Jessica Holloway: Innovator for Teachers

Award-winning innovation coach empowers educators with technology.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Beyond an insatiable interest in technology and innovation is Jessica Holloway’s interest in helping others—especially teachers and students. Holloway is an Innovation Coach at Hamilton County Department of Education in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She is an experienced Instructional Coach skilled in lesson planning, educational technology, classroom management, and innovation.

In 2019, Holloway was recognized by ASCD as an Emerging Leader, and she served as ASCD Board Member for her state. She is a Graduate of Public Education Foundation Policy, STEM, and Leadership Fellows program. She empowers teachers to use technology to engage students, enhance instruction, and extend learning opportunities — equipping students with technology skills to be now-ready and future-ready.

She has helped hundreds of educators use Flipgrid, Zoom, and Loom; facilitated Innovation Summer Institute 2021 for dozens of elementary educators; has trained educators in using various maker tools; helped dozens in the region’s TechGoesHome program for several years; she is Google-certified; has hosted Pathway to Project-Based Learning training; served as Instructional Coach for Amazon Future Engineer grant bringing K-5 computer science training to an inaugural cohort of 30+ teachers; she’s also supported Chattanooga Blue Sky Institute for high school students interested in coding and game learning.

For these reasons and more, Jessica Holloway is the 2022 Winner of The EdTech Leadership Award in the school leader category as part of The EdTech Awards from EdTech Digest.

What prompted you to first get involved with education and technology—what value did you see back then in terms of tech’s role in education and learning?  

During my time as a language arts teacher, I was always searching for ways to increase student engagement and elevate student voice. Technology provided new ways for students to communicate their ideas, access a broader range of resources, collaborate beyond class time, and create literary works. I was curious about how technology could transform learning experiences for students, which led me to a Master’s Degree specializing in adolescent literacy and technology. 

What prompted you to take on your current role—what are some of the key issues and challenges you face?  

I viewed the role of an innovation coach as an opportunity to push the boundaries and redesign teaching and learning. In my role, I get to help teachers bring ideas to reality, grow beyond their comfort zone, and re-design learning experiences for students. One challenge is overcoming the mindset that innovation and STEM learning is an “extra” or is done “if there is time”. Another challenge is ensuring that all students have access to STEM learning including computer science. These challenges reiterate why it is critical for STEM and innovation to be embedded into the core curriculum. Often the biggest challenge is letting go of control as the adult and allowing students to take risks, explore the unknown, and try it for themselves. 

How are you overcoming those issues and challenges—and what sort of pleasure/job satisfaction/personal satisfaction or team satisfaction do you get from this?  

The best part of my job is seeing the joy and pride students have when they make something. It doesn’t have to be perfect either, but they look at their creation and know, “I did that”.

The best part of my job is seeing the joy and pride students have when they make something. It doesn’t have to be perfect either, but they look at their creation and know, ‘I did that’.

Not only do I support the science, technology, engineering, and math in STEM but also the 4Cs of 21st-century learning. The 4Cs – collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking – transcend content areas and prepare students to be learners, thinkers, and problem solvers.

I find personal satisfaction when co-creating lessons with educators that bring empowering and impactful learning to students. STEM is not “one more thing”. It is woven throughout all learning with transferable skills and connections to other content. I am tackling the STEM is “extra” mindset by collaborating with content leads and other departments to co-design learning experiences and integrate innovation across content areas and initiatives.

Additionally, I support K-5 computer science integration with our district’s Amazon Future Engineer grant, which provides training and support to bring coding and computer science to our elementary school students through integrated learning experiences. Most of all, I am constantly learning as I serve as a collaborative thought partner for educators across the district. 

Congrats on your big win from The EdTech Awards! What does an honor like this mean for you/your team? 

Being recognized for my contributions to edtech is a great honor. It means a lot to me to be named among other educators, businesses, and organizations who strive to positively impact edtech for students. For the Hamilton County Schools (TN) Innovation Team and me, this award is a reminder of the value of the work we do every day. I am incredibly grateful to all of the mentors, teammates, and friends who have helped me grow in the field of edtech.

What key lessons from your past inform your current success?

Coaching means being a catalyst for change, and change is hard. Educators, like most, are uncomfortable with the unknown. This means I have to be intentional with professional learning experiences and ongoing coaching support. I also know the power of being a learner alongside and from educators. I am mindful to thank educators when I learn something new from them and elevate their knowledge and expertise by re-sharing with others.

I also ask educators if I can coach and/or co-teach with them as new learning is implemented with students, so I can learn as well. I often find myself leading learning as a facilitator of professional training; however, I continue to seek valuable learning opportunities for myself.

I am grateful for educators who invite me to be part of the learning process for themselves and their students. 

It’s been a wild ride these last few years. Broadly speaking, what is the state of education today?

Education has been thrust into a new landscape that questions how we approach teaching and learning. As the well-known proverb declares, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” To navigate the unknown of teaching and learning through a pandemic, the need for new approaches to education arose leading to rapid innovation in education. Educators were willing to try, fail, try, succeed, try and improve throughout the pandemic as a means to meet student needs. This approach will (and should) continue as we work to redefine what education can be. 

What’s tech’s role in education? How about your efforts with this? 

Technology serves many roles in education.

Using technology brings efficiency to teaching and leading with digital grade books, record keeping, online assessments, databases, and curricular resources.

The other, leveraging technology, requires intentionality in the use of technology to enhance and transform learning experiences.

This is where my time is spent.

I coach teachers beyond what is a tech tool to focus on how tech can enhance and extend a learning experience.

‘I coach teachers beyond what is a tech tool to focus on how tech can enhance and extend a learning experience.’

For example, I coached two English as a New Language teachers on how to use Flipgrid to capture students’ speaking over time to document performance and growth aligned to WIDA standards. This process promoted student ownership of their learning and empowered them to reflect on their own growth. 


What’s ahead for education

Are there any specific trends to watch or any you are setting? 

Trend 1: Digital Fabrication

“As part of the world leader in the digital fabrication ecosystem in Chattanooga, TN, I coach teachers and support students in leveraging digital tools and technology such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and micro:bits to design and prototype projects and solutions,” says Jessica Holloway, Innovation Coach at Hamilton County Department of Education in Chattanooga, Tenn. “Learning with digital fabrication brings content to life as students become problem solvers, creative thinkers, and empowered creators.” 

Trend 2: Coding with Early Learners

“While there has been a lot of talk about computer science and coding with secondary students, I am shifting the focus to our early learners in elementary school,” says Holloway. “Teaching computational thinking, computer science, and coding to students in grades K-5 promotes critical thinking and problem-solving in all content areas. Starting early empowers students to think, create, and code as a way to make sense of their world and demonstrate their understanding of content and skills. My goal is for ALL early learners to develop a positive computer science identity and opt into computer science clubs and classes as they move forward in their educational journey.”

Trend 3: eSports is a trend to watch,” says Holloway.

“eSports is competitive, organized video gameplay. The popularity of eSports is rising as online video gaming becomes the norm and streaming services allow youth to view gamers in action. eSports provides a structured competition for youth to participate in and develop skills like problem-solving, communication, and strategic thinking. Over the next five years, I see eSports becoming more commonplace in schools across the United States.”


Any advice for other leaders in edtech? 

Start with the need or the goal and then consider the best tech tool. Otherwise, you end up trying to force a fit rather than fulfilling the desired outcome. I’ve made this mistake and learned the hard way. Too often we learn about a tool and are eager to use it so we force it to fit, which frequently leads to frustration and misses the mark of its intended purpose. Be clear on what you want students to know and be able to do before selecting what tech will get them there. 

Anything else you care to add or emphasize concerning education, technology, or the future of learning? 

Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts and for elevating my work in edtech. 

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]

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