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Presenting Professional Development: Know Your Audience

One thing I have learned over the years about presenting professional development to school staff is that it works so much better if you know your audience. Just like with a classroom, staff members are not one size fits all, and what works for one school or district won’t necessarily work for another.

When I first began working in instructional technology as a technology integration specialist in West Virginia, I did what any newbie does – offered all professional development training after school. I was a bit restricted in this fashion, as any PD given in the district had to be approved by someone at central office first. It was a hindrance, and I actually ended up offering less professional development because of it. The approval process made it seem as though we could not be trusted to design training for staff that would be beneficial without this approval.

All of the sessions I offered were after school. I usually picked a general topic, and created something we could all do, whether it worked best for everyone or not. Rookie mistake. Professional development in the district was not as successful as it could be. Session attendance was low, and with the schools in the county so spread out, it was hard to have a location where people could easily attend. I chalk it all up as a learning process.

When I moved to Virginia, I became an instructional technology resource teacher, or ITRT. I was assigned to work in both a middle school and high school, so my time was split. I continued my rookie mistake in my first year. Nobody’s perfect, right? It was during this time that I began researching more into professional development and how to make it work best for my staff.

Most of my research led me to developing potential ideas and programs. I decided that I would not offered after school professional development unless absolutely necessary. It was not successful, and since it was the end of the day, most folks were brain exhausted. I also had those who had other after school obligations, so they were never able to attend, even if they wanted to do so.

This year I have focused mostly on 1:1 professional development, and letting staff know what’s out there. If I need to offer professional development to groups of staff, I will do rolling sessions during the day so that staff can attend when it works for them on their schedule. I have found that I can be much more personalized, and I also know my staff better.

When offering 1:1 professional development, called Tech Bytes, I usually select 3-4 options for the month. Staff are aware that they are not limited to these options, but these are the featured ones. These featured options usually come from my Fluco Toolbox posts on this site, as a result of staff saying they don’t always know what’s out there. Staff sign up to attend during their planning periods, and we work out a time that’s best for them. I usually have some idea of their technology abilities, so I can already begin tailoring how to pace my lesson for them.

When it comes to group sessions, these can be trickier. I usually block off the entire day to focus on these, and do rolling sessions for staff so that they can attend when it’s convenient to them. I have gotten remarks from some (not the staff I teach) that it’s a bit inconvenient to do in terms of spending a whole day for just a small group. I don’t feel that it’s inconvenient to me, as I just set up camp in the room I’m using and work on my other stuff in between. Sure, I repeat my presentation multiple times, but my goal is to be flexible for my staff so that they want to attend. It is not about my discomfort, or how it might inconvenience me. It’s about making it work for my audience.

I know my high school audience. These staff members already work from 8 until 4 PM each day. Even though it’s the same as any other school day, doing something after school lets out just seems like too much. As a whole, my staff won’t attend these sessions. They’ve already had a full day of kids, and anything more is a bit too much to handle, mentally. They like the freedom to schedule when they like, and with just me if they prefer.

I actually really love the 1:1 trainings because I get to really focus on the staff member and their needs. It allows me to build a better relationship with them as well. This in turn makes them more open to the group sessions because they already know what to expect of me and my teaching. I’ve gotten to work with a wider variety of staff because of this, and I plan to continue this next year.

No matter what district or school you are in, learn your audience. Learn about their needs and their wants. This may take some time, and some mistakes to get it right. If you have a gut feeling about something that will work best for your staff, then give it a try. Don’t let someone deter you from that. If something doesn’t work, head back to the drawing board, and try again. It’s okay to fail, but it’s not okay to stop giving professional development.

What is Coaching?

It has taken me some time to sit down and write this post. I have quickly discovered that The Art of Coaching is not a book to be taken lightly at all. I read Chapter 2 yesterday, only to realize that I needed time to let the reading soak in and the ideas marinate. The text has been on my mind and I feel as though I can finally start writing my reflection.

If you are a coach, people have to know your purpose and the reason you are there. Each coach can have a different purpose, and if your staff do not know where you fall, they’ll utilize you as they have done in the past. This means you might end up doing a lot of things that your coaching position isn’t supposed to do. Coaches are meant to be empowering to the staff that they serve, not the exact opposite. A coach’s job isn’t meant to “fix” people. A coach can assist someone often, but unless that person wants to learn and be coached, then the coaching itself is useless.

Coaches should create a vision statement for themselves. This vision will talk about what you want to do as a coach, your “big picture”, and your goals for working with staff. Like a philosophy of learning, this statement will help guide you in your practice. And if you find the vision changes as the year goes by? Then change the vision to match! Don’t be stuck in a vision that no longer suits your goals or purpose.

One thing I didn’t realize was that coaching had different models, and these models affected how staff developed and thrived. There are directive, facilitative, and transformational. If we were to assign numbers to these, directive would be a 1, facilitative a 2, and transformative a 3.

A directive coach is only providing instructions and telling someone how to do something. They share knowledge and provide resources. As an ITRT, this is where most of my work has fallen the majority of the time. I realize now that I am not very effective (yet!), and that realizing where I am as a coach is going to push me toward being a better one. The point of reading this book was to help me grow in my position, after all.

I know that changing my style of coaching will take time and that since this is considered an art, that it can’t be learned all at once. I can, however, start moving toward becoming more facilitative in my coaching as I learn what it means to be transformational. As a facilitative coach I would help them to learn new ways of thinking through many different processes. I work more with where the staff member is and build on what they already have. Instead of only sharing expert knowledge, I am instead helping them to build their own skills and reflection that will work within the walls of their classroom.

Transformational coaching will be harder to reach, but it’s not impossible. It takes the other two and goes a step further to work on changing one’s state of being. According to Aguilar, it’s not often a model that has been found in schools. One of the things that transformational coaching does is “explore language, nonverbal communication, and emotions, and how these affect relationships, performance, and results.” (pg 26) It also works to get to the “why” of causes and their occurrences.

Yes, this is going to be a long road for me, but I hope to come to the end of this journey even better at being an ITRT than before. The material is harder, but that’s okay. I’ll get there one step at a time. If you are reading this post, and are also reading this book, please consider joining me on my journey. I would love to have some others to discuss this book with so that I can see multiple viewpoints!

Traditional PD is the PITS!

If you remember that lovable cartoon from the 80’s called Rainbow Brite, you’re more than familiar with a place called The Pits. Rainbow and friends live in Rainbow Land, but there’s a part of the land that’s dark, gloomy, and void of color. This place, aptly called The Pits, is where nemesis Murky Dismal and his henchman Lurky live. Their goal is to steal Rainbow’s color belt and the color from Rainbow Land as well.

This is what was on my mind as I read through the first chapter in The Art of Coaching. I found myself nodding along and highlighting quite a few points (yes, I started marking in my books finally!). I also started sharing these points on Facebook and Twitter with colleagues, and it started some interesting discussions with them. I really could discuss the downfalls of PD for quite some time, and it was nice to take a look at yet another perspective on the topic.

The thing is, if we know traditional PD is so bad, then why in the world are we still doing it? Why are we letting ourselves muck through the junk that it provides, knowing that it does the teachers and students no real good? The teachers who really latch on to the PD topic will continue to research and learn the tool or method. Those teachers will make a difference because they are spending countless hours to learn outside of the PD session/s and work toward fluency. However, those teachers are very few in number, so the difference isn’t widely felt.

Sometimes those in charge decide that there will be one initial PD session at the beginning of the year, and then one or two more follow ups at a later time. We think this is better, but it’s really not because those teachers are still only skimming the surface, and not delving deeper. They will only go deeper if they do so on their own, or if they have the support of a coach to guide them throughout the year.

I believe this is part of the reason that George Couros mentioned in his book that districts should choose 3 tools that they are going to focus on. This gives districts and schools the chance to have their ITRTs or other coaches really work on those tools with staff so that they are able to do more than just manipulate the tool.

It is great to introduce more tools to educators so that they know what is out there. However, I think I am going to start making it clear at those sessions that unless the educator is consistently learning the ins and outs of the tool, whether alone or with ITRT help, it will not be very beneficial to them. It might be hard to hear, but it is the truth. You can’t learn everything there is to know about a tool or method from a simple session, whether it’s an hour or three.

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One PD session isn’t enough to know everything.

Knowing all of this about traditional PD, what do we do about it? For me, it’s changing the way I work with teachers and how I coach them. I need to work more closely with them and have them select a tool that they would like to work on I know I will have my Fluco Toolbox posts, which will help teachers discover what is out there. They are meant to be “fly-by” posts to introduce a tool, but they are not meant to teach about the tool itself. However, if a teacher sees something they like featured on the toolbox, then I can help them delve deeper into the tool, or they can do so on their own.

Beyond that, there’s got to be a way to get administration to see that traditional PD is not the way to go. Sure, you can do your opening days PD sessions, but unless you do something all year long on those particular topics, your teachers are just wasting their time. First of all, they don’t want to be there because they’d rather be setting up their rooms and preparing first lessons. Second of all, they are taking in so much information at once that they don’t have any time to really process it all. Third, the sessions are one size fits all.

My suggestion would be to pick the tools/methods that will be focused on for the year. Then do the opening days PD sessions, unless a different method can be devised. However, then your coaches need to work consistently throughout the year on those tools/methods with teachers. Otherwise, it’s worthless and a waste of teachers’ time. It’s also a good idea to stick with certain tools for more than just a year instead of constantly changing things on teachers. That’s really frustrating.  I am only speaking of the edtech tools though, and not the literacy or math skills stuff… that’s a whole other ball game.

I’m definitely into this book so far though and can’t wait to see what other ideas it produces!

Recap: VSTE 2016

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The view from my hotel room. I hated that the weather was crappy because I would have loved to walk the beach one morning!

This year I had the pleasure to attend my very first VSTE (Virginia Society for Technology Education) conference. It was a much bigger conference than attending WVSTC, and I am so glad I got to attend. There are quite a few things I want to discuss in relation to the things that I attended at VSTE and what I learned, but I first wanted to start with a general overview and recap of my few days at the conference. This was the first conference I wasn’t presenting at, so it was nice to simply sit back and attend everything and not have to worry about finishing up the final touches on a presentation. I was joined by my two fellow ITRTs from my district, which was great because I had people to hang with on my downtime.

This year’s VSTE was held in Virginia Beach at the Virginia Beach Convention Center from December 4-6. It started mid-morning on Sunday and ran until mid-afternoon on the 6th. Attendees had a variety of sessions to choose from each hour. Some of these sessions were pop-ups in the hallways, and others were hands-on demonstrations. There was the exhibit hall of course, and plenty of good food around and about. Perhaps the only big downside to the conference was the horrible internet. It was very hard to find connection that was decent. Even the presenters had a lot of issues. Hopefully changes will be made so it’s not that way next year. I’m certainly spoiled by how well the internet runs at WVSTC!

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Me the very first day of the conference!

One of my biggest goals for this conference was to make connections with VA folks. I know I’ve really built up my connections when it comes to my WV colleagues, but not so much with my VA ones. I haven’t really had the chance to attend something that would allow me to, until now. I made sure to attend the pop-up Connected Educator meetups that were held. I only missed the last day due to another session running that I had wanted to attend. I definitely made new connections and passed out a good many copies of my business card. It’s gotten to the point where I need to consider redesigning my lists on Twitter as well.

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A large group of us from the very first Connected Educator meetup. I saw many of these folks often over the course of the conference.

One of the big things with this conference is the collection of ribbons for one’s badge. I got lucky and ended up gathering quite a few, though mine was definitely not the longest. Mine nearly touches the floor though. It’s just a fun way to add interest to the badge I suppose. Of course, the first one on mine was my Twitter handle badge. Obviously that’s one of the most important!

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My badge. I only gathered 1 more ribbon after this 🙂

VSTE of course isn’t only focused on learning. There’s also fun to be had as well! There was the vendor reception, which hosted live music and snack foods. Later on we had a karaoke and casino night. There happened to be a photo booth there as well so one of my colleagues and I had some fun with that.

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A group of attendees at the vendor reception. I believe they were dancing to Wobble

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Fellow ITRT and I being goofballs

Look for more updates on VSTE. I do plan to update on the new things I’ve learned about social media, professional development, and Minecraft world building.

Thoughts

So as some of you may have noticed, I’ve not been as on top of things as I have been in the past in regards to posting updates to my blog, and a bunch of other things. I’m working through that, and figuring out how I can get myself back to where I was. I think I was just a bit overwhelmed, and needed some “shutdown” time to refocus myself. I’m (hopefully) back on track, and ready to rock.

I’m a bit fired up today. One of my coworkers mentioned a blog written by one of the local school board members. Typically the blog posts updates on what happens at meetings, and the member talks about their reasons for voting this way or that. Great! I love that the member is being very visible with what happens and not just out of the way. I read a recent comment on the blog in regards to needs and the upcoming budget discussion meetings. It was only tagged “concerned teacher”.

The comment is as follows:

The LAST thing we need is another ITRT. We NEED more SPED teachers and Instructional Assistants to help with the ever growing population of needy students. I would even suggest cutting an ITRT position. (or two)

Now, I’m not saying anything against SPED and IAs. Not my concern with this. However, I am an ITRT, and there are only 3 of us for the district. We’re split between schools and split our time as needed to provide assistance and professional development. I already have enough teachers who thank me often when I’m able to assist them or their classes. I know the same thing goes for my fellow ITRTs.

There is more I could go into, but I will not. That will not help anything. Instead, “concerned teacher”, whoever you may be, I will rise to your push that there should be less of us by pushing back with my own stories. I’m going to try and get back to being more active with my blog. That may involve sharing a lot more stories. I’m not sure if I can keep up, but it will document my work in the schools. It will show my impact with students and teachers.

Then tell me my position should be cut. I dare you.

ITRT Goals

Since I’m in a new state and district this year, I wanted to set some goals for myself and see if I can achieve them this year. I’m an ITRT this year, aka an Instructional Technology Resource Teacher. It’s really the same job as when I was a TIS (Technology Integration Specialist), just a different title. We were asked to create goals in new teacher orientation in July, and I later sat down and made my list a little longer. In the end, I ended up with 6 different goals.

  1. Increase the use of the project library at FCHS- The project library is a wonderful room that many schools do not have. This room is a collaborative space and is set up with three different sections. The front section is a round sort of couch with a table, where connectors are placed to plug in. Users at this table can immediately have their table connect to the Promethean board in the room. Behind this section is a high cafe table with stools where students can sit and view the front or work on their own stuff. In the back of the room are two more sections, each with a table and large screen TV. The setup is the same as the front. 

    It was asked that I train teachers on using this room, and work to provide them with support and ideas for how to best utilize it as well. I know it will easily work for ELA teachers, and I need to find ways to get others to use the room. I am going to work on talking with teachers every now and then to see if I can spark any ideas.

  2. Get more educators “connected”- This goal is one I always have in the back of my mind. I want to show more educators what the power of Twitter and blogging can do for their teaching. I think it will be easier to get them to use Twitter than to blog, but that’s okay. Twitter can be a very powerful tool for connections and ideas, and I have plenty I can share with staff. My district already wants to utilize social media more, and the superintendent is aware of what I can do, and has asked me to speak with the other administrators and technology team.
    I have already begun developing a self-guided course for staff development. I plan to send out an email to see if I can find any interested educators, and then work one on one with them during school hours to help them learn to utilize Twitter. I have a feeling that the self-guided course will be beneficial as a reference guide when I cannot be there to add support. It’s only a beginner course, but I am hoping to be able to develop a more advanced user course in the future.
  3. Increase staff use of technology in classrooms at FMS/FCHS- This is a goal for me in my position no matter where I am. I do know that staff utilize the technology more in this district than my old one overall, and they have so far been more willing to ask for resources/help on different tools and resources.
    I am working to develop staff development that will assist me in this, and if I can get all of my training materials into Google Classrooms, then I will have self-guided classes as well, which will also double as references for staff. I plan to make sure staff know I can co-plan, co-teach, and co-reflect with them so that they have the support necessary. I feel this goal might take me a little bit to get started as I am still working to settle into the routine and getting to know my staff.
  4. Use Google Classroom to create online staff development resources- I have already mentioned parts of this goal above, but I need to go into more detail. I come from a Microsoft state, and am now in a Google district. The switch has been interesting and not as bad as I thought it might be. I’ve been introduced to Google Classroom, and though it doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles that I’d like for it to have, it’s a decent tool to use with both staff and students.
    When I began learning to use Google Classroom, I started working on setting up my own coursework. Since I don’t have my own class of students, I made my classroom meant for teachers, and focused my design on professional development. I started with Twitter, but soon switched to Kahoot, since teachers wanted PD on interactive tools for the classroom. I successfully finished the Kahoot one, and was so pleased with it that I am working to develop other classrooms for tools as well.
  5. Build relationships with ALL staff- As a new staff member in a brand new district, it is absolutely vital to work on this goal. I need to build good relationships with staff so that they will be able to trust me as their ITRT. I have found that this has worked well for me in the past, but that it can take some time. The first school year is often rougher because I am still developing relationships. I found in my last district that the second year was easier once I had established relationships in place. Once I have a good relationship with a staff member in place, then it becomes easier for me to be able to make technology suggestions to teachers. They are usually more willing to listen and consider what I have to say because there is a level of trust there. I know it is going to be hard to make sure I have a good relationship with all staff, but I’m really going to try my best with this one.
  6. Work on Google certification- This goal is a must for me now that I am in a Google district. I have always wanted to do it before, but have never had enough time, and since I wasn’t in a Google district, it wasn’t too high on my priority list. Now that I am, I want to make sure I know all there is to know. My teachers expect me to know a good bit, and thankfully I am a fast learner when it comes to technology.

    There are two levels of regular certification, and I intend to take both before the year is out. I am planning on having the first level finished by Christmas, and the second before the school year is over. Each level has coursework that can be taken, and then an exam to sit for online. The exams cost, but thankfully they aren’t expensive.

Six goals seems plenty to me for the 2016-2017 school year. I am hoping that I remember I set goals by the time the end of the year rolls around. Then I’ll come back and address which I met, and which I feel I failed to meet. Wish me luck!

What I Wish I’d Known as a 1st year Technology Integration Specialist

Note: This article was originally written last school year, but I never finished or posted it. At the time, I wasn’t actively blogging as much as I do now, and I wanted to get this post out there. This post applies to anyone brand new to the field of instructional technology, no matter the job title. Since I’m in a new district this year, you can bet I’m going to heed the advice of my past self!

I always see these articles for teachers, but I’ve never seen one for a technology integration specialist (TIS). I’ve decided to create my own article, and hopefully my experiences will help another TIS in getting started on their new journey.

As I’ve mentioned before, I became a TIS last year. I applied for the job in September, thinking that I would not be allowed to switch out of my current job as 4th grade teacher into the position. The deadline to transfer jobs had just passed for the district when the job itself was posted. In order to apply for the position, one had to have their TIS credentials, or be able to apply for the 1 year temporary certification. In order to do the latter, one had to be a part of the current TIS cohort for the 2014-2015 school year. I fell into the latter category, so I took a shot and applied. I was hired, and allowed to switch. Come the end of October, I said goodbye to my students and classroom, and stepped forward to begin my new journey as a TIS.

Looking back, there are many things I wished I’d known about being a TIS, or getting started in the position. Unlike a beginning teacher, I didn’t have a mentor in my building to go to for advice. I could email the technology office if I needed anything, but for the most part, it was a learn-as-you-go experience. I was pretty confident in my abilities with technology, but I was overwhelmed as to where to begin. My first day on the job happened to be a staff development day without students, and so I was to shadow the previous TIS at the middle school. We didn’t do the elementary school. After that day, I was to work 3 days a week at a middle school, and the other 2 days at an elementary school. The days I chose to be at each school were up to me, as were my hours. I could do 7-3, 7:30-3:30, or 8-4. Of course, I worked hard and made it through the year, but not without a few issues and lessons learned along the way.

So without further ado…

What I Wished I’d Known as a First Year Technology Integration Specialist

1. Exactly How Crucial Relationships are for Collaboration: As with any work environment, relationships are key. However, a TIS does not have the option to lock themselves away and be isolated. A TIS must be able foster and build a comfortable relationship with the teachers they will be working with. We all hear about collaboration and working as a team. I came from a school where for the past 3 years I’d been the sole 4th grade teacher. Collaboration between grades or areas was minimum at best. Collaborating with other teachers in the county? Difficult. We didn’t have time anymore to get together, and schools were spaced out. Not the best, but that’s how it was.

A TIS must be able to work with anyone- teachers, librarians, custodians, cooks, administrators, and more. This can be hard, especially when there are teachers who would rather be left to their own devices. As a TIS, one learns that some teachers do not wish to have them, or know how they want to use them. The best thing to do is to continually offer
services, but not push for them. Instead, building relationships with them. Find common interests, talk about the classroom, or just eat lunch together. Sometimes they’ll come around, and sometimes not. Don’t take offense to it, as there are others who are happy to have assistance.

2. Expectations of You May Not Be What The Job Actually Entails: Coming into this position, I knew that a TIS is expected to help teachers and students integrate technology into the curriculum. This means that we must teach both teachers and students how to use the technology. We also find new technology for teachers, show them how to use it, look for resources, and teach their students technology lessons or co-teach lessons involving technology. However, if the previous TIS did not do this, beware of what others’ expectations may be. Expectations for your position may be nothing more than a glorified computer repair person.

If the above happens to be the case, then a TIS has quite a task in front of them. The first problem that a TIS faces is that faculty expects them to fix computers or any other technology related issues that arise, and that is the only expectation. In my district, a TIS will take a look at the problem, but if they can’t resolve it quickly, or they don’t know how to resolve it, then a work order is put into the system to have the issue fixed by someone who can. At first, this is what most of my job was for teachers in the middle school, and the only time they would sign up for my assistance. I spent the entire year trying to show that my job was more on the side of technology integration, rather than just fixing. By the end of the year, I was leaning closer to a balance of the two. Hopefully this year I can swing it so that I’m doing more integrating than anything else. It takes baby steps to swing the pendulum the other way, but it pays off in the end.

3. Elementary and Middle School Collaboration are Very Different: I come from an
elementary background, so most of my knowledge and experience was with the elementary level. I was used to working as a team with a variety of staff, or working with a particular colleague. I was not ready for the difference I found in middle school. I discovered a lot of isolated pockets my first year, and found that there wasn’t very much cross-curricular collaboration going on. Granted, it may just have been my school, but still.

When faced with trying to build up collaboration, a new TIS needs to make sure that relationships and trust are gained first. I didn’t heed this in my first year. I worked toward it, but not as adamantly as I should have. Had I known this, I might have been able to gain
the teachers’ trust more quickly. I’m hoping that a year in this position makes a difference for me as a TIS and the amount of technology I can help my teachers integrate.

4. Go Slowly: A TIS cannot just through random bits of technology at the teachers and expect them to grab hold and use it. This is absolutely the quickest way to gain a staff member’s distrust. Not only is it overwhelming, but the staff have no buy in, and no reason to use it. Rather, a TIS should make suggestions from time to time, but really focus in on what staff do want. They may not know the name of the particular technology tool, or if it even exists, but they will describe what they want so that the TIS can research and see if something does exist.

A TIS should also learn about the staff members’ comfort levels with technology. Someone who is very comfortable may know exactly what they want and request it. They might be happy to go at their own pace from there, or they might need a little bit of help. Other staff
members may not be very fond of technology, or know what it can truly do. With this type of staff member, it’s best to go slow. Make suggestions, offer to co-plan and co-teach with the teacher as well. Make them comfortable from start to finish to help reduce the fear. Of course, you will have staff members that fall in between these two levels as well. A TIS isn’t meant to create more frustration in the work environment.

5. Always Watch for New Learning Experiences: Okay so this isn’t something I necessarily needed to know as a first year TIS, but it is something any TIS should always know. It’s a good reminder to start the year with as well. Technology is an ever changing field, and there are always new applications, programs, and websites for educators to review and look at. Just because one year a particular edtech tool is hot, doesn’t mean that it’s going to be the next year, or that it will be the only tool to do that particular task. There are always new programs, and they don’t always replace the old ones.

As a TIS, stay connected online. Research new edtech tools, and ask colleagues what they might recommend. Stay current on new changes in the field, and don’t be afraid to try something that doesn’t work in the end. Oh and one of the most important parts to this- always listen to the teachers at the schools. Just because they aren’t a TIS doesn’t mean they don’t have some great ideas or resources to share. It’s easy to avoid having to research, but it only hurts you as a TIS, and is a disservice to the teachers, too.

Hopefully, these 5 things will help get other new TISs started on their journey in the field, and help them to avoid making some common blunders. I wish all the new TISs the absolute best this school year!