Many districts are seeing the value of hiring teachers with the job of helping other teachers integrate technology into their classrooms. Although these positions can have many different titles (tech integration specialists, technology coach, educational technology consultant, technology coordinator, etc) and different districts use people in these roles in different capacities, having a person support and coach classroom teachers as they integrate technology into their classroom is becoming a necessity in education. ISTE summarizes the role of these professionals in the “ISTE Standards for Coaches”. The 2nd standards reads, “Technology Coaches assist teachers in using technology effectively for assessing student learning, differentiating instruction, and providing rigorous, relevant, and engaging learning experiences for all students (ISTE, 2011). Teachers have so much to try and stay on top of these days, such as new and changing standards, standardized testing, teacher evaluations, social-emotional learning needs, and outdated curriculum that needs to be supplemented. Integrating technology in efficient and meaningful ways can make life easier for students, teachers, and families. However, making these shifts and trying new things can be daunting when your plate is already full. Having a specialist whose job it is to help teachers make these changes by providing trainings, individualized coaching, and on-going support can have tremendous benefits to a district. But, with so many teachers on different pages as far as their experience, skill set, and comfort level with technology, it can be hard for a technology coach to provide professional development to a large group of teachers with the goal of everyone leaving feeling that their time was valued and that they now have something new they can implement in their teaching.
What do Teachers Want/Need? Just Ask!
When you are not currently teaching in a classroom position, it is hard to know what exactly teachers want or need at any particular moment. Like with so many things in life, when you don’t know or aren’t sure, just ask! People appreciate this! This can be done in formal or informal ways. An easy way to formally survey a group of teachers to which you will be providing upcoming training is to send out a Google Form with a variety of answer formats (multiple choice, open-ended questions, scales (1-10)). Be sure to ask a variety of questions and be specific in your requests for information from teachers (Gonzales, 2016). Informal ways of getting to know what your audience’s preferences for a training might be to come to the school a week or two beforehand and stop in classrooms before or after school to chat. Or eat lunch in the staffroom and engage teachers in casual conversation on what they might be looking for as far as technology integration needs. Another option would be to “work the room” as teachers are arriving at the training and getting set-up. Gonzales writes in her blog about ed-tech consultant, Rodney Turner, using this strategy, “If you can’t send out a survey ahead of time, you can still get to know your audience the day of the training. Rodney Turner describes how he does this: “What I love to do is to circulate the room. I come in early, and I set my stuff up and have it done, so that way as people are coming in, I talk to them: ‘Hi, how are you doing, my name’s Rodney, where are you from, what grade, what do you teach…what do you want to learn from this session?’ And that has helped me so much in being able to reach out to people to understand where they’re coming from.” (Gonzales, 2016).
Enlist Help from the Experts
When teachers want help on how to prepare for a lesson or how to understand the curriculum, they typically walk next door or down the hall. Note the percent of teachers who say ideas from other teachers is the most helpful when it comes to technology training in the chart below (Education Week Research Center, 2016 ).
Teachers respect other teachers and know that “they know what it’s like”. Teachers are such an invaluable asset to each other because each and every teacher has different skill sets, different teaching styles, and different teaching experiences. You can learn something from every teacher and every teacher can learn from you. When a technology coach is planning for a professional development training they should enlist help from the group they will be “training”. Find the “experts” in different areas of technology and use them to share examples of what they have done in their classrooms and what has worked and what hasn’t. In her blog post, Gonzales talks with tech coordinator Sarah Thomas about how she looks for teachers in the audience as a potential resource. “Not only does this approach enhance her presentation, it also makes the training more enjoyable for the teacher who already has that knowledge. “There’s nothing worse than being at a session where you already know what’s going on and you’re just kind of being talked at, you know?” says Thomas.” (Gonzales, 2017).
If there are several technology coaches in your district, or if you have enlisted the help of teacher leaders (see paragraph above!), then another way to help provide staff with technology integration learning experiences that are best suited for their needs is to provide options for professional development. This might be structured with multiple “levels” on the same topic that teachers can self select in to, or it might be that you have a larger menu of a variety of options so that teachers can choose what will be most useful for them depending on factors such as their grade level, subject area, and their experience with technology. Another option is to make these trainings optional for teachers or offer 3 different session times and someone can attend 0, 1, 2, or 3 sessions based on their needs. The key here is to give teacher’s choice on how they spend their time. Everyone wants to feel that their time is valued, especially teachers with limited time and ever-growing demands on this time.
Receiving a lot of new and exciting information can feel both inspiring and overwhelming. You walk out of a professional development session and you can’t wait to get back to your classroom to try out all that you have learned, but when you arrive at school the next day you are met with a long to-do list just to keep on top of your daily work routine. Or after reflecting on the training, you have some logistical questions to figure out before you attempt implementation of what you just learned. When this happens, teachers will either struggle through and give this new skill or strategy their best shot or they will throw the towel in because they don’t have what they need to feel confident implementing what they have learned. This is the time period when we need to “capture” these teachers and give them what they need to feel empowered to make this change in their teaching. Following up in a timely manner is key.
Be sure to send the teachers you are training away with your contact information and a digital link to any resources you shared or any resources that might help them deepen their understanding of what they have learned (Gonzales, 2016). But, as a technology coach, don’t rely on teachers to reach out to you. Technology integration, although we all know how important it is, is only one aspect on a classroom teacher’s job. Reach out to them, whether it’s individually, as a large group, online, or in-person. Make that connection and work on building these professional relationships. “What I have said to the teachers I work with is that the time we are together, in person, is just the start of a conversation. Because technology grows and changes so quickly, we can’t rely on traditional methods of learning to stay on top of it. We can’t wait for a textbook to be published; to really make the most of what the machines can offer us, what we ultimately need is each other, so staying connected is an essential part of any tech training. (Gonzales, 2016).”
Flanigan, R. (2016). Education Week (35, 35), pp. 31-32. Ed-Tech Coaches Becoming Steadier Fixture in Classrooms
Gonzales, Jennifer (2016). Cult of Pedagogy Website (Retrieved on May 24, 2018) from: https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/tech-training-for-teachers/
ISTE.org. (2017) ISTE Standards for Coaches. (Retrieved on 2018, May 30) from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches