10 years into teaching and 2 years into my career as a tech coach. I even got to spend 2 years as a professional photographer! All these experiences together have led me toward the following rules that I have learned over the course of my career on how to help teachers best integrate technology into their lessons.
This entry is inspired by my COETAIL class which tasked me with writing a blog entry about how to effectively integrate technology. As someone who does this on a daily basis, I thought that I would share a bit about what I learned as a tech coach to help others integrate technology into their lessons.
Here’s my listicle of my top ten things to consider. Let’s jump in.
1. Build relationships.
The most important thing that I would tell someone who is starting out as a technology integrationist is to build relationships with everyone that you are coaching. Know everyone’s names. Have lunch together in different places in the cafeteria. Meet up for drinks after work. Get involved with ASAs. Volunteer to help at a weekend school event. Talk to people in the break room. When you have a strong relationship with the faculty, everything seems to fall into place. Ogilvy says in his book that when there’s tension, a lunch with that person is one of the best ways to clear the air. If you’re really geeky, try a simple spreadsheet to track your interactions. Is there anyone or any subject you’re neglecting?
To build those relationships, listen. When you ask people real questions that show that you are authentically interested in who they are as a person, and you let them have the floor, it shows that you care. By doing this, you help to build a stronger relationship with your faculty.
3. Stay neutral.
This is a great tip that Gary Johnson at KIS shared with me at the beginning of my career as a coach: you are not a teacher and you are not an administrator. As an integrationist, you are on the line between both worlds. Try to not take sides or gossip about one of the other parties; you are on everyone’s team.
4. Make sure to always start with the learning objective.
This is something that most people get wrong. The standard, objective, goal, problem, or question comes first. Never lose sight of what you are helping the teacher do by asking yourself the question: “how does this piece of tech enhance this unit’s goals?”
5. Have a repertoire of tools to pull from.
As technology integrationists, we should have a wide range of tools that we’re familiar with and be able to suggest the right tool to teachers that will enhance learning in class either during the learning process, showing what the students have learned, or in the reflection process. I’ve compiled a list that is open to the public. Feel free to add your own entries to the Open Tech Tool Database.
6. The subject teacher doesn’t have to be the expert about the tool. Tell them that.
Often I find that teachers’ biggest worry about using tech in their classrooms is that they are used to be an expert; however, they do not know how to use the tool that I recommend. So I often see resistance to technology when it means that the teacher has to do more work. Things that I tell teachers in this sort of situation include: (1) I am here for whatever you need, when you or the kids need it. Don’t worry. I will make sure you are successful. (2) I will give you tutorial content that I curate for you or I will create it myself. (3) When the kids still have a question, remind them of this idea: technology is something that has been created by professional user experience (UX) designers as well as programmers. Technology is often times meant to be intuitive. When you get stuck try (a) reading what it says on the screen (most kids click without taking the time to read), (b) testing what happens when you push a button (you won’t break anything and you can often click “undo”!), (c) ask a friend (make sure to share students’ currencies in class: what are you each good at? Post it on the wall so when someone is stuck, they can consult the list of experts!), (d) search on Google or YouTube (there’s probably a tutorial about it already!)
7. Make connections & stay relevant.
I often say that the job of a tech coach is to be someone who is a creative counselor. While on one hand we are patient listeners who help lower others’ affective filters, or other job is to be creative. I say this because we often help teachers make connections to other classes in the school, things happening in the world, other tools that the teacher might not have thought of, and most importantly: think about things from students’ perspectives. What do your students care about? In a hook about photography, would examples from Ansel Adams be more interesting and engaging for 12 year olds than someone like Rachel Barkman or Daniel Ernst? What tools are kids interested in? What values and goals do children this age often have? What trends, experiences, or pop-culture could we use from the kids’ prior knowledge?
8. Have fun.
When you’re in the class and you’re co-teaching, show everyone that tech is something that is enjoyable and engaging. Most teachers feel a sense of stress or dread when they have to integrate a new tool into their practice. By setting the tone as something that is positive, teachers will similarly react in the same fashion. Respond to tension, anxiety, and silence with smiles, laughs, and humor. They go a long way.
9. Product is an excuse to follow a process.
We can’t have a process without a product. That being said, relevance and authentic/beautiful questions with genuine curiosity, timely/meaningful feedback, and reflection on the process are more important than creating a perfect/beautiful product. One of my favorite processes to follow after being trained in Design Technology is the Design Cycle. Kim Cofino has a great write up on her blog about how to integrate it into lessons. And it’s not just for an engineering approach to creating a problem solving product, you can really use the DC for just about everything kids make in the class. Plus, it makes you follow a process that values reflection, feedback, and adjusting based on what was said.
10. Follow up and reflect
Keep poking your head in the door to say hello, email teachers for follow-ups, see how the teacher’s risk-taking with the technology went. Show them that you’re authentically interested and that you didn’t drop a tool in their laps and then abandon them. In follow up sessions, make sure to give the teacher the chance to reflect on the process and how it could be improved. Celebrate their difficulties or “failures” and help them to use it as a place for feedback and goal setting.