We Are All Technology Teachers

29 11 2009

Last weekend I was honored to present a session at the Bridging the Gap conference at Yokohama International School in Japan. YIS has hosted this community conference annually since 2001, and the topic for this year was “The Future of Education: Using Its Tools Today.” The three day conference included formal sessions led by teachers from YIS, other international schools and keynote presenter, Chris Toy, as well as a full day of BarCamp unconference sessions. It was a great opportunity to dialogue about the way schools may look in the near future with not only teachers and administrators, but also parents and students.

One interesting topic of discussion came up on Saturday: an administrator asked me if we should be expecting classroom teachers to teach technology, to be responsible for this additional subject along with their standard course material. Basically the question was about the value of technology as an integrated subject (with all teachers responsible for the instruction) versus a discrete course (with one or two specialists responsible for the instruction). Interestingly, I haven’t really had this conversation in a while, since ISB had adopted an integrated approach before I even arrived three years ago, but it certainly was a hot topic in both KL and Munich where I was part of the transition process from stand-alone IT courses to an integrated model.

Having developed and implemented an integrated technology program from scratch in two schools and expanded an existing program here at ISB, I firmly believe that technology is best taught within the context of the core curriculum. The natural use of authentic technology within the classroom setting, just like the way we use paper and pencil without any second thoughts, is always what I’m striving for.

Sounding BoardA good analogy might be the way that over the past decade or two, classroom teachers have become more accustomed to the idea of differentiating for English language learners – especially in international schools, where often the majority of the class are not native English speakers. I have heard many administrators say “we are all ESL teachers,” with the expectation that no matter what subject we teach, we must ensure that all students are engaged with material that’s comprehensible to them. In all of the schools I’ve worked at, we’ve had extensive professional development in this area, and the consensus in education seems to be that if you’re a teacher in a linguistically diverse class, it is your responsibility to employ some of the professional strategies of an ESL teacher, even if you yourself are a Math, Social Studies, Science, etc teacher.  At this point, we’re all comfortable with the fact that we can’t simply give oral instructions, or that new vocabulary should be introduced in context, or that certain students might need more time to understand directions and perform certain tasks.

Maybe now it’s time to say “we are all technology teachers.”

I certainly understand that this is not a change that will happen overnight. Much like the move towards more ELL friendly instruction, teachers will need to learn appropriate skills, strategies and approaches to authentically and successfully embed technology within their core subject. Of course, this will take time, and during this transition, in my opinion, it’s the responsibility of the technology facilitator (or coordinator or integration specialist or whatever they may be called) to help their colleagues build their understanding of successful technology-rich teaching practices.

Often my colleague, Jeff, likes to say that his goal is to “work himself out of a job” by building teacher skill level to the point where they don’t need him anymore. Although I would agree that this is also my ultimate goal, I am conscious of the speed with which technology changes, and I’m not sure that we will ever get to the point where schools will no longer need some sort of pedagogical support in the technology field. After all, most schools still have ESL specialists, even though many of their practices are adopted by mainstream teachers.

Click!Similarly, most ESL programs have a mix of in-class and pull-out support – blending the best of both approaches to ensure that all students are learning and understanding both the language and the curricular content. Although I firmly believe technology should be embedded within classroom practice, I also see a place for discrete technology classes – especially when they are designed with a curricular context that enhances the learning in core subjects, or when they emphasis the process of learning how to learn with technology, or when they offer a specialized skill for students that are highly interested (like graphic design or Flash animation).

The important thing to remember, is that even if there are seperate technology courses offered at a school, that doesn’t mean that those classes are the only place where students learn with technology. To continue to use the ESL anology one last time, a student who has a pull-out intensive ESL course isn’t excused from using the English language in all of their other classes simply because they attend a class that focuses on language. Students and teachers should expect that technology will naturally be a part of every class.

What do you think? Should all teachers be technology teachers?

Reflections on the Flat Classroom Workshop

27 09 2009

Last weekend I had the honor of co-leading the Flat Classroom Workshop (pictures here) with Julie Lindsay at the 21st Century Learning Conference in Hong Kong. I have to admit that although I knew it would be amazing after everything I had heard about the Flat Classroom Conference in Doha earlier this year, I had no idea just how amazing the whole experience would turn out to be!

Flat Classroom Workshop

Workshop Structure

The flat classroom workshop is a 2.5-day project-based learning experience for both students and teachers. We had about 30 high-school students and 10 teachers participating face-to-face, and about 20 registered virtual participants. The goal of the workshop is to allow participating students and teachers to experience a flat classroom project in a condensed amount of time. Basically, in the 2.5 days of the workshop, the students and teachers go through almost the entire process of a flat classroom project that might normally take six to nine weeks.

The students and teachers in the workshop are given a challenge (in this case, to develop and propose a solution to the problem of the digital divide). Students and teachers worked in separate teams of 5 (i.e.: teachers worked with only other teachers, and students worked only with other students). All teams had members from a variety of schools, including official virtual participants.

Flat Classroom Workshop

Over the course of the 2.5 days, teams had to research the digital divide, propose and pitch a solution to a small group of conference participants, present more formal pitches to all workshop participants and a virtual uStream audience at the end of the first full day, and then finally the three most-likely-to-succeed ideas were presented to the entire 21st-century learning conference as the final plenary session.

What was amazing to me about this process was the fact that not only did the teams have little to no understanding of the digital divide before the conference started, but most had never met their team members, and most of them were working in a different school with different equipment than they were used to, and they had to work together with virtual participants as team members, yet they jumped in with both feet, producing finished presentations that were absolutely outstanding.

Flat Classroom Workshop

Here’s what really stood out to me over the 2.5 days:

Project-Based Learning Works

It is absolutely amazing what students can do when you give them an authentic and achievable task and then get out of their way. We provided several focus sessions on pitching an idea, a basic overview of the digital divide, the power of visual imagery, and an introduction to digital storytelling, but for the most part the teams were on their own. Of course, Julie and I were facilitating the process, but watching students learn how to learn together and seeing the results of their cooperation was a great reminder for me that this is the way a classroom should be run.

Third Culture Kids

When the students first met each other, it was interesting see that they started their introductions with their ethnic background first. Once they established their cultural history they were able to bond about similar experiences (most of them were 3rd culture kids and many of them had never lived in their “home” country)  and work together in an open and accepting environment. It was interesting for me to see how important it was for them to acknowledge their cultural history and experiences before beginning the process of working together.

Flat Classroom Workshop

These Tools Are Still New

I’ve been working with web 2.0 tools for a few years now and they are starting to seem “old hat” to me, but for most of these students (and teachers), even though were particularly interested in technology, many of these tools were new or they hadn’t used them in this way. Of course, they all have Facebook accounts  and they regularly Skype with their extended families, they really didn’t have an understanding of how to use these tools for an academic purpose, and it was exciting to them to discover new ways to use them. It was a good reminder that the use of web 2.0 tools in education is nowhere near as prevalent as it can seem here in the edublogosphere.

Learning to Listen

One strong difference Julie and I noticed when we were presenting was that I will occasionally ask students to close their laptop lids to listen, while Julie doesn’t. I don’t think that one way is better than the other, but it’s made me wonder: do we need to teach (and model for) students how to stop and listen? I know when I’m working on my laptop and listening to something else at the same time, I am able to stop and listen when I need to, but I wonder if that’s a skill that needs to be taught and learned (not an innate ability that all people just naturally have). Can some students naturally pay attention while others are distracted by the laptop? I know that many of our teachers in the CoETaIL course find it very distracting to have their laptop lids open throughout our face-to-face sessions, but it didn’t bother the students at all, could it be a generational thing?

Overheard at the Flat Classroom Workshop

It’s all about Inquiry and Individualization

When I think of the digital divide, I automatically think about those who have access to technology versus those who don’t. What was interesting to me was that while watching the students try to develop a solution to this global problem, almost none of them tackled the issue of the haves and have-nots. They almost all chose to work on the problem of the “analog” generation versus the “digital” generation. They drew on their own experiences, for example: their grandparents who have difficulty communicating with them online. They focused on the problems of one generation not communicating the same way as another generation.

I was impressed to see that they were not only concerned about the older generation staying in touch with their families, but also about learning from their elders and valuing the input and perspective they have on the world in a format the younger generation understands. The fact that the topic and project given them were broad enough that they were able to find a perspective on it that they were passionate about clearly helped them to be motivated to find solutions that could actually be implemented in their lives.

The Power of Peer Grouping

When Julie organized the groups, she made sure that students and teachers were in separate groups – there were no mixed groups. At first, I wasn’t sure what I thought about that grouping, because I was interested to see how students and teachers might work together to use media, collaborate and find solutions. However, on the final day, when a little more than half of the participants (students and teachers) were working together to produce the final plenary session for the conference, it was amazing to see how quickly the traditional student-teacher dynamic returned. Literally the instant the student and teacher teams were mixed, the students stopped talking and the teachers took over.

After a few minutes, we split the groups, and the teachers and I debriefed for a few minutes about what had been happening and how quickly it happened. Although none of us were surprised to see it, all of the teachers had been consciously trying to step back and not take control, but it happened nonetheless. It was almost as if it were involuntary.

Flat Classroom Workshop

Process Over Product

I started out in an MYP school, and perhaps that’s why my approaches to teaching and learning have usually tended to match that philosophy. Seeing the MYP Design Cycle in action again at the Workshop (after working in Elementary for the last two years) really reminded me that students can tackle almost any technology project, even when starting with little or no previous knowledge, and work their way through it following that process. All the teacher needs to do is provide the framework for the students to lead them through that process of learning. It isn’t about the content, but about the process of learning with technology, and that process can be adapted to fit any content.

Virtual Audience and Virtual Team Members

The authentic task and opportunity for choice were great motivators, but it was especially interesting to see how the students reacted when we emphasized our virtual participants. As soon as a virtual team member was in the chatroom, students would jump in and talk to them, when they presented in front of their virtual audience on the uStream the students seemed to sit up straighter, and when we announced the global (online) vote the students wanted to watch the percentages changing in real time. It seems like this generation is so used to sharing so much of their lives with a (potentially) global audience that doing things without public interaction might not be worth it for them. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but it certainly makes me wonder what they must think when faced with a pencil-and-paper task to be read only by the teacher – when they’re already used to sharing their lives and their work with the world.

Participant Feedback

We’ve asked all of the participants to share their thoughts via an anonymous survey and their blog on the Flat Classroom Conference Ning. You can read all of their blog posts on the Ning, but I thought I’d include a few highlights here as well.

Chris Smith was also very generous with his time and spent quite a while with our participants recording their thoughts and experiences with his handy Flip. All of the videos are available on the 21st Century Learning Conference Ning – they’re all short clips and well worth watching.

From Beatrice (student):

It was a life-changing experience to connect, communicate, and cooperate with people from various cultures. I interacted with people I’ve never met before, and even spoke in front of a large audience; if you know how shy I am, you will understand how meaningful it was to me.

I think that the ultimate goal of Flat Classroom wasn’t to learn about technology, or to bridge the digital divide (although those were very, VERY important objectives!)– It was to Flatten the World.

I believe that when we broke down the walls of the classroom, a small crack was made on the walls of the world. Starting from flattening the classroom through technology, we shall flatten the whole world step by step.  I’m looking forward to the day I’ll be attending a “Flat World Conference.”

From Saundra (teacher):

The flat classroom project is not about creating a flat sameness from the peaks of diversity. It is about recognizing diversity and weaving it into a shared vision of how a problem can be solved. It is learning what it means to be even in understanding and experience and use that to create something new and uneven.

From Toby (student):

Our team has bonded over the past few days and we’re über tight. The tasks have been challenging yet rewarding. What we learned about our cultural differences will stay with us always. Hopefully we’ll be visiting Seoul soon! XD The time limits tortured us yet brought out the best in us. It was the first time we learned the concept of digital divide and we learned much about this through the workshop. We also learned a lot of teamwork and collaboration skills, as well as the secrets to creating a creative, memorable presentation.

From Sara (teacher):

The process that we engaged in over the last 48 hours at the 21st Century Learning Conference Hong Kong is what happens in reality. It’s not a lecture, it’s not passive (nor is it aggressive, thank goodness), it’s a genuinely tangible manifestation of real life. It’s a real problem, it’s a real solution, and it’s real time.

From Wu Ming (student):

This is my first time participating in some activities with someone from foreign countries and international schools. I found my language skills not as good as my teammates. My English is not fluent enough to fit the pace of the conference. I spent most of the time catching up with my teammates but not thinking of ideas. Though, I am glad that I was allocated into a team with friendly mates. They gave chance for me to try presenting and improve by time. I am comparatively bad in speaking English, but I am gaining confidence in speaking English after this activity.

On the other hand, the activity is fascinating. This is my first time (again) to attend lessons with a notebook all along. I enjoy computer lessons before since I can use the computer, not just sitting in the classroom and listen to what the teacher say. This activity provided a great chance for me to use computer without the need to worry about the timing due to the insufficient amount if computer. Other schoolmates from our school enjoyed this activity too. There are also many snacks provided so that we wouldn’t get too bored or sleepy. This is a nice learning environment for me, and I like to have this at my school.

Finished Products

If you’re interested in seeing the final products, check the Workshop wiki for embedded multimedia on each team page. You’ll also find the video archieves for our uStreamed sessions, including the final plenary.

Flat Classroom Workshop

Final Thoughts

I’m still on cloud nine a week later! The students and teachers that participated are absolutely amazing in every way. Seeing such a large group of students and teachers so passionate about learning, communicating and collaborating, and so committed to making a difference was a life changing experience. I sincerely hope that our FaceBook group, and our various Nings and wikis, will keep us connected – I, for one, want to keep learning with everyone who participated!

Flat Classroom Workshop

I owe Julie and Vicki a huge thank you for continuing to push boundaries, for connecting me (and so many others) through the Flat Classroom project so many years ago, and for giving me the opportunity to co-lead this workshop with Julie. I can not wait to do it again!

And I must admit, I’m kind of wishing I was still seeing this stunning view every day:

Flat Classroom Workshop

Difficult Conversations

6 09 2009

One of the things I’m enjoying most about being on our coaching team here at ISB is the opportunity to openly share our challenges so that we can all work together to improve our practice. This week we had our first book club meeting to discuss the first chapter of Coaching: Approaches and Perspectives edited by Jim Knight.

To facilitate our conversation, we followed the Final Word protocol. Each of us selected a particular section of the text which stood out during our reading, and following the protocol process, discussed what was so important about that statement in a round-robin format. Although we all selected different sections, they seemed to have a common element: how to move beyond simply supporting teachers to increase their comfort level within our curricular areas to implementing changed practices with all faculty members to improve student learning.

The section of the book that we ended up focusing on the most was about Coaching Heavy and Coaching Light. The author of this chapter, Joellen Killion

assert[s] that there are two kinds of coaching – coaching light and coaching heavy. The difference essentially is the coaches’ perspective, beliefs, role decisions, and goals, rather than what coaches do… Coaching light occurs when coaches want to build and maintain relationships more than they want to improve teaching and learning. From this perspective, coaches act to increase their perceived value to teachers by providing resources and avoiding challenging conversations. (p. 22)

Coaching heavy, on the other hand, includes high-stakes interactions between coaches and teachers, such as curriculum analysis, data analysis, instruction, assessment, and personal and professional beliefs and how they influence practice… Coaching heavy requires coaches to say “no” to trivial requests for support and to turn their attention to those high-leverage services that have the greatest potential for teaching and learning. Coaching heavy requires coaches to work with all teachers in a school, not just those who volunteer for coaching services. Coaching heavy requires coaches to seek and use data about their work and regularly analyze their decisions about time allocation, services and impact. (p. 23 -24)

Reading this section I realized that often times I am coaching light, but not always because of a decision I’ve consciously made. I am hyper-aware of the anxiety level most teachers have when dealing with technology, which often results in focusing more on making teachers comfortable with the tools than initiating difficult conversations about changing practice. I wonder if this issue is specific to those of us working in the technology area, or if it’s really just the same as coaches helping to implement a new math, reading or science program?

I do believe that those difficult conversations are much easier once you’ve developed a trusting relationship and that only happens when teachers feel supported. Killion mentions that it often takes coaches a whole year to move from coaching light to coaching heavy because of all the ground-work required to build trusting relationships, but that they can also get trapped into coaching light indefinitely if they are not careful.

I’m wondering now, how can coaches tell when it’s time to move from coaching light to coaching heavy? I’m also conscious of the fact that those deeper conversations don’t always have to happen in a formal setting, they can be quick snippets in the hallway that build upon previous sessions or discussions over lunch or even in a social setting. Do coaches keep track of where they are with each teacher, as you would with a class of students, so that you have a running record of what step to take next?

The other issue that jumped out at me was that coaches are required and expected to work with all teachers. This directly contradicts my long-held belief in working with the willing. Perhaps I simply need to adjust that to: we should start with the willing, but know that eventually we do have to work with everyone. I do still firmly believe that to work with everyone, with the focus on improving student learning (which may entail changing teaching practice), requires clear and transparent communication from administrators about our roles and purpose.

Perhaps the most reassuring sentence (for me) in this particular set of paragraphs is that coaching heavy requires coaches to say “no” to trivial requests for support in favor of more meaningful actions that will have a deeper impact on student learning. One of the biggest challenges for me has always been saying no. I like to believe I can do everything, and that I can make everyone’s job easier by supporting everyone, everywhere at any time. It’s important for me to remind myself that this only ends up diluting the impact I can make on both student and teacher learning. I need to remember that I am in control of my time and that I need to prioritize which tasks I undertake on a daily basis. Letting my day get carried away with the little things is not fulfilling my role, and it’s not helping my school move forward. (Maybe I should post this above my desk?).

Saying that a coach’s role is to support teachers misleads teachers. A coach’s primary responsibility is to improve student learning. (p. 27, point #3)

Reading this, I wonder what most teachers would think. I know that I have often been referred to as a “support” person or a “resource” person, and to be honest, I never felt the term was quite right, but I didn’t know why. Now I do. A “resource” is something to be used (or not) and then tossed aside. A “resource” is not something that might cause you to change deeply held beliefs or to re-evaluate your practice. A “resource” is not challenging. If teachers see us as “resources” or “support” people, they will not understand the work we are trying to do or how we fit into the school’s vision and purpose.

By making observations, stating their point of view, and inquiring into practice, coaches erode stagnant practice and unchallenged routines to spark analysis, reflection, and appropriate change. In this role, a coach is not about change for change sake, but rather for continuous improvement and fine-tuning to meet clearly articulated goals. (p. 13)

All too often it feels like teachers view technology as yet another swing in the pendulum of education, something they have to adopt because it’s the “cool new thing,” but not because they really believe in the impact it can have on student learning. It’s reassuring to me to see that other instructional coaches face this same dilemma.

One of the most difficult conversations that seems to come along frequently in technology is when teachers want to replicate what they always do (for example, a poster) “on the computer” because it will look cooler to the parents (or to their administrators) – not because of the potential that technology might have to offer. I’m thinking that effective questioning strategies, as part of coaching heavy, are what can move the conversation along from substitution to transformation. I’m also wondering if distributing a LOTI survey can help begin to plant the seeds in teachers’ minds about the different levels of technology implementation?

Final Thoughts

Once again, I am impressed by the value of looking at other, more established, fields in education to understand more deeply and improve my practice in the area of technology facilitation. Considering we’re only on the first chapter of the book, I’m sure coaching is going to provide a lot of room for growth!

Student Blogging Guidelines

6 09 2009

Cross-posted on the Tech Learning Advisors Blog

Only one month into the new school year and almost every middle school student has their own blog hosted at ISB (plus all of our grade 5s, and quite a few high school students)!

Thanks to our fantastic middle school Humanities and Modern Language teachers, who spent their class time helping students create their own blog, we are off and running in record time! In fact, the process was so easy that almost all of our students had their blogs set up before we formalized our student blogging guidelines. So last week, I met with the Humanities department (and other interested teachers) to determine a set of basic guidelines for our students.

To get us started, we took a look at the blogging guidelines our elementary students developed last school year during their first experiences blogging. Interestingly, the guidelines our grade 4 students created last year were just as applicable to middle (and high) school as they were for elementary. We ended up using almost all of the guidelines from last year, with just a few minor re-phrasing issues and consolidation.

Given that the elementary students created these guidelines after a series of thoughtful lessons and meaningful class discussions, we see these them as prompts for deeper dialogue across classes, not simply a list of rules to follow. In order to help students make the best decisions, we’ve also followed each guideline with a question (also developed by our elementary students last year) they can ask themselves before they hit publish.

Here’s what we came up with:

Student Blogging Guidelines

As a student blogger at ISB, you are expected to follow these blogging guidelines below. Use the questions in italics to help you decide what is appropriate to post on your blog.

1. Only post things that you would want everyone (in school, at home, in other countries) to know.
Ask yourself: Is this something I want everyone to see?

2. Do not share personal information.
Ask yourself: Could someone find me (in real life) based on this information?

3. Think before you post.
Ask yourself: What could be the consequences of this post?

4. Know who you’re communicating with.
Ask yourself: Who is going to look at this, and how are they going to interpret my words?

5. Consider your audience and that you’re representing ISB.
Ask yourself: Do I have a good reason/purpose to do this?

6. Know how to give constructive feedback.
Ask yourself: What will I cause by writing this post?

7. Treat other people the way you want to be treated.
Ask yourself: Would I want someone to say this to me?

8. Use appropriate language and proper grammar and spelling.
Ask yourself: Would I want this post to be graded for proper grammar and spelling?

9. Only post information that you can verify is true (no gossiping).
Ask yourself: Is this inappropriate, immature or bullying?

10. Anytime you use media from another source, be sure to properly cite the creator of the original work.
Ask yourself: Who is the original creator of this work?

Commenting Guidelines

As a blogger, you will be commenting on other people’s work regularly. Good comments:

  • are constructive, but not hurtful;
  • consider the author and the purpose of the post;
  • are always related to the content of the post;
  • include personal connections to what the author wrote;
  • answer a question, or add meaningful information to the content topic;
  • follow the writing process. Comments are a published piece of writing.

Final Thoughts

I’m so impressed with the depth of thought shown by our elementary students! Being able to start this conversation with our middle school teachers using resources developed by 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students, clearly demonstrates that even our younger students really do understand both the power and the responsibilities of communicating to a global audience.

It’s also great to see that our ISB21 team vision of developing enduring understandings that are not grade-level specific, but rather provide a through-line for all divisions, has helped us focus on the bigger understandings and mindsets that students really will need to carry with them from year to year.

When discussing blogging safety and responsibility with the 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders last year, we did it in such a way that what they came up with were skills and essential questions that would help digital students no matter what grade level they’re in.

Once again, I’m reassured that elementary school is the place to begin this kind of dialogue so that we can provide a solid foundation for 21st century learning that students can continue to build upon year after year.

These guidelines have now been adopted by our elementary and high schools as well, so that we have a common expectation for all students at ISB, no matter what the age or grade level.

It will certainly be interesting to see what develops at all grade levels now that all of our students have their own blog hosted at ISB. We’re hoping that these blogs become their digital portfolio for their entire time with us. Being able to track their growth and learning over the years will be such a powerful tool for the students, teachers and parents.

Does your school have common guidelines for student blogging? What do they include? Are we missing anything here?

Facilitator, Coach or Coordinator?

16 08 2009

Cross-posted on the TechLearning Advisors Blog

What’s your job title? Yesterday I asked my twitter network the following question:

And received a lot of interesting responses:

Most of us share similar responsibilities, yet we have a wide variety of titles. Just looking back at my own experience over the last ten years in three different schools, my job titles have ranged from Technology Facilitator to Academic IT Coordinator, to 21st Century Literacy Specialist, to Technology Coach, to Technology and Learning Coordinator.

What is it about technology in education that makes it so difficult to define roles that everyone can agree on and understand? Even though we’ve had technology in schools for decades, it still seems like we’re making it up as we go along.

For the last few years I’ve been wondering if there are more established roles, that already exist (and are well-understood) in many schools, which could provide a model for this type of support position. Just because technology often deals with new ways of thinking about education, doesn’t mean that the process of supporting those new ways of thinking has to be different.

Looking at Librarians

When I first arrived at ISB two years ago, I realized just how much librarians have in common with technology facilitators. What impressed me most was the extensive research in the field of librarianship about the process (and effect) of collaboration among colleagues. Although the day-to-day tasks of a librarian versus a technology facilitator might be very different; the established, research-based process of collaboration, which librarians have been refining for decades, certainly provides an interesting inspiration for technology facilitation.

Considering Coaching

With the change in my position this school year, I’ve been thinking a lot about what another established educational role might have to offer technology facilitators: the Instructional Coach. This week, our fabulous visiting consultant, and experienced Literacy Coach, Maggie Moon, attended our Coaching team meeting. She shared an overview of her successes and pitfalls to avoid as a coach:

  • A coach’s 3 major tasks in order of priority are: in the classroom (with teachers & kids, 1:1 or with groups of teachers), out of the classroom (with teachers, 1:1 or with groups of teachers), prep & planning.
  • As a coach, begin with a vision of what you think teachers should/could do. What does the “ideal” teacher look like? How will we see the evidence that our teachers are meeting these expectations?
  • Teaching teachers is just like teaching students: always explain things clearly & succinctly, and remember to show not just tell.
  • Always focus more on the process of teaching well, rather than the content that needs to be taught. Let the content come through as you model best practice instruction.
  • Be sure to track teacher progress by using a conferring notebook with items you’ve been trying to teach, times you are going in to see the teachers doing it (checklist), quality of what teachers are doing – use this to plan more in-classroom work.
  • Have teachers bring student work with them during meeting time so there is evidence of what they are doing and students are learning.
  • Getting started: keep it small, cycle through grade levels (work with 2 grade levels a month, go into classrooms and check in 1:1 with the other grade levels).  Sometimes it makes sense to start with groups to plant seeds, and then continue 1:1.

3 Phases of coaching (rotate through these phases – always possible to return to any of the previous stages):

1. Modeling: in the classroom, you’re teaching the class while the teacher is watching.

  • Pre-conference: Be clear about setting up, discuss with the teacher beforehand what you’re doing & what to watch for and notice. Strategy: use guide sheets which gives structure of how lesson will go and the main components to keep teachers active during lessons
  • In the classroom: Model best practice
  • Post-conference: You reflect at the end of the lesson on what you felt went well, what you would change, to model reflection – reinforcement & refinement. Then, ask teachers what they notice (what questions does this raise?). Then discuss: “how does what you saw me do, differ from what you do?” (what’s different?). Finally, ask “whatever you just saw, how will that change what you do in your classroom?”

2. Coaching: in the classroom, the teacher teaches & you watch (next to them) – give feedback in the moment

  • Start with a reflection with the teacher, ask them what they felt went well, always focus on the positive and be complimentary (any issues, record them and save them for later).
  • If there are content issues (incorrect information), share this right away; issues with methods should be saved for later.

3. Co-teaching (good when you’ve planned a unit over time, building relationships)

Looking over Maggie’s coaching suggestions, I can easily see how all of them are relevant to technology facilitation. From the goal of being in the classroom as a top priority, to focusing on the process not the content, to starting small; everything Maggie shared fit closely with my experience and understanding of technology facilitation.

It’s particularly interesting to me that the process of coaching can be expressed in such concrete steps, so no matter what the grade level or content, Maggie follows a clear process that results in quality collaboration and teaching.

Although I like to think I follow a “process” myself, I feel that, in practice, technology facilitation is often far less systematic. Because it’s so organic, technology facilition can tend to be more individualized – different for each project and teacher. Although I love the fact that everything I do is tailored for each teacher, it’s possible that, as facilitators, we end up re-inventing the wheel each time, simply because we don’t have a systematic approach.

In fact, as Maggie was sharing her tips, our science and math coaches were nodding along with the terminology and processes she described, demonstrating that instructional coaching across content areas shares a vocabulary and philosophy that is worth investigating.

Final Thoughts

Although I can appreciate how much both librarians and coaches have to offer technology facilitators, I still feel that there is something different about technology. When Literacy Coaches are helping teachers learn how to teach reading better, those teachers still know something about teaching reading, they know how to read a book, they know how to spell, and how to write, because the tools of the subject are familiar to them. Technology doesn’t share the same tradition in schools. So what happens when the content area is just as new to the teacher as the best practice teaching?

And then of course, the technological support has to be considered. It would be great to focus solely on the pedagogy, but who deals with the broken projector and the students that can’t log in? I’m sure these are some of the reasons why we have so many different job titles and descriptions.

Clearly, while we can definitely benifit from the extensive experience of librarians and coaches in schools, there is more to a technology support role that needs to be included. So, I’m left wondering:

  • What is still undefined in our conception of the role of a technology facilitator/coach/coordinator?
  • How can we start building consensus on our roles in schools?
  • What can’t we find that’s relevant to technology support when examining more established positions in schools?
  • What does your job description include?

The Team That Reads Together

9 08 2009

This year, both the ISB21 team and the Learning Coaches team have decided to do something different with our team meeting time. Sure, we’ll still handle nuts and bolts, work on our team goals, and collaborate to move our school forward, but we’ve also added something new: a book club.

At the end of last year, we started realizing that we are all doing a lot of professional reading, but we weren’t spending a lot of time discussing what we were leaning in depth because we were all reading something different (and because our meetings were so jam-packed already). So, we’re going to streamline things a little bit this year.

Inspired by Lee Kolbert’s online book discussions using Shelfari and Scott McLeod’s annual summer book club, we thought it would be most productive to devote one meeting a month to our reading. Instead of trying to do everything every meeting, we’re going to rotate topics each week: one week focusing on nuts and bolts, one week on team goals, one week on our collaborative projects, and one week on our book club.

The coaching team is reading Coaching: Approaches and Perspectives by Dr. Jim Knight and the ISB21 team is reading Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns by Clayton Christensen, Curtis W. Johnson, and Michael B. Horn.

Each month we’ll read one chapter of the book and one member of the team will be responsible for facilitating a discussion about our learning. Hopefully, we’ll be able to:

  • reflect on our reading to help us apply our learning and deepen our understanding;
  • make connections as a group that might not have sprung to mind if we were reading alone;
  • have a common base of understanding, which may help propel us to action, instead of feeling isolated or overwhelmed;
  • practice what we preach in the classroom, we’re always asking our students to discuss their reading, now it’s our turn!

In addition to the offline reading, we’ve set up a common tag for our coaching team and we’ve all subscribed to the RSS feed (and posted it on our team wiki and Moodle course). Each book club we’ll spend a little bit of time sharing our thoughts on the resources we’ve tagged.

I’m really excited to get started. I love that we’ve prioritized learning during our meeting time instead of allowing ourselves to get bogged down with daily business (so much of which can be handled in other ways).I also think it’s great that we’re making sure to read both online and print material. I’m sure we’ll end up using the Moodle discussion forums to keep our conversations going outside of team meeting time as well. I must admit, I think this is the first time I’ve ever been on a team (or should I say two!) that is so devoted to learning.

Does anyone else spend team meeting time in a book club? What did you think? What made it work? What are some pitfalls to avoid?

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?

Becoming 21st Century Learners

7 06 2009

Over the last semester I’ve worked with several groups of students on a variety of globally collaborative projects, and each time we complete a project, I ask for student feedback.

Usually, I like to post these right after we finish, along with a description of the project, but somehow time has gotten away from me. So, in the interest of sharing student feedback, I have included the highlights from 3 of our major projects: 1001 Flat World Tales, NetGenEd Sounding Board (following the same process from the Flat Classroom Project earlier this year), and Life ‘Round Here (following the process outlined after last year’s experiences), in this one post.

Interestingly, as I looked back at all of the feedback, there was quite a bit of overlap. Even though these projects were completed by different students in different grade levels, many of them shared the same takeaways.

We learned:

  • how easy it is to communicate with people in different time zones and in other countries using technology.
  • writing feedback for other students makes you think and helps you practice your Writing Workshop skills – it’s like using Writing Workshop in real life.
  • to accept other people’s ways of working and how to put our ideas together through cooperation.
  • to work together with partners better to complete our goal even if we were making mistakes.
  • we have a lot in common with our global partners.
  • sharing our work online made me aware of what we were saying.

We liked:

  • that we got to work with different people from other classes that we didn’t know how to work with, so we learned how to work with them and adapt to their way of working.
  • getting to know my international partner by reading their introduction and feeling like I know my partner even though they’re not in my class here at school.
  • how we could write about what we wanted to because it’s more fun to have your own choice for what to write about. I’m more of an expert on what I like.
  • that because it’s online we can watch it again and show it to our family.
  • that we were able to be creative with a partner.

Suggestions for improvement:

  • It would be nice to go on the wiki regularly and leave discussions to communicate with our partners.
  • I would like more practice being a peer-editor, especially on revising writing instead of just spelling and grammar.
  • I’m wondering if we’re going to use another wiki next year because we already know how to use it. I would like to do the project again next year because we’re experts (whole class agrees).

Final Thoughts

When I look back over this compiled feedback (and others from earlier this year), I am so happy to see that these students are becoming 21st century learners, as we have defined here at ISB. They are actually noticing and discussing their opportunities to collaborate and communicate globally, to be creative, to use a variety of technology tools in real life situations, to learn from their mistakes and to share their learning with others. These are the kinds of experiences we want all of our ISB students to have!

One other commonality that really stands out is that all of the students would like more opportunities to participate in similar projects. They feel a sense of accomplishment and growing expertise in these new modes of learning and would like more classroom experiences which include global collaborations. It seems that our students are ready for these kinds of experiences to be embedded throughout the curriculum at all grade levels.

What do your students think about their experiences with global collaborations?

Parent Technology Coffee Mornings: Year 2 Recap

31 05 2009

It’s hard to believe we’ve already finished another year of thought-provoking discussions with elementary parents during our monthly Parent Technology Coffee Mornings!

Tara, Jeff and I host these sessions in the Learning Hub on the first Wednesday of every month in order to build parental understanding of the ways that technology is changing society, and therefore, changing education. Every month we watch a short video and then discuss the implications on education and learning, always with practical examples from classrooms here at ISB. Each of our sessions is re-capped in our community blog, Connect 2.0, for those parents that can’t attend face-to-face.

Thanks to a dedicated and engaged group of parents who attend our meetings on a regular basis, we’ve discussed everything from writing in the digital age (using tools like blogs and wikis), to social networking (using tools like Facebook and Ning), to digital storytelling (using tools like iMovie and VoiceThread), to information management, online safety and the changes and challenges facing education today.

Specifically, this year we’ve watched:

Each of these sessions gives us the opportunity to understand a parent’s perspective on technology, share exciting projects our students are engaged in, and help clear up any misconceptions about the use of technology in the classroom. We have been fortunate to build some lasting relationship with the parents who willingly spend one morning a month in the Hub.

Although our numbers fluctuate every month – usually depending on the topic and competing events at school – we are hoping that the positive experiences parents have had with us will spread throughout the elementary school.

In fact, the wonderful parents who regularly spend the first Wednesday of every month with us have shared some of their reasons for attending:

I want to thank Tara, Kim and Jeff for hosting us ES parents at the monthly Technology meetings this school year. WOW! It is so wonderful to be able to explore and discuss how technology is affecting us as parents, not to mention learning what our kids are doing on the IT front…or want to be doing…or shouldn’t be doing…or will be doing whether we want them to or not. I’ve learned that by understanding what is “out there” and being able to have open discussions with our children about these things (instead of ignoring it) is paramount on the parenting front! Plus it’s always great to gain insight that can help us with our daily lives…whether or not we are currently in the work force or plan to reenter it in the coming years. Thank you and I look forward to these opportunities again next year.

- D

These quick and friendly appointments have represented a valuable opportunity for me to

  • get more familiar with the most recent technological updates, realizing how easy it could be just trying (podcasting – I did it and now we are getting addicted to it !)
  • finally starting to use the various instruments we have at our disposal (Facebook – I do not hide my name anymore, just know how to use it protecting our privacy !)
  • get a bit of understanding of the new world into which our kids are born and immersed and have a first clue about how different their learning experience is compared with ours

I also enjoyed the formula (monthly, about 1 hour long, right after kids enter their classes) and hope you will continue offering us these useful updates.

- R

I attend the Parent Technology Meetings for the light, non-filling, breakfast items that complement the coffee. Just kidding…

I attend the Parent Technology Meetings to learn what my children’s world looks like and what their future holds in the realm of technology. How can we, as parent’s, help guide our children, if we are not familiar with their world. Today’s classroom (libraries, household, businesses)…today’s world is completely unlike the one I grew up with. It is continually changing.

These meeting give me a chance to become educated about technology. I am learning what my children are doing in school, with technology. I am learning how the technology works so that I can use and understand it. I am learning the benefits of technology.

These sessions give me a place to express my lack of understanding, my apprehensions, my thoughts. I share what I feel, I ask questions and I learn from others. We come from different points along the technology timeline, depending on our age. I am able to hear differing viewpoints. This allows me to evaluate and form educated opinions about technology.

The sessions are invigorating. I may not grasp everything that I learn, but I am trying. It will make things easier, because not just their world is changing, my world is changing as well. I don’t want to be left behind.

I feel privileged to be given the opportunity to learn more about technology through these eye opening sessions.

- R

In order to continue to promote these sessions, we’ve already organized a great list of topics for our monthly sessions in the 2009-10 school year, for those parents that like to plan in advance:

September 2009: An Introduction to the Ways Education is Changing in a Digital World: an introduction to the major technological changes that are currently shaping society and changing education. We will also give an overview of all of the sessions for the rest of the year.

October 2009: An Introduction to Blogging: What is a blog? How and why do people blog? How can parents get connected to all the teacher and student blogs being authored at ISB?

November 2009: An Introduction to RSS: What is RSS? How can it help me stay connected to learning happening at ISB, as well as more personal interests (like gardening or travel)? Bring your own computer and we’ll help you set up your own RSS account!

December 2009: An Introduction to Podcasting & iTunes: What is a podcast? How and why do people podcast? What are some great podcasts for students and parents to listen to and watch? Bring your own computer and we’ll help you subscribe (for free) to podcasts from ISB and around the world!

February 2010: An Introduction to Digital Literacy: What are the new literacies for the 21st Century? How is the understanding of literacy changing in education? How are ISB students learning and using 21st century literacy skills?

March 2010: An Introduction to Social Networking: What is social networking? How are your children using social networking both in school and outside of school? How can we use social networking strategies for learning?

April 2010: An Introduction to Wikis: What is a wiki? How and why do people use wikis? What is the controversy over Wikipedia? Plus, we’ll share some examples of wikis being used for learning at ISB.

May 2010: Summer Tech Activities With Your Kids! Some great tech-rich activities you can do with your children over the summer, like: starting a family travel blog, taking control of your summer vacation pictures, finding the top 10 kid-friendly podcasts for long car trips or plane rides, or making your own summer travel video for YouTube!

Final Thoughts

Overall, these sessions have been a big success! We’re actively spreading the word about new kinds of learning all students should be regularly experiencing in the classroom, we’re helping parents understand why this kind of learning is important, and we’re helping build a strong voice among our parents to share that feedback with our admin team.

One of the new things we started this year was having parents actually try some of these tools during our sessions. We had a hands-on Facebook training where parents were able to create their own Facebook account, which they really appreciated. As you can see, we’re planning a few more hands-on sessions for next year in order to help parents actively engage in these new media.

What are you doing to help your parents connect to the new ways of learning in your school?

Something Different

17 05 2009

This past week we have been very fortunate to have two fantastic library experts, Doug Johnson and Ann Krembs, here at ISB to help guide us through our Main Library Review. While they were here specifically to share recommendations for our upcoming renovation of our Main Library (for middle and high school students), they also generously stopped down in the ES Learning Hub to give us some advice on how to improve our space.

It’s amazing what a fresh pair of eyes can see.

Within moments, Doug and Ann, had several easy, but very effective, suggestions for us. Interestingly, one of those suggestions was exactly what Silvia said about our Tech Zone when she was here in Bangkok a few weeks ago, but it didn’t really hit me until this week:

You have to give them something different. The Learning Hub (library) has to offer a physical environment that is different than other spaces teachers and students regularly use.

This hit me like a bolt of lightening. Of course! Why would they use our space, when they can continue to use their own, more private space, that has been customized to their specific classroom needs? Especially considering how well-resourced we are as a school, with laptop carts for every 2 classrooms and extensive classroom libraries.

In our efforts to make a 21st century learning environment, we had mistakenly recreated a standard, formal classroom space at the very front of the Learning Hub, assuming that teachers would want to use it as an expanded classroom:

Project Zone

Of course, that space was also back-to-back with our “computer lab” space, making it very difficult to have classes in both spaces at the same time.

Now, with the advice of Doug and Ann, we’ve redesigned the space to make it more of a “movie theater” look for story time, as well as open up the shelving to spread the tables throughout the library to allow more privacy in seating:

Story Zone

From the Back

We’re hoping we’ve captured the “something different” idea with this arrangement. Who has a movie theater in their classroom with comfy chairs and surround sound speakers?

And just for fun we added some chess boards:


And rearranged our fiction reading nook:

Reading Nook

Our next step is to tackle the “computer lab” area (called the Tech Zone) and transform it into a multimedia editing suite, with a green-screen and podcasting stations:

Technology Zone

What are you doing to offer something different in your learning space? What other changes would you recommend we make in this space?