Now the newly minted Research and Development Coordinator, Mrs. Katherine Heiles began her career at PA Distance over 10 years ago in 2008 as an English teacher. As a new teacher in the world of cyber education, she was immediately interested in learning more about instructional technology and innovation that could improve her student’s learning and propel her classroom into the future.
“At PA Distance, the administration shares professional learning opportunities with the staff all the time, which is a completely different but great experience for me,” she said.
“From the get-go, I started learning about new educational technologies at professional training programs and events. I was a new teacher, and the administration let me attend these conferences right away,” she added.
Mrs. Heiles earned her B.A. in English Language and Literature and B.A. English Education from La Roche College. She also later earned her Masters of Arts in Teaching Degree for Advanced Studies in Secondary Education from the California University of Pennsylvania. She is PA certified in English for grades 7-12. Once she graduated, she started as an Academic Support teacher at Hampton High School, in Hampton, PA before beginning at PA Distance.
Up until starting her new role as Research and Development Coordinator this past school year, Mrs. Heiles also taught middle/high school English classes, later became an Instructional Technology Coach, and planned yearly “Ed Camps” with her colleague, Mrs. DeRoner.
“I started doing my own research within my own classroom to improve how my students learn and grow. Then, the more I learned the more I wanted to share what I was learning with the rest of the staff,” she said. “It later became a formal position as an Instructional Technology Coach and now Research and Development Coordinator.”
Mrs. Heiles’ job is to find new programs, educational products, and technology devices that could benefit students and staff. Sometimes, staff members come to her directly to find a product, with specific attributes, or to research a particular product that can help improve their teaching and each student’s learning experience.
“I love finding new, non-traditional, ways to do things and finding the best way to seamlessly build that into our programs and classrooms,” she said.
This year, Mrs. Heiles has been working on a variety of projects in different stages of research, development, and implementation. For example, Mrs. Heiles is researching a form of Artificial Intelligence (AI), an area of STEAM, that can easily be embedded into any content area. This project is looking for ways to encourage more instruction about AI in order to allow students more opportunities for understanding what AI is, and how AI impacts our daily life.
She is also helping to pilot an online program, called Transeo, to build PA Distance’s library of business partnerships that students can explore and connect with for job shadowing and work-based learning experiences. Some initiatives are also currently in the implementation phase, like the formation of a PA Distance eSports team and new technology devices that are sent home to students.
Additionally, she worked with the administration and the PA Distance Community Engagement Team to develop a plan for the ongoing rollout of the Community Connector Vans. These vans are designed to build upon this year’s school-wide theme, “Community Connections Matter,” and adds three mobile event vehicles to enhance these efforts.
“A lot of new initiatives are a partnership with other staff members,” Mrs. Heiles explained. “I help facilitate the process to ensure the communication, training, and logistics make implementations as seamless as possible for staff, students, and families.”
Mrs. Heiles works with the PA Distance Instructional Coaches, Mrs. DeRoner, and Mrs. Bible to pilot each program or initiative. If a project she is working on crosses over into curriculum materials, she works with the Curriculum and Instruction Coordinator, Mrs. Contos.
“We often ask ourselves, what’s the best way to implement something so that it helps our students, and staff, most of all,” she said.
After research, testing, piloting, and implementation, Mrs. Heiles and other staff members continuously monitor and reflect on each program to make sure it’s operating the way it should and is seeing benefit among the students and staff.
Although Mrs. Heiles doesn’t work directly with PA Distance students in the classroom anymore, she works in a variety of ways to help improve their learning experience. She strongly believes that PA Distance teachers and staff promote a more personalized learning environment beyond what they might find in a traditional classroom setting.
“Our teachers really work on building relationships with our students. I think that they really get in touch with the teacher’s personality. Each class is so unique and taught in different ways to match their own styles and personalities,” she explained.
”The teachers pour themselves into their teaching and really make it special for the students. It’s not a canned curriculum.”