In my career in education, I’ve held many titles. I’ve been a computer teacher, technology coordinator, digital learning facilitator, technology integrationist, and a technology coach. In all of these jobs, I’ve been called upon to assist teachers with integrating technology for teaching and learning of the curriculum. Over the past two years, I’ve been engaged in professional inquiry as part of my appraisal process. My inquiry was into the different ways of engaging with teams and individual teachers that lead to changes in technology integration. From this inquiry, I noticed that I needed to change some behaviors that were impeding my success in supporting teachers.
I read Cognitive Coaching by Jim Knight, as well as a number of articles and blog posts which indicated the importance of modeling in the coaching process. I started off with a very narrow vision of modeling. I thought it had to be formal, planned in consultation with the teacher, and evaluated by the teacher so that she could pull out the learning points. However, I found out that there is another way. In Grade 1, three classes share a full class set of iPads. The students have a scheduled period called digital time roughly every week, where they use the iPads. I checked in with the teacher about the lesson, but I planned the lesson, and led it. I was worried that this model was simply a throwback to the computer lab days, although the classroom teacher was present, and often participated in the lesson with suggestions, and context. Digital time lessons often introduced an app on the iPad, or provided an opportunity for students to explore and use an app. We generally explored the capabilities of the app, and I tried to have students use the app in a way that was connected to their current unit of inquiry. While students were exploring the app, one teacher started brainstorming uses for the app with me. While I was leading the class, she was thinking about the affordances of the app, and how it would be useful in her classroom. Inspired by her initiative, I started to have similar conversations with the other two teachers during digital time. As we would look at the children’s use of the app, we would discuss where the app would be useful as part of the student’s learning, or for documenting learning. As time went on, the teachers started checking out the iPad cart on their own. Sometimes, they would ask for support, but mostly they were comfortable using the iPads with students without my presence. This showed me that it’s important to take advantage of every available opportunity with a teacher to model the use of technology in their classroom, and to discuss the teacher’s ideas sparked by the modelling. I shared this observation with the team, and got feedback from them at the end of the school year.
I’ve used Grade 1 in my anecdote, but I got feedback from all the teams about our work together during the school year, and the state of technology integration at their grade level. I check in with teams every month to discuss technology integration, but I hadn’t presented an agenda item explicitly called Feedback. I got some great ideas from teachers about ways to improve our work together, that I wish they had mentioned during our check-ins. This experience reminded me of the importance of protocols, and of the value of intentionally requesting specific feedback regularly throughout the school year. This is important for working with teams, as well as with individual teachers.
I walk through the school hallways and drop by individual teacher’s classroom daily. I often start by engaging in benign conversation about the evening, the weekend, children. I would also ask how the day is going. Occasionally, a teacher would ask me a technology question, or indicate that they needed to meet with me, but most of the time, the answer could be summarized with fine. I started to notice that when people asked for help, they were often already extremely frustrated. I wondered why they weren’t asking for help before the situation escalated to that level of frustration. I started asking “Are you doing anything interesting with technology in your classroom this week?”, “Can I support you with technology use?” and “Do you need my help today?”. I still got a lot of answers that amounted to fine, but people also shared more about what they’re doing in their classroom, questions they had, and observations that they were making about students’ use of technology. As a tech coach, it’s important to invite people to work with us. This can happen in well defined coaching relationships, but it can also happen in small moves. If you want to be a better technology coach, come right out and ask your colleagues if they need help, or what they need help with. Don’t wait for them to ask for help.
We can learn a lot from our colleagues through informal conversations. People stop me all the time in the staff room and in the hallway to ask me questions. I’ve noticed that I can also use these informal conversations to share a resource that I think would be useful, or to find out more about what’s going on in the classroom. I think that having more information about individual classrooms puts me in a better position to be able to support the individual teacher. However, these quick conversations are just initial sparks. The technology coach can leverage those informal conversations to follow up with the teacher or grade level team. For example, if a teacher asks me if I know why Application A isn’t working, I learn that the teacher uses the application with her students, and I have to remember to find out more about what she’s doing, and to follow up with her to solve the problem. This may be obvious, but when many of these conversations happen in the hallway as I’m on my way to classes and meetings, I need a way to keep track of these conversations. I always walk with my smart phone, and I put items in Notes, in a to do list, or schedule them right into my calendar, depending on how much time I have. During my next unscheduled block, I can look through Notes and my to do list to put tasks into my calendar. As a technology coach, informal conversations are important because sometimes those are what are most accessible. Remember to follow up on informal conversations, with a blog post, meeting, e-mail, and use your digital tools such a calendar and to-do list to help you manage teacher needs.
The technology coach is in a privileged position, as someone who works with multiple grade levels. What I learn in one grade level informs my work at another grade level. I consider if one of my duties to help teachers at various grade levels learn from each other’s mistakes and successes. When a Grade 4 teacher wonders how difficult green screening will be for his students, I can pull out some examples from Grade 2 and explain the workflow used there, as well as make suggestions on how the process could be altered in Grade 4. I also learn about the strengths and abilities of individual teachers, and have a unique appreciation for the diversity within our school. Technology coaches can leverage the fact that they have a vertical position to build the organizational knowledge of the school.
In summary, here are the five tips for being a better technology coach:
- Model the use of technology for teachers as much as possible, taking the opportunity to talk to teachers during their observation to find out what they could take away from the observation into their own teaching. – engage the teacher’s cognition
- Intentionally request feedback from individuals and teams regularly throughout the school year.
- Ask colleagues regularly if they need help and what they need help with.
- Follow up on informal conversations to support teachers’ needs and to build coaching relationships.
- Leverage your vertical position to build the organizational knowledge of the school.
- Bonus: Use a calendar and to do list to manage your schedule, including tasks that come up through informal conversations.