Technology coaches all know that heading back to school begins a bustling period of activity as we work to support the technology needs of students and teachers. Classrooms that have been dismantled for summer cleaning are wrought with disconnected or misconnected cables, misplaced remotes and adapters, and accompany high anxiety as teachers attempt to get up and running with technology on the first few days of school. Obviously this is not the high leverage instructional work that tech coaches aim for when working with teachers; setting up technology is simply a necessary evil to truly begin to use the medium in which we help to shape teaching and learning.
For me, this year feels different, though. While plugging in cables and re-connecting cords is a staple of the work, my first few weeks have been filled with really meaningful connections with teachers asking for support in practices that climb to the highest reaches of the SAMR framework. Teachers are asking me to support them as they try to use technology to record student goal setting, offer students immediate feedback, track and utilize formative data from teacher/student conferences, and having students create to showcase their understanding. It feels as if we have somehow turned the corner as an organization and are finally at a point where the question isn't, "What's possible with technology?", but instead is "How do I make my vision reality using technology?"
While it is hard to pinpoint what the secret ingredients are to begin to make the shift that I am seeing in my district, there are a few key items that we have employed in our district that play a critical role.
Teachers Empowered to Self-Manage Technology
Our teachers update their own technology. They install their own software. They maintain their devices and troubleshoot many of their own problems (with the support of our help desk when necessary). We have created an environment of self-sufficiency for our staff, and in doing so, we have empowered teachers to be self-starters, taking ownership of their essential tools, rather than viewing them as the district's responsibility.
Reliable and Ubiquitous Technology
Our Technology Director once stated, "Wireless internet access should be as reliable for students and teachers as electricity. When we turn on the lights, we are only surprised when they do not illuminate. The same should be true of our digital tools." He has delivered on that promise in many ways throughout our district, and in turn teachers who may have otherwise avoided technology because it is "unreliable" have overcome a major barrier to technology adoption. Further, it does not matter where you are located within our system. The technology is present, supported, and consistent. Learning how to AirPlay in one location on one network is a skill that our teachers can transfer to any location in our district. Apps available in one building are available in a building they transfer to the next year. This creates a sense of stability and reliability that urges use of these tools.
Consistency of Tools
Holding back the swell of new tools and updates in the world of instructional tech is a weighty and sometimes overwhelming proposition. We have worked diligently to do exactly that, choosing a few high quality (and somewhat costly) tools over a plethora of free or free-for-now type tools that are all abuzz across social networks. The payoff has been a toolset that staff members continually hear of, learn about, and see in action. The consistent messaging around and availability of these tools has offered teachers and students an opportunity to use the tools meaningfully, to get better in their use of the tools, and to apply the tool in new situations for new purposes. The self-discipline it has taken our team to not jump every time we have heard about an impressive new tool is hard to imagine. We get as excited by these tools as every other tech geek, but knowing that consistency is the key to helping teachers achieve their instructional goals makes it easy to say, "Let's hold off on that one for now."
SAMR as a Framework
While Instructional Tech experts can get buried deep in the weeds of frameworks and terminology, the reality is that many educators struggle to develop a consistent vision of how technology can be used most meaningfully and effectively in their classrooms. In our district we have promoted understanding of the SAMR framework with our teachers and leaders. We have done so to provide a common, easy-to-grasp language that helps all educators to define when technology is used well to support learning, and to encourage conversations and questions when it is not being used well. The SAMR framework has empowered district and building leaders, who may not always feel confident in their ability to utilize the wide variety of technology they see in a day, to ask instructionally focused questions (with the support of the SAMR framework as a guide) to determine if the tool is supporting the instructional mission and goal. Having that framework evens the playing field for all educators and re-centers the conversation on the teaching and learning, not on the tool being used. I am hearing more talk about the SAMR framework organically this year than I could have ever imagined. That is an indication that educators in our system are finding it a valuable tool for talking about what we are doing with tech, and that is exciting and powerful!
Availability of Support
Support is essential to growth, but it is also expensive. No district ever says, "I think we have too many people supporting this work." However, plenty say, "We do not have enough support, but we don't have the financial means to add more support." While more people may be desirable, improving the support that is available is the only immediate solution. The addition of a truly positive, supportive and compassionate Help Desk attendant was a game changer in our district. The re-districting of the support team that we did have to balance school numbers and staff sizes was a necessary shift. Incorporating tools like Google Chat, Google Hangouts, and Autocrat for speedy automated responses has provided a sense of immediacy to requests when they do come in. We have not been able to grow our support team, but the data we collect in our district suggests that people feel more supported when they use technology. This correlates directly with our intentional decision to improve the support we do offer to staff. And feeling supported is the first step to removing barriers to risk taking for staff members who are nervous to give new tools a try.
None of these things on their own were silver bullet solutions to the challenges of technology adoption in the classroom. More honestly, these were slow changes that we intentionally engaged in and supported as a team. Consistency was the larger key, though. These were core beliefs of the technology and coaching teams, and as such we have not wavered in these key tenets. Over time, and with consistency, these are the types of actions that have shifted beliefs, culture, and practice in our district, setting the table for meaningful technology adoption by staff members and students.