By Dr. Matthew X. Joseph and Erin Fisher MEd
Too often schools launch new technology without a plan for supporting and coaching teachers through the process of using new technology effectively in their classrooms. One key to launching and supporting the marriage of EdTech and curriculum is increasing the opportunity to support teachers and help them raise student achievement. Today’s students’ needs vary as they are growing up in the digital learning age. Knowing how to integrate existing tech with today’s instructional best practices and strategies engages students to maximize learning. Supporting educators on this journey is a critical step.
Just like with teaching, we need to differentiate instruction/support to meet the needs of the teachers. There is no “one size fits all” approach. The support is also not one time, it is a cycle of support. This cycle generally consists of: setting goals, co-planning lessons, observation, and debrief after the lesson. Each step is done collaboratively with the teacher and the integration specialist.
Forming professional relationships and connections with teachers can be the foundation of a great coaching cycle. A teacher may not always reach out to integrate, we as specialists may need to reach out to them. The initial phase of a coaching cycle is rooted in the “WHY” for integrating EdTech and Curriculum. Starting with the why and stressing this coaching will support learning and increase opportunities. Learning where teachers feel confident and where they feel vulnerable is a key piece to the coach-teacher paradigm. Drop-in to a teacher’s room and leave positive messages or “shout out” message on the board or an emoji to raise interest. Let teachers know you recognize their teaching abilities and willingness to take risks. Additionally, visiting a classroom and just watching a teacher interact with students before the first meeting will show you value the teacher. This will help with planning and supporting the teacher to see where the technology will enhance his or her teaching methods.
The planning meeting:
Once a teacher requests coaching or assigned depending on the situation, the first meeting in the coaching cycle starts with talking about ideas and how you can marry the technology to the content and standards being taught. Before you go down a road of a million apps or gets too excited about bright and shiny technology, it’s important that teachers really think about whether bringing that tool into the classroom will enhance or transform the learning. For instance, just because an app or website gives kids great practice on their math facts, does that mean that they should be doing it in class? That is the same thing as handing out a worksheet and saying “practice!” instead of making the best use of your in-class time with them? Starting with a solid instructional idea is a key place to begin. Then match how technology can enhance the unit, lesson plan, curriculum, project, assessment, etc.
While planning ask some key questions to enhance technology integration:
- What is the goal of the lesson?
- Why do you want to use this technology here?
- Will this enhance the current approach?
- How do you hope the technology will enhance learning?
- Can the technology make this idea more relevant to students?
- Will adding technology allow them to do something that they couldn’t do without it? For example, does the technology allow students to collaborate beyond the classroom walls? Does the technology remove a barrier for students?
Technology can really engage students, and enrich the curriculum. Integrating the technology appropriately is critical for relevant and authentic learning opportunities. Close the meeting by discussing the end goal of the lesson and how technology will allow for multiple representation of information as well as multiple pathways to reach the goal. Sometimes, when planning, it’s best to work backwards from the end goal. End the meeting with clear next steps for lesson agenda and the role of the teacher if the EdTech integrator is modeling the lesson.
Coach as Teacher
The second step in the coaching cycle is to take the plan and put it into place. Typically this stage the coach will model the lesson to support the teacher and allow him/her to observe the strategies in practice.This takes quite a bit of finesse because although you are more experienced with the tech tools, the classroom teacher is the expert with the curriculum. This is where the marriage of curriculum and technology truly shines. Your goal is for the teacher to observe how effective the tool-of-choice can be, and not worry that he or she will flail with getting it to work. Be sure to honor the teacher’s expertise with his or her content and lean on him or her at crucial times in the lesson to confirm the content being delivered. Ensure you both take notes to use for questions, feedback, and to support the teacher moving forward.
Following the first integrated lesson, take some time to process how the lesson went either together, alone or both! Using the notes of exactly what tools were used and how they were implemented will help the reflection with the teacher to refer back too and use to plan the next lesson. Although discussion about the lessons happen prior, we have found that teachers like to have something tangible to refer back too. Having notes allows for documentation to show how our coaching cycle went, and gives ideas for future coaching sessions. The next step is to reflect on the lesson and discuss how the takeover will go. This next lesson is where the teacher takes the reigns and the coach supports the technology integration.
Teacher is Up:
You will feel excitement, empowerment, and pride at this stage because you’ve given a teacher a new set of tools in the toolbox to truly transform his or her practices. Following the teacher-led lesson, meet to discuss how it went and go over your previous notes. Answer any questions the teacher may have. Reflect together on what went well and what could change for the better.
This positive coaching cycle will result in another or a second cycle with the same teacher and a new tool! Once the teacher gets comfortable with the integration you modeled, he or she will reach out again! The classroom will want you back, not only to see how well they’re using the technology you modeled, but also to ask you to show another lesson! Not only will they want you back, but they will spread how great you are to others, and soon, your calendar will have so many coaching cycles you won’t know what to do with yourself!
Two-week Check In:
Remember to stop back in, even just to drop by, and see how it is going. Ask the students how they like the new tools. They will enjoy seeing you, too, which is an added-bonus of the coaching cycle!
Elements of EdTech Coaching
Coaching should be non evaluative, as productive collaboration can only occur in non-threatening environments. This coaching environment will facilitate a culture of equality, trust, understanding, and growth. The coach must respect the teacher and truly listen to his or her experiences and the coach should expect the same in return. Thus allowing for a working relationship where the teacher feels safe to share feelings and thoughts about experiences within the classroom with the new tools or instructional style.
One way to transform a coaching environment from threatening to nonthreatening is to transition feedback based on evaluation into feedback emphasizing inquiry and learning. Research has found that coaching cultures that focus on teacher weaknesses or “fixing” qualities of a teacher are ineffective. EdTech coaches should try to focus on encouraging the positive rather than emphasizing the negative. In fact, cultures that favor personal growth and learning over assessment and evaluation greatly reduce anxiety within the coaching relationship and foster a more effective and functional relationship between teacher and EdTech coach.
Know your role
Just as important as creating a non-threatening culture, the teacher and coach must know the role the coach is playing/supporting. There are many ways to coach and support the shift to blended instruction. Some possible roles include:
- Instructional coach: The strategies above cover this role but also can include supporting, planning and implementation of professional learning communities and EdTech professional development cohorts that foster increased teacher collaboration within and between departments.
- Resource Provider: Create and share methods, materials, tools and additional resources through modeling and other best practices to enhance teacher effectiveness
- School Catalyst for Change: Employ coaching processes that foster increased teacher initiative so that teachers will ultimately drive their own progress toward achieving their established goals and further develop their own expertise.
- Learner: Keep abreast of current trends and theories on employing research-based teaching and learning practices, as well as the technologies that help to turn these theories into reality. Observe teaching to increase your own coaching skills for modeling lessons
- Mentor: Be a critical friend supporting all teachers, no matter the level of experience. Maintain a consistent presence in classrooms with the goal of creating a relationship with each teacher through a dialogue focused on the teaching and learning processes taking place.
- Social Media Ambassador: Share coaching success stories. Tweet it, Snap it, Blog it! As long as the teacher is comfortable, show off the success. Include it in the weekly communication between administration and staff in a more formal newsletter.
Go for it!
Embedded PD is where we make the marriage of EdTech and curriculum coaching happen, not necessarily on a PD day or afterschool. Embedded coaching PD will have lasting effects. To be in the moment and see integration take place in the live classroom is transformative for a classroom teacher. It allows the classroom teacher to feel safe and supported when taking risks. For some this can have longer staying power than when we give teachers training on a variety of tools on a day with no students, in isolation. However. these trainings are necessary and valuable as well since it gives colleagues a time to process and collaborate. As with anything in education, we need to give teachers multiple pathways to reach a goal: Embedded PD in conjunction with designated PD is a recipe for success. You are off and running now, share your ideas and successes to the hashtag #EdTechCoaching or to us at @MatthewXJoseph and @MrsErinFisher so we can learn together.