making the global connection, I have facilitated an atmosphere that any foreign language teacher would want and have established a partnership that will last a lifetime.
The partnership has opened the doors to the world for my students and allowed them experiences that many have only dreamed of. The partnership has not only changed my life both professionally and personally, but it has also changed the lives of my students and the lives of the French students, something that is far more valuable to me than any score on a test or grade in a class.
Heidi recently presented a webinar as part of the ISTE Global Collaboration PLN monthly webinar series. You can view the recording here.
Heidi is a French teacher at Skyline High School in Front Royal, Virginia. She has eleven years of experience teaching every level of French. She possesses multiple educational technology certifications and she is a master at integrating technology meaningfully into the world language curriculum. Heidi is the 2017 Region IV Virginia Teacher of the Year; the 2017 FLAVA David Cox World Language Teacher of the Year; the 2018 SCOLT World Language Teacher of the Year and 2019 ACTFL Language Teacher of the Year finalist. Connect with her on Twitter @htrude07.