I am really looking forward to our Edtech podcast this afternoon when Mark will interview three instructional technologists including myself. One of his questions will be “what are some of your most effective strategies for connecting with teachers to find ways to integrate technology in their teaching?”. The focus at my school is a broader curriculum that includes technology while focusing on students and their interaction with information and their efforts to communicate their understanding using various literacies (e.g, media, visual, design, information, etc.). We call our curriculum the Information and Communication Literacies (ICL) program which I will be referring to below as I respond to Mark’s question. I also am broadening the question and my response a bit to match the one I have prepared for in getting ready for job interviews over the past several years of international teaching. The question is “how will you make a difference in our learning community?” which gets at the process of helping schools make the shift to the skills and student empowered learning that so many of us write about. Do look to listen to the podcast which will be posted later in the week to hear what the other two instructional technologists have to say in responding to all of Mark’s questions.
In thinking about how an instructional technologist can impact a school, I approach this process from a couple of perspectives. I look to find ways to support ICL integration from a broad, community-wide approach looking to help shift the school as well as always being ready on an individual level to engage with members of our learning community to support their using our ICL curriculum. The following is a mixture of both approaches. Many of them overlap as this post is a free flow of ideas with little editing and long sentences as time is short before our podcast.
-Community builder, “celebrator” and problem-solver> getting out into the hallways, stopping by to touch base with teachers during free periods, asking about on what is being covered in class that day, helping with “how to” questions in using apps and software, taking care of the quick fix technical problems that come up. Problem solve on the spot how you can help when a teacher is in a bind. Post comments to teacher and students blogs and get into teachers’ LMS forums to see what the students are doing. Look to join the discussions. Highlight and celebrate teaching, student projects and assessment practices via the ICL Update (weekly e-mail to staff) and possibly have a school blog on innovative practices as in our iPad Pilot blog and in the start of the week short faculty meetings and when presenting at regular faculty meetings. Looking to have a school podcast/vodcast that shares innovative practices and engages students and teachers to share their stories of learning. I am hoping to start a student news program posted to the web like we did at a previous school where students tell the learning stories from their perspective.
-Support your risk takers and early adopters> do whatever you can to support these teachers in their needs. Then make like a busy bee and cross-pollinate their ideas wherever you can. Get into those grade level and department meetings to share what teachers might be too shy or uncomfortable to highlight from their shifted practices. The change process is obviously a very difficult one that involves a variety of components especially in dealing with teacher relationships, school culture, “that is the way we’ve always done it” (TWWADI), etc.
-Be a learner, collaborator and relationship builder> sending out e-mails and mentioning in the ICL Update e-mail that I would love to see how our ICL curriculum can support upcoming lessons and units, then meeting with grade level teams to collaborate where I then specifically teach ICL skills that support a regular classroom lesson/unit or I do a parallel activity like a WebQuest during the students’ weekly ICL classes with me, important to be a real listener and learner to understand not only what the learning goals are for the teacher’s lesson/unit but to also understand the teacher’s concerns, worries, hopes in using ICL skills as to how much I might offer ideas for her/him to try in her teaching and assessment. It is so important to be a good listener!
Another part of my job is being a resource person to help teachers with specific requests for web resources to help support their curriculum. This involves having a full RSS feed of resource provided by bloggers as well as a healthy Twitter listing. Often the first step to help a teacher try new instructional and assessment strategies is to offer to find resource sites for a history, science, etc. topic she/he is teaching. You then can make like a farmer who has planted a seed that needs to be nourished and cared for. Return to see how the unit is going, look for further opportunities to support that can lead to meaningful sharing of ideas. With so much talk about textbooks online and iBooks, look to partner with teachers to help write these books. And while it is obviously helpful to find resources teachers are requesting, one has to be careful in sharing other seemingly helpful resources so as to not overwhelm teachers with a constant flow of websites to check out. Being selective and then touching base with the teacher as the expert to get feedback on the viability of resources is helpful. I work closely with our math department chair for example to get her insights on what new resources I find that can be meaningful and worth sharing. Look to create your own school Web Resources site for students with a teacher toolkit section (be very selective not to overwhelm) so that teachers at their own pace have access to Web 2.0 tools, media subscription services, reading materials for initiatives, etc.
I used to organize Teachers Teaching Teachers (TTT) sessions at previous schools as part of an ongoing professional development system that put teachers at center stage for sharing what works well in their classrooms. The lack of time was the problem as so few teachers have time after school to meet. This is a universal problem for schools. But this is not to say that these sharing opportunities or doing book discussion groups are not effective strategies for ICL integration and the shifting of one’s school. I am finding the “just in time” approach, the curriculum review system meetings, and other strategies listed here are more effective at my current school. My eldest son’s school starts school late once a week so that teachers can attend early morning PD sessions. Building in the time and a providing a system for weekly PD is a nice way to support the learning community.
-Model shifted practices and your being a teacher– not a technician> work to model in your own teaching the discovery, project, inquiry, etc. based strategies you are collaborating with teachers to try and use. And remember that as an instructional designer you are collaborating to create lessons that might not be improved by using technology but they do shift the focus of the lessons to student-centered learning that helps move the classroom culture of students being more independent and active learners.
Whether one’s school has a set technology class schedule and/or you are doing some “just in time” instruction, look to not just teach the skills that the students will be using for lessons/units in their classes, look to facilitate the use of more project-based activities like WebQuests and Learning Pursuit research websites that you create and manage through your technology class curriculum. The process starts off with the teacher not having to do any of the legwork in building the WebQuest or Learning Pursuit as he/she can watch and hopefully buy in to a more inquiry and project-based way to do the unit in the future. The next step is co-teaching the unit in the following year. An example from my school is that last year I asked our third grade teachers if it would be OK for me to write up and post a RegionsQuest WebQuest that supported their year long study of American geography and culture. This year the teachers adapted it as part of their regular curriculum.
The offer to first teach the ICL aspect of any classroom unit with the teacher present during the lesson followed in the future by co-teaching the unit with the teacher eventually teaching the ICL portion is a good strategy that works. A byproduct of these efforts is that the students get to experience more and more constructivist, student-centered and fun learning activities. They then become advocates for themselves asking their teachers for more open-ended, collaborative project focused assessment options that draw on their research efforts. The students share their interesting learning activities with parents who are also reading about them in the school newsletter, blogs, podcasts, etc. which furthers their engagement to push for the shift that engages the ICL curriculum.
It really helps to demonstrate that you are a teacher and not a technician- no he/she is the “tech person” unless you are in the position of trying to provide both educational and technical support. If that is the case, then you will have difficulty being a true instructional technologist. It is important to take time at the start of each year’s faculty meetings to share with returning and new teachers what your role is. It is almost a branding experience getting your job title and skills out to your audience as well as a buy in for the ICL curriculum where technology is in the background supporting the students learning how to use information and communicate their understanding. I see myself as a learning specialist who uses my understanding of technology as well as other skills to support teaching and learning in my school. Just as a GATE or learning support teacher would do, I start off discussions by asking what the learning goals are– not what technology might be helpful. This is where my tendency is to really think about one’s job title to keep it focused on teaching and learning while also keeping the title just a couple words so folks will use it instead of falling back on “tech person”.
-Leadership> find ways to contribute to discussions and planning for the vision, the mission and strategic planning of the school, the skills/dispositions graduates of the school should have, how the community defines “learning” and how it paints the picture of what teaching and learning should look like followed by being part of the effort to develop the action plans to make all the plans a reality. Look to provide the leadership to engage students, teachers, administrators and parents to develop your 3 and 5 year ICL plans and the community’s vision for what what the learning should look like. Help provide and promote that vision. This builds excitement and leads to the further growth of the school learning community. This gets members of your community thinking, talking and sharing ideas about teaching and learning that engage with your ICL curriculum. Partner with administration to help design and promote professional development that builds on individual teachers and their expertise. Offer workshops and resources for your parents around their questions and needs but also to help them partner in guiding their children to be more independent and active learners who are being guided to ask questions and seek answers.
And when it comes to staff professional development, be persistent for systematic follow through when either staff members go to conferences or your school brings the PD specialists in so that their new ideas are infused into the curriculum. Thus having a systematic way to review curriculum is very important.
Another avenue for leadership as stated previously is to highlight and celebrate the teaching and learning at one’s school. Weekly ICL Updates, blog postings, writing articles for the parent newsletter and tweeting to one’s PLC are ways to demonstrate leadership by celebrating innovative practices and getting the word out. Another big way to provide leadership is to write articles for various publications whether print or online. This act of celebrating also carries over to the idea of sharing instructional ideas with the greater educational community. Look to create a group in Curriki where you post lessons and units from your school. Another avenue to help your teachers and school standout is to nominate your risk takers and leaders for awards as in the Apple Distinguished Educators program or the editor of THE Journal who recently requested the names of shifted administrators to be interviewed for an upcoming article.
-Curriculum Review System> we did an Edtech podcast on this and there is a Learning and Leading with Technology article about it so I won’t write much more here. This can be the main driver for supporting the ICL curriculum as well as other school-wide learning initiatives especially when using the Understanding by Design framework. An example of an initiative being support by the curriculum review system in my school is we recently formalized our Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) where the learning specialists are having a more active role working with teachers to differentiate instruction and assessments. The next step comes in the spring when we use our curriculum review system to review our 6th grade curriculum and the TLC team will collaborate in those meetings building the differentiation right into the unit plans. If you are looking to develop a curriculum review process, this curriculum and collaboration site and its guiding questions might be helpful.
-Take advantage of opportunities> when SARS struck Hong Kong back in 2003, it looked like a disastrous event on many levels as our school closed and families either left Hong Kong or hunkered down in their homes. We saw a need to keep school going not only for educational reasons but also community reasons as well. The opportunity arose to run a virtual school for our elementary division which pushed teachers to engage more with ICL to devise lessons that students would do individually and collaboratively through our school website and email. Once we all returned to school we had a boost in teachers being more open to try new strategies and to try more blended learning approaches. We did some planning and each of the following years we ran a “virtual learning week” in preparation for potential school closure. A further offshoot was for the ICL department to find new tools to deliver online instruction. In our case it was Moodle followed by our high school developing its own LMS called the myDragonNet.
So whether you have some grant money or like many schools your administration is talking about blended learning and the possibility of needing to have a virtual school capability due to weather, widespread illness, etc., look to take make the most of the opportunity to provide the leadership to expand your ICL program.
-Partnerships> I mentioned the partnerships with students, teachers and parents but just as important is the partnership the instructional technologist and director of technology have with the librarian to form the ICL team. This unified approach to teaching the various literacies while engaging students in using information to then communicate their understanding is so important. The partnership with administration is obviously very important as one can help shift instruction much easier when the administrators support and model the use of technology and the teaching of the ICL curriculum.
Hopefully these ideas can provide some discussion points as one looks at the role of the instructional technologist. If you are looking to write a job description, take a look at the mind map that I used for a presentation a few years ago where the participants helped expand on what the instructional technologist should be and not be expected to do for one’s learning community.