Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Confessions of an EdTech Coach: Lessons Learned During the First Year

I am now in my second year working in the field of Educational Technology at my current school. Originally hired as an EdTech Coach, I was quickly promoted to the position of Director of EdTech as I was already performing the following duties:

1) Training teachers in use and integration of educational technology in their instruction
2) Teaching students technology skills to support curriculum and instruction
3) Managing the educational technology in our school

For the purpose of this blog, I am going to focus on my role as an EdTech Coach.  By training teachers in proper educational technology integration, I can have an impact on a greater amount of students than by  teaching a class myself.  This blog post focuses on what I have learned since I have been working in the Educational Technology field.  I hope that by sharing my experiences, others will be able to learn from them.

So here I go....

Before coming to my school, I was aware that my school had much educational technologies in place.  This includes but is not limited to: SMART Boards in almost all of the classrooms, a SMART Response system, document cameras, slates, and Mac and Dell laptops.  Because there was so much technology available here, I made the assumption that my school was at the forefront of technology integration.  I quickly learned a lesson; never assume anything.  Just because a school has the technologies available, it does not mean that the technologies are integrated well into instruction.

So because my school was in the "dark ages," in terms of educational technology integration, I knew that my job was cut out for me.  I was so fortunate to work for a Head of School who I knew had the same thoughts and feelings as I did regarding EdTech integration.  Another lesson I learned  - make sure you are working in an environment where you have a principal who is supporting you and your vision.

I knew that through doing my job successfully, not only would I become a part of the school culture, but I would also have the ability to transform it into something else.  I pride myself on being a dynamic educator who constantly reflects on teaching practices and strives to improve.  Improving requires that one believes in him or herself and the ability to change.  Some people get scared by change - they are enveloped by fear.  Hence, when some teachers in my school heard that an EdTech Coach was hired to train teachers, they became scared.  There was even a teacher who would not even talk to me; she would look the other way.  Another lesson I learned - not to take things personally.  Just keep smiling!

Many schools have an IT Director on staff, employed by the school full time.  My school does not.  Rather, we contract out to a firm and the IT support comes to resolve any issues we are having.  Unfortunately, there are times we expect him to come and he does not show up because he might have gotten stuck at another location.  There are times we do not expect him to come and he shows up.  During my first year, I became very frustrated with this situation.  Therefore, I had a meeting along with my school administration with the President of the consulting firm.  Though it took some time, I learned to do my very best to stay on good terms with our IT support.  His job is to support us in times of need - so I highly recommend to communicate with your IT support daily and work together collaboratively.  We need to work together to support our teachers and students.

Unfortunately, many people - including myself, are under the notion that younger educators are more open to integrating technology in their classrooms than older educators.  We could not be more wrong.  Age has nothing to do with being open to integrating educational technology in the classroom.  During the first week of school last year, a teacher who had been teaching over 30 years, entered my Head of School's office while I was meeting with my Head of School.  The teacher, who was about to retire, was proud to tell us that she just purchased a tablet.  The tablet was not one that I was familiar with.  I said to myself, "This is the last teacher I will be working with."  Low and behold, I was completely wrong.  In the middle of the school year, I learned that I was a recipient of grant for a SMART Board.  I was debating where to install the SMART Board.  Which teacher could use it to enhance and support student learning?  I wanted to make sure that this teacher would work with me to have a proper vision as to how this technology would be integrated in student learning and would work to implement our plan.  After some consideration, I decided to give the SMART Board to the teacher who I mentioned above.  As a SMART Exemplary Educator, I was given the opportunity to pilot SMART amp.  I decided to pilot this software in this teacher's kindergarten classroom.  Because of our dedication, persistence, and open mindedness to try new things, the pilot was a huge success. (You can read about my experience here: Kindergarteners Collaborating? Yes They Can, With SMART amp!)  I am now working with other teachers in my school to train them in using this software to benefit their students' learning.  I learned that age has nothing to do with the goal of being a dynamic teacher who is open to new ideas.

And last but not least - there were times (and there still are) that I would want to just give up.  I realize I could not do everything.  I felt like I was being held back from moving forward.  I can sometimes be competitive and compare myself to my colleagues as to how much I am doing in my school and I often feel like I never accomplish enough. There are two important lessons that I learned here:  1) I am not superwoman.  I simply cannot do everything.  It is better that I accomplish goals at the level of mastery than half way; this means it is better for me in the long run to take on a number of challenges or goals that are actually realistic for me to succeed at.  2)  I need to take that lesson and apply it to my students, who are the teachers at my school.  As an educator, I realize that I need to challenge my students by giving them tasks they can complete at mastery level.  If I give them too many tasks or tasks that are too difficult for them to achieve, it is very likely that they will give up.  The teachers at my school are my students.  By giving them expectations and challenges that are realistic, I am setting them up success.  Of course, I need to be there to support them in their goals.  However, if I set the goals too high, I am setting them up for failure.

I have learned a lot during the past year and a half.  As I grow in my position as an EdTech Coach and as a school leader, I hope to continue to learn more and grow professionally.  Looking back and reflecting, I have definitely accomplished a lot in just a short amount of time.  It is important for me to take pride in all that I have accomplished and build on that success.