Lessons Learned: Tips for New Technology Facilitators

2 08 2009

Cross-posted on the TechLearning Advisors Blog

It’s hard to believe that our summer holidays are officially over today and we start back to school bright and early tomorrow morning! I must admit, I’ve had a wonderful holiday: a week on Koh Racha in the south of Thailand, a few weeks in the United States spending time with family and friends – including a quick trip to St. Louis to lead a one-day session for MICDS Summer Learning (thanks to Elizabeth, Pat and Greg for taking such good care of me while I was there), and finally a luxurious week in the Maldives to celebrate my 5-year wedding anniversary. So, I can definitely say that I’m well-rested and ready to start the new year!

This school year is shaping up to be an especially exciting one for me. I’m still at the same school, but my position has changed in 2 very different ways.

  • First, I’ll be a Technology Coach in the elementary school, shifting my position from 21st Century Literacy Specialist to be part of a larger coaching team which includes our Math, Science, and Literacy Coaches. I could not be more excited about expanding this part of my job and working with such a knowledgeable group of people on a regular basis.
  • Secondly, part of my job will be the Middle School Technology and Learning Coordinator. These last 2 years have been my first working full-time in an elementary school and as much as I’ve loved the experience (and learned so much), I know that I’m a middle school teacher at heart. I’m so looking forward to spending part of my time working with the age group that I love and getting back into the middle school vibe!

Although I’m not sure what this configuration is going to look like in practice, I’ve been thinking a lot about the last two years and all that I’ve learned about starting a new job – not as a classroom teacher, but as a non-teaching support person. Having been both a subject-area teacher (e.g. middle school technology) and a support person (e.g. technology facilitator), I’ve realized that there are different challenges to each type of position.

In the interest of starting the year off right, here are the top five things I’ve learned about starting a new job in a non-teaching, support role:

It’s all about relationships! As my friend Chrissy likes to tell me, I’m a fixer. I like to solve problems, preferably on the spot, and get working on the solution immediately. Which can be great when you’re teaching your own classes and making improvements, but when you’re working in partnership with others (especially those you haven’t worked with before) it’s more important that you spend the early part of the year building a trusting relationship. It doesn’t matter how much (or how little) technology a teacher  might be using in their classroom, what does matter is that they see you as approachable, dependable, collaborative, friendly, and above all, willing and able to support their needs. It those personal relationship that you form early on that end up leading to positive and successful collaboration later on. After all, it doesn’t matter how good you are at your job if no one is interested in working with you!

Start small! As tempting as it is to start the year off with a bang, developing large-scale, amazing projects with as many teachers as possible, it’s almost always more successful (and more sustainable) to start small and begin with simple, easy-to-succeed-at, projects that teachers and students will enjoy. Small successes breed continued risk-taking and trust. It’s better to leave teachers and students wanting more collaboration than finding themselves exhausted from an over-ambitious, all-consuming project, thinking “I’ll never do that again!”

Celebrate, praise and publicize! We all know our colleagues are doing amazing things in their classroom, but we rarely hear about it outside of individual grade levels or departments. Make the effort and take the time to find ways to celebrate and share those experiences across the faculty. Teachers will appreciate knowing what others are doing in their classroom and what their students are experiencing in other subjects or grade levels. Plus, the best way to spread the use of technology in the classroom is virally – once teachers see the success of others, they will be more willing to try something similar in their classroom, especially knowing that they will have a colleague they can count on for advice and assistance (thereby building their own support network).

Be there! Be visible: in the classroom, on the team, in the hallway. Teachers are busy people, they don’t always have time to find you to ask an emergency question, or they might not have a moment to spare to send an e-mail. If you’re always holed up in your office, you’re going to get a reputation for being unavailable, or worse, a slacker. The more time you spend with your colleagues and their students, the more you will learn about them, their curriculum, their needs and their experiences. A support person is not supportive if they’re invisible.

Don’t be a pusher! Everyone knows you were hired to spread the technology love, you don’t need to be ramming it down your colleagues’ throats every second of the day. Listen and learn what, how, when, and where you can help. Of course, you want to move your faculty and your school forward, but you can do that by supporting others and helping build their understanding of the power of technology. Sure, you will probably need to “sell” your ideas here and there (and everywhere), but it doesn’t have to be constant and it should never start with you – the students and the curriculum are the backbone of your success. When you can demonstrate how technology tools enhance learning by meeting the needs of the school, you won’t have to “sell” anything anymore.

Final Thoughts

One of the biggest challeges for me, when reading over my own advice, is how to balance my own needs (what I see as critical for student, teacher, parent and administrator learning) with being supportive of others.

I can’t assume that all of my colleagues will have the same passions, interests and beliefs that I do, so if my job is entirely to support them, how do I move forward with my own learning and meet my own personal and professional goals for the year?

One of the only drawbacks I can see to being a facilitator, coach, or support person, is that I don’t have my own group of students to try new things with, I can’t experiment or test out someting new without affecting another teacher. This makes it all the more important to try to find a balance between helping others and feeling that you’re moving forward professionally.

What other advice do you have for a new teacher starting this year in a non-teaching support role?