Tacoma teachers thrive as Microsoft Innovative Educators

7/17/2017 | TACOMA, Washington

​Kristin Sierra
​When eighth-graders at Baker Middle School plunged into an in-depth study of the Holocaust, they read novels by Holocaust survivors, and heard firsthand from the son of a survivor who visited Baker.

But technology helped them take their learning about the World War II tragedy to the next level.

Baker teacher-librarian Kristin Sierra teamed with English Language Arts teachers Evelyn Cook and Matthew Heverly to guide students as they created projects that told the story of individuals touched by the Holocaust or other aspects of that historical period.

Students learned how to use
Office Mix, an online tool from Microsoft, to make their presentations more interactive by adding videos, voiceovers and digital ink drawings.

"This was a collaborative effort," Sierra said. "I came alongside the teachers, provided teaching for new tech skills and provided support."

She was able to do so, in part, because of her role as a Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE).

Every school in the district has at least one staff member, trained as an MIE. Those staff members learn the best ways to integrate technology into the classroom to deepen student learning and prepare them for skills needed in college and careers. They also coach other teachers about technology best practices.

"Once I was introduced to the Microsoft Office 365 suite I thought, 'Wow, these tools are incredible,' " says Sierra. As a former classroom teacher, she knew their potential impact.

"So many applications and possibilities," she added.

The Office Mix project at Baker turned into a showcase event. Students from other classes and school administrators came to the library to watch the eighth-graders talk about what they learned and show their Office Mix presentations.

"I was really impressed when the students presented their final project," said Sierra. "We heard some 'oohs and aahs' from teachers who knew how hard students worked to master their voiceovers and find information and videos from credible sources."

As an added bonus, students used the video software program Skype to talk with a curator in Israel at the world's first Holocaust museum, an event set up through the online Microsoft Educator's Community. Sierra learned about the resource as an MIE.

The Instructional Technology department introduced the MIE program to Tacoma Public Schools in the 2016-2017 school year to train technology leaders in each school.

A group of 64 teacher-librarians, classroom teachers and instructional coaches (teachers of other teachers) joined the program. They received monthly in-person trainings run by Kim Williams, Kristie Stanek and Emily Bannon from the Instructional Technology department. They also participated in online training by Microsoft.

"It was a huge commitment," said Williams, who heads the district's MIE training efforts.

 Participants earned badges from Microsoft after completing courses. All together, MIEs from Tacoma Public Schools earned nearly 600 badges this year on topics including:

  • Digital Citizenship, focused on responsible technology use
  • Hour of Code, a global movement encouraging students to learn computer coding
  • Social media
  • Technology Enriched Instruction, which helps teachers integrate technology more effectively into instruction
  • Tools such as OneNote, Sway and Skype  

In the 2017-2018 school year, the MIE program will expand to include more training run by MIEs for other teachers at their schools. MIEs will focus on how technology such as the Microsoft Office 365 suite—which every student and staff member in the district has access to—helps students learn crucial communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity skills.

"Many of the jobs our students will hold don't yet exist," said Dave Davis, director of Instructional Technology. "It's our responsibility to teach them the skills they'll need to adapt and thrive in the ever-changing work world."

Wayne Greer, assistant principal at Baker Middle School, says that he's seen the MIE program help prepare students early for future careers.

"The MIE program provides students first-hand and hands-on experiences with technology that they probably would not otherwise get to experience until high school or college," he said. "Students are able to apply the skills to real-life career readiness."

Annette Hockman at Wilson High School wasn't sure what to expect from the MIE program when she signed up.

But she says becoming an MIE taught her a lot about how Microsoft applications can improve her own work and how she can help others.

"I feel like I have a better handle on how to present technology topics to my staff," Hockman said.

Some of the ways Hockman and others at Wilson use what she's learned:

  • She's using Sway for presentations
  • Staff members share information via a Wilson OneNote
  • Students are learning to collaborate through PowerPoint Online and Sway
  • Teachers use Forms for math assessments
  • The school's nurse set up a OneNote section for health plans
  • Some staff members are using OneNote to design lessons

Hockman hears positive feedback from teachers about learning Microsoft 365 tools and how technology can support—not replace or compete with—good teaching.

"They're always appreciative of the work," she said. 

Williams said the ideal MIE candidate doesn't have to be a tech genius.

"I'm looking for someone who wants to be a leader in their school," she said. "I can teach you the technology."

The goal is to train MIEs in every school, who will help support both students and staff members.

MIEs aren't just learning the technology, Williams says. They're learning how to teach the technology.

A tech tool guide


Here's a description of some of the tools that Tacoma's Microsoft Innovative Educators learn to master:


Because it works on multiple devices, OneNote allows users to access content they've created from anywhere. Great for student group projects, teacher assignments and more.


Creates presentations or reports, and lets users combine text, videos, charts and other media

PowerPoint Online

Extends the familiar PowerPoint experience to a web browser, where users can work with presentations directly on a website.


Offers text, voice and video communications.


Teachers can create surveys or quizzes, then analyze the results.