Considering technology integration at my school, there is definitely a pre-covid lockdown and post-covid lockdown response.
At the time I started this master’s program in the Summer of 2019, pre-covid, I probably would have said that getting all administrators and teachers on the same page as far as valuing the potential of technology as a learning tool was an uphill battle. There were definitely some administrators and teachers who were interested and adept, but I could not definitively say we had a shared vision or a culture that embraced the use of technology as a means of engaging our students or enhancing their learning.
The initial and very quick pivot to a remote learning environment required technology, and very quickly (within days) all teachers, students, parents, and administrators were training up and preparing for a new digital learning environment. We were dumped in the deep end of the technology pool in a sink-or-swim moment, and we swam.
It has taken a devastating disruption to our ‘normal’ way of doing school to bring us together around the issue of technology. No matter where we are on the spectrum of technology use, from avid techno-freak to timid technophobe, there is an understanding that because technology integration is relevant, especially to 21st-century learners, we should pursue the integration of technology.
The final quest or investigation for the DEL program is a program evaluation. I collected data from teachers to try to determine how our Middle School and Early Middle schools have been using TEAMS for teaching and learning this past year. As well as a survey, I interviewed the Head of both divisions, the technology integration specialist, and one teacher from each division. The interviews revealed that although there is still room for growth and development and lots of scope for Professional Development, it is evident that our school has a vision for the future which includes a robust technology strategic plan. This makes me excited because I love the idea of being part of a thriving learning community.
Have a look at two posts that I think demonstrate how I have processed and understood this Coaching Standard indicator.
The first is my personal Mission Statement. This took me some time to create and I really had to figure out what I envisioned my role to be as a Digital Education Leader. As I reflect in April 2021, what I wrote in December 2019, I still feel good about the vision I cast for myself: My mission is to build trust-filled relationships with faculty and students as I coach, support, and encourage them to successfully engage in a digital world applying innovative teaching and learning practices with discernment, compassion, and courage.
The second post, although it is a response to Coaching Standard 5, captures how I feel the journey of technology integration is a shared process. Coaches Inspire Professional Learning Administrators and educators should know that they are on the same bus, going in the same direction with a robust vision cast for successful forward-thinking teaching and learning. I enjoyed writing this particular post because I used information from my expert cohort members as a way of showing how we all contribute to each other’s learning – a true culture of learning.
One thing that this Covid period has highlighted across the nation is the inherent inequalities in the world of education. I am privileged to teach in a private school that is situated in a stable and affluent area, and subsequently, we have been able to overcome most of the problems encountered by public school districts. When the most basic issue is how to provide students with a nutritious meal during lockdown then we know we are living in a world of inordinate inequality.
When my cohort buddies shared their experiences with this indicator, I remember feeling somewhat guilty that I was in this very privileged position. I know that God always has me in the right place, at the right time for his purposes for me and others, and so as I explored this indicator, I knew I had to focus on the inequalities within my own community, even though they were not as egregious as others.
I was drawn to investigating OERs (Open Educational Resources) because I love finding free treasures online, especially curriculum resources and digital tools. I spend a lot of time exploring, collecting, and collating, however it is a time-consuming endeavor.
The idea of Open Educational Resources which can be used by everyone appeals to me. I especially like the following sentiment from the Capetown Open Education Declaration: [OERs] contribute to making education more accessible, especially where the money for learning materials is scarce. They also nourish the kind of participatory culture of learning, creating, sharing, and cooperation that rapidly changing knowledge societies need.
At the time I was investigating this particular ISTE indicator, I was asked to step in and take another teacher’s 9th grade English class. Although I knew the students, I was not familiar with the curriculum. In fact, I was to teach Shakespearian play which I last read many years ago when I was in school. I was up for the challenge. The hunt was on for an excellent free resource I could use with minimal frustration. It did not take me too long to find My Shakespeare, a free interactive resource that allows students to read and annotate the play as well as watch actors discuss and perform important scenes.
I have bookmarked my own post! In the fall I will be teaching a small group of 5th through 8th-grade students and some of the resources I found for the post, Augmenting Learning Experiences for All Students will be invaluable as I prepare during the Summer. The post highlights the goal of Universal Design Learning (UDL) which is to support learners to become “expert learners” who are, each in their own way, purposeful and motivated, resourceful and knowledgeable, and strategic and goal-driven. The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) has great resources for creating lessons targeted for variable learners, and although you can find the link to CAST as well as other great resources in my post, I am linking it here also, because it is a MUST SEE!
Things are different now. There seems to be a vast chasm separating 2019 when I began this master’s degree, and now, April 2021.
In the Summer of 2019, I was feeling like an outlier when it came to using technology at school and I would probably have bemoaned the fact that we did not have a shared vision for integrating technology and using digital tools to support our students as 21st Century learners. Well, that is no longer my impression. I am excited to see that we have a strategic plan for technology that includes helping teachers plan and achieve personalized technology goals.
Another thing that has changed since 2019 is the type of professional development we now enjoy at school. Professional development used to be a well-intentioned ‘top down’ affair, a sit-and-get, one size fits all few hours of information, but now it is tailored, personalized, and targeted.
So, what was the catalyst for this transformation? A covid-19 lockdown. Recently, I scrolled back up through the Middle School Teachers Teams chat – all the way back to our first few tentative chats getting to know this new technology we were going to use for remote teaching. After a few ‘Hi, this is Jan,’ type messages and a good handful of fun emoji and Gif experiments, the chat became more and more like an advice column. Teachers were helping each other troubleshoot issues and sharing great ideas for classroom engagement and classroom management while teaching across cyberspace.
I think the vulnerability on the part of teachers asking for help, and risk-taking on the part of teachers offering advice created the secure space for great coaching to flourish.
Cultivating a supportive coaching culture starts with coaches understanding what teachers need and how each teacher learns best. A post I wrote in response to ISTE Standard 4a, Learning Designer, is also relevant for this indicator 1c. This indicator calls for cultivating a coaching culture. In my post, The Camel Who Carried the Last Straw Had a Caring Peer Coach, I suggest that “coaches can encourage professional development which reflects the understanding that great teachers are great learners. They provide the same authentic, personalized experience that we encourage teachers to offer students, by offering teachers a personalized professional development that is relevant to their particular challenges in a blended or hybrid teaching model.”
In Coaching Plans Honor Learning Partners, I have a quote from Les Foltos’ text, Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration (2013) which perfectly explains the role of a peer coach: coaches who know how to use communication, lesson design, and technology integration skills do not take responsibility for learning away from a peer the way an expert would. Instead of telling their peers what to do and how to do it, they use these their expertise and skills to help their peers develop their capacity to improve teaching and learning.
I am looking forward to participating in and helping to develop a robust culture of learning at our school. I think our next challenge will be to incorporate the ISTE student and educator standards into our professional development conversations.
I like the idea of recognizing educators who use technology effectively for high-impact teaching and learning as leaders who can be used to mentor or peer coach other teachers. The idea of teachers teaching teachers is integral to establishing a learning culture and learning community.
At our school, the lock-down caused by Covid-19 turned out to be an opportunity for many teachers who used technology well, yet kept their creative digital skills within the confines of their own classroom, to reach out and share their expertise with others. Suddenly math teachers were offering technology advice to English teachers and Lower School teachers were sharing creative ideas for online games with Upper School teachers. Due to the circumstances caused by the lock-down, teachers soon became known for their ‘sphere of expertise.’
I hope as we move forward we can capitalize on this sharing culture and continue to identify skills and strengths in individual teachers and allow them to share with the whole learning community.
I was a bit embarrassed that after all my years of engaging in professional learning, I had never heard the term Personal Learning Network (PLN) until working on this master’s program. While I was thinking about my own PLNs that I have both learned from and contributed to, I also thought about the nature of a PLN, exactly how do we develop a PLN?
Some PLNs are organic and develop from recognizing, firstly one’s own need for help, and secondly, the expertise and skill of another colleague. Some PLNs are intentional and orchestrated, such as my lovely SPU cohort PLN. I am grateful for their support and encouragement. Most important of all, I appreciate their knowledgeable advice and willingness to share, which has enhanced my own learning experience.
During my investigation of ISTE Student Standard 1, Empowered Learner, I wanted to figure out if students could begin intentionally thinking about their own PLNs, those circles of people they rely on for help, or who they themselves help. I am still considering the idea of students and teachers establishing the habit of building a network of relationships and resources that can develop and grow with them as they move through school and subsequent careers.
So, what has this got to do with a coaching standard? Coaching standard 1d states that coaches recognize educators with expertise. I think the implication is that once a coach has recognized another colleague as an expert in an area, the next move is to help develop a PLN around that person’s leadership. In my post, A Personal learning Network, I highlighted Kayla Delzer, a second-grade teacher. In her Tedx Talk, Reimagining Classrooms: Teachers and Learners and Students as Teachers, she passionately shares why it is important for teachers to “release the power” and allow their students to have more control over their own learning. I think coaches can also “release the power” and encourage their colleagues to have more control over their personal learning by supporting PLNs.
Another post that recommends ‘releasing the power’, this time to teachers is, Teachers Coaching Teachers. The question I was investigating was: how do leaders create an environment where teachers view themselves intrinsically as stakeholders advancing the vision of empowering learning with technology, rather than as merely the classroom teacher? My quick answer relates to this indicator: by recognizing their expertise in using technology effectively to offer high-impact teaching and learning and then releasing them to share their expertise with colleagues.
This indicator is probably where I need to focus energy because I am not great at networking. It is such a valuable skill to identify experts and invite them to join in providing an excellent teaching and learning experience for educators and students.
Again, I’ll reference the Covid-19 lockdown since it serves to demonstrate a point. If it were not for a collaborative effort of all stakeholders, our school would not have moved so quickly to a fully online format, all the while maintaining the integrity and rigor of our classes. Although I was not a part of the team which ensured that those connections occurred, I was a beneficiary of that support.
The role of a coach is a connector. Coaches listen to teachers, help them define their needs, and then connect them to the resources which will help them figure out a solution.
I do have one post which directly relates to this indicator. Right at the beginning of this learning journey, in 2019, I interviewed our Head of Division to find out from her point of view, where our school stood in terms of technology integration, and our vision for technology use in the future. Looking back on the interview now, I can see that our quick response to the Covid lockdown in part stems from some strategies that were being discussed by the administration already. The shutdown sped up the discussion and implementation.
From my own point of view, I was impatient for technological change, however, after my interview with Jenn, I realized that the school was at least moving toward a more robust and forward-thinking technology strategy. In the brief clip below, she explains the need for introducing Digital Citizenship into the 4th and 5th-grade curriculum. At that time we did not have an intentional curriculum piece but relied on teachers to integrate digital citizenship into projects. I think if I interviewed her again today, she would agree that digital citizenship is still an area that needs attention since our move to remote learning put an end to introducing new programs as teachers spent their energy on engaging kids remotely or in a blended environment.
And that’s where I think I might be able to lend a hand – as a connector. Helping to implement a digital citizenship program from 5th through 8th grade.