technology integration specialist

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 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!

The Importance of the Technology Integration Specialist

We go by many names. Technology Integration Specialist. Instructional Technology Resource Teacher. Instructional Technology Coach. Education Specialist- Instructional Technology. (Those last 4 are ones I’ve seen in Virginia job postings alone!) Whatever name one is familiar with, our main job description is such:

“Assist teachers and students in integrating technology into the curriculum, combining both in the learning experience.”

The following are things that I have time in my time as a TIS:

– Found technology resources upon teacher request
– Helped plan lessons involving various pieces of technology
– Cotaught lessons with teachers; they focused on the content, I on the technology
– Developed lesson plans for online audiences
– Designed and presented professional development sessions in the district
– Designed and presented at the WV statewide technology conference
– Attended professional development sessions to broaden my knowledge
– Performed basic checks and fixes on technology equipment
– Assisted in work order submissions
– Collected inventory forms
– Designed and implemented a 1:1 laptop plan for middle school
– Prepared computer labs for statewide testing
– Technology Coordinator for statewide testing at my schools
– Setup/closed labs at the beginning and end of the year
– Applied for and received 2 grants
– Assisted teachers with learning new tools at the teacher’s request
– Taught some elementary computer classes
– Ran computer programming clubs

Those are just some of the things I have encountered. I’m sure there are more that I’m missing and that should be on the list, but are not. It’s a pretty big list that is always ever growing. I have always seen it as my job to promote technology, and make it easier for teachers to use the technology that is available to them.

What some people forget is that not every teacher is a digital native, or feels comfortable trying something completely new just out of the blue. This is not to say that those teachers simply want to avoid technology. No, they actually do want to try the technology and teach their students in new ways, but the amount of stuff available to them is overwhelming. Where do they begin? What’s out there? How do they know what works and doesn’t? Is there an app for that?

These questions and more can lead to more stress and anxiety than they would care to deal with on top of everything else. Add one more thing onto the neverending pile of other teacher duties? No way! Now enter the TIS (or whatever name you’d choose to call us instead). Part of our job is to meet with those teachers and help them to see what is truly out there.

There is one teacher that I have really gotten to know and work with in my time as a TIS. She’s my third mom now. When I first became a TIS, I was told to leave her to her own thing. I thought it might have been because she just didn’t want to use the technology. In fact, it was simply because she was tired of being talked to like she was a child. During the past two years, she has been willing to try new pieces of technology in her classroom, and to coteach with me on many occasions. It has been wonderful to see her growth.

West Virginia is having budget issues currently. On top of that, many districts are doing the yearly RIF and transfer dance. Normally, this isn’t so bad. RIFs are often told that they should have another job in the district before the start of the new school year. This year… not so much. What is taking place in my county is taking place around the state as well. Jobs are on the chopping block, and TIS folks are one of the first to go, as we are not a federally funded position. In my county, this meant cutting 3 of us that worked in the schools. Actually, we were the only TIS folks in the schools, as the head TIS worked at the central office. I have heard from some of my other technology friends in the state that they also had their positions cut. As far as I know, all were given transfers back into a classroom position.

What will happen though if the TIS is taken away from the schools?

 

That’s the question I keep getting asked by my fellow colleagues. Who will help us do __________? Who will help us do that __________? What happens when we need __________ done? I don’t think the answers are very pretty. As a school TIS, I am part of that front line defense. I’m able to fix the easy issues, look into resources, teach new technology, and more. I keep work requests from being inputted on easily fixed issues. I keep teachers from becoming frustrated when something seems broken or won’t work the way it should. Take that away, and now teachers are left do take on all that I do.

Is it fair? No. I’ve not forgotten my time in the classroom, and all of the responsibilities I was given as a teacher. Some days, it was very overwhelming. Even though I loved technology, I didn’t always have time to use it in the ways that I truly wanted to. Sometimes it wasn’t even on my mind. If someone had offered to help me plan things out or coteach with me, it might have been a different story. As it was, I integrated where I could, one piece at a time.

I really do hate to see where things will head next year in the county with technology. I fear that it won’t be used as often, or that teachers will become so frustrated with it that they won’t utilize it. I don’t want to know how the 1:1 program will end up going. I hate having to end my computer programming clubs. I hope that there will be teachers who can step up and assist others. We are an important part of a school staff and with all of us gone…what happens next?