Three people sit around a table

Jacob Norton, an engineering student at Murray State University, worked with students in Kalli Colley’s class at South Marshall Middle School (Marshall County) to brainstorm and design an outdoor learning space.
Photo submitted by Kalli Colley

In a classroom in Jefferson County, Katie Walkovic, a 2nd- and 3rd-grade teacher at Luhr Elementary, cracked the code on how to unleash her students’ voices to the world. She swapped textbooks for microphones and turned their passion for animals into a classroom podcast.

Walkovic began the project by having students explore the question, “How can information be spread to a wider audience?” Her students researched and developed ideas on how to spread information and landed on a podcast. Walkovic knew immediately who could help her classroom make this dream a reality, a local Louisville-based podcast company run by a parent.

“Our first community partner came about from a conversation I had with a parent on a field trip,” she said. “We were talking about her work and I found out that she and another parent at the school owned a podcasting company and I knew right away that they would be the perfect partner.”

Walvokic said her students were hooked from the start. During learning stations, they had the opportunity to listen to some podcasts prior to her introducing the project. The students would ask to work on the project whenever they finished their classroom work.

“The best day was the day I brought the big microphone in for recording. It was sitting on my desk when they came in one morning and this sparked their curiosity more than anything,” she said. “Some students were apprehensive when we began recording. They were a bit nervous but when I played it back, they were eager to do better.”

The Strange Animals Podcast consists of a five-episode series to teach listeners about the class’ favorite strange animals: blobfish, axolotl, sloth, platypus and immortal jellyfish.

Walkovic is a part of the inaugural Innovative Teacher Cohort. Teachers were selected from a pool of applicants from across the state that are a part of the 43 KY ILN member districts. KY ILN is a partnership between local school districts and the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), providing a shared professional learning space for education leaders.

Educators in the pilot cohort crafted innovative experiences that connect to the three big ideas of the United We Learn vision: creating vibrant learning experiences, accelerating innovation and building a bold new future with communities.

Eleven teachers completed the cohort in the 2022-2023 school year:

  • Kalli Colley, South Marshall Middle School, Marshall County;
  • Jeremy Hall, John Hardin High School, Hardin County;
  • María Belén Morera de Paz, Edythe Jones Hayes Middle School, Fayette County;
  • Amy Newsome, Paintsville High School, Paintsville Independent;
  • Bryan Quillen, Fairdale High School, Jefferson County;
  • Meagan Ralph, South Marshall Middle School, Marshall County;
  • Melanie Ramey​, Paintsville Elementary School, Paintsville Independent;
  • Morgan Seely, Painted Stone Elementary, Shelby County;
  • Tina Sharp, North Jackson Elementary, Barren County;
  • Molly Turner, Auburn School, Logan County; and
  • Kathleen Walkovic​, Luhr Elementary, Jefferson County.

KDE Division of Innovation Program Director Sarah Snipes said the division loved the opportunity to support the teachers during this school year, as they inspired the team to be innovative in their own work.

“Creating a space where innovative teacher leaders from across Kentucky could come together to learn, network and grow together was a necessity and the right next step for the Kentucky Innovative Learning Network,” she said. “Highlighting their work gave us an opportunity to show Kentuckians how educators really are creating more vibrant learning experiences, innovating in assessment, and collaborating with their communities to bring the United We Learn vision to life.”

Embarking on her innovative project, “Let’s Go Outside”, Kalli Colley, a teacher at South Marshall Middle School (Marshall County), led her students outside of the traditional four walls of her classroom to the outdoors, asking her students to find a problem they could solve.

Eighth-grade students identified barriers and distractions with having class outside. Students channeled their energy into argumentative essays aimed at convincing the principal of the benefits an outdoor classroom would bring to their school. With the green light to proceed, Colley orchestrated two community collaborations to help her students conceptualize and develop the classroom.

Jacob Norton, an engineering student at Murray State, gave feedback to students on their designs. A local architect is drawing the design for our school based on the students’ final designs and has donated his time and services. Students have planned for the next two years, including task lists for the next 8th-grade class.

Colley said the Innovative Teacher Cohort has rejuvenated her teaching energy.

“I feel so grateful it has allowed me to be around likeminded people who are excited (about) teaching and learning,” she said. “It’s made me feel like there are people who are excited about the big ideas with the direction Kentucky public education is moving.”

Applications for the next Innovative Teacher Cohort will open in fall 2023. The application process is open to school districts as part of KDE’s Innovation of Learning Network.