In the two weeks since I’ve been “officially” back to work, I have been asked that question over a dozen times by colleagues. Teachers, principals, central office staff, parents.
Well, truth be told. I kind of love it.
The first week of the school year was dizzying. In a good way. I’ve already learned some lessons about the role of the instructional coach and the ways in which we use technology to support learning. Here are a few tidbits that have been on my mind.
1. The more devices the merrier? Not quite. Our grades 4-6 are 1:1 this year and our primary students have access to a ton of devices. Lucky us! However, with more devices come more headaches. Java incompatibility/updates/whatever. Desktop shortcuts pointing to the wrong URL for a site-based program. Upgrades to a new early learning system caused teachers to be unsure how to manage it. Newly enrolled students without access to key accounts. Entire labs freezing up when attempting to get online (via Internet Explorer, so.) These things will happen, and do happen, in schools everywhere. My takeaway here is that our technicians look like they have been run over by a bus during the last few weeks of summer and the first few weeks of school. If you’re going to increase the number of devices and services on your campus, you’d better be prepared to increase the amount of support personnel. Otherwise, you will frustrate the teachers, students, and administrators who expect to work with functioning devices and services.
2. Email is the devil. In my opinion, it’s just not a great way to communicate. Threaded email is even worse. I sent a few mass emails during the first two weeks of school to communicate some issues common to all three schools, and it was like my emails self-destructed a second after they were opened by recipients. The administrators and I continued to get a multitude of emails asking questions that were answered in my proactive attempts at communication. I continue to send my teachers to our elementary instructional tech blog (a work in progress), in the hopes it will serve as the central hub for our teaching and learning efforts this year, thus eliminating the need for 50 emails about how so-and-so can’t access what’s-it-called. And let’s just all take a moment to remember that writing something in all-caps and/or boldface doesn’t make me pay more attention to your message. It hurts my ears. And feelings.
3. There’s probably a reason why your tech department is asking you to submit a work order. When I was a building principal, and I had a tech issue, I emailed the tech supervisor. I didn’t stop to consider that there were probably 100 other people doing that as well. (See #2.) I did it because I wanted an immediate response and action to be taken. I know everyone who has a tech issue feels that exact same way. This year I’m in a role where I’m not a member of the technology department, but I can help teachers with technical issues that arise. While my instinct is still to email technicians my questions so I can quickly get an answer in order to most efficiently help staff, I’ve come to realize that it’s important for us to submit formal work orders. The help desk system is designed to track, monitor, and assign work tasks to technicians. If we skip around that step, the system begins to break down. So as much as it’s a pain to log onto yet another portal to access yet another site and fill out yet another form, it’s necessary. Would I rather have access to the technicians on Google chat 100% of the workday? Yes.
4. Plan, plan, plan. Then, backup plan. Due to an issue on Pearson’s end (so we’ve been told- we’re still waiting for our Successnet issues to be remedied -anyone from Pearson technical support reading this?), our teacher and student access to the online literacy program portal is not yet up and running. Heading into our third week of school, teachers had already planned to access the portal and use a number of the resources there. Now unavailable, teachers have to resort to plan B. Perfectionists all, it’s difficult to plan for the use of technology, have it fail you, and then buck up and try again when things have been remedied. You lose a little faith each time that happens.
5. Those who take initiative reap rewards. Since the first day of school, I’ve worked in the classrooms of about ten different teachers across the district. Some eagerly invited me in to teach a lesson about quality blog commenting and others asked for modeling the use of Google docs and helping their kids get acclimated to the tools. They asked for my help without hesitation, and I could tell they spent a lot of time over the summer or at the start of the year prepping their students and preparing themselves to include technology in the daily business of the classroom. They were brave in the face of challenges and accepted what they did not know. These teachers will serve as the leaders for their colleagues moving forward and will no doubt allow their students to make the most out of their learning experiences supported by tech. I’ve had initial conversations with teachers who want to integrate technology in more meaningful ways this year, but they feel absolutely swamped at this point. My role will be to support them where they are, all the while gently nudging…
6. Relationships rule. I still haven’t met face-to-face all of the new teachers I’ll be working with this year, but when I’m in the buildings I try to say hello and as unobtrusively as possible, let people know I’m here for them!
7. There is still a lot of fear. It must be difficult to relinquish control. We have a classroom management/monitoring program to assist in the computer labs and the classrooms with laptop carts. I think for some teachers, the most exciting aspect of this is that they can blank the students’ screens and/or “control” what they’re doing at certain times to ensure they’re giving their fullest attention where it is due. Where is the attention due? Shouldn’t our attention be given to them? Here’s an idea. Plan well and engage your kids. Deal individually with the students who having difficulty using the technology to support their learning. Don’t focus on “locking down” an entire class as an attempt to have its undivided attention. I appreciate that we have tools to help monitor students’ use in order to keep them safe. I just don’t think we need to be all Big Brother-y about it.
8. Kids are the best. Kids are so great. I really missed my students. It’s been so fantastic seeing their faces. They are so much taller than they were when I went out on leave! I am also enjoying meeting some new kiddos at the other two schools where I now work. I love watching kids in the computer labs. Did you ever watch a kindergarten student try to work a mouse? It’s clear who has a mouse on their computer at home, and who uses Mom’s iPad/iPhone/tablet/trackpad/swipey device. Did you ever watch a six-year-old attempt to login to a computer with some ridiculous username like Gard3485 and an even more ludicrous password of GSKDG7485? Did you ever hear kids laugh out loud or sing along to a game while they’re wearing their headphones, oblivious to what’s going on around them? Adorbs.
9. I don’t miss administrative meetings.
10. I have a lot to learn. There’s so much I want to learn this year. I’m excited about our county technology integrators meeting coming up next week, held monthly throughout the year. (Thanks for organizing, Ken!) I really want to dive into some of the coaching academy courses from ISTE. I continue reading some great posts and conversations in the instructional technology integrators/coaches Google+ community. I’ll keep tweeting and perusing chats and reading blogs. Hopefully I’ll get to some conferences like Edscape and Educon to connect with some smart folks. I started some lessons in Codecademy. I have a pile of books to read and blog about.
What have you learned with the start of your new school year?