At the beginning of every school year, I’m reminded of how important it is to build collaborative relationships with teachers. As a resource person I believe the most crucial area of my relationship with teachers is becoming a true collaborative partner with classroom teachers – actually teaching together with them in the classroom, building on each others strengths and weaknesses and providing immediate support and modeling best practices for technology use in the classroom.
As as important as it is to meet with teachers for co-planning and technology training before a project starts (and we all know how much I love planning), in my experience even the world’s best planning can go awry without spending some quality time team-teaching in the classroom as a project is getting started. As anyone who’s ever used a tech lab or laptop cart knows, just when you’re ready to get something started, a dozen tech-related things will probably go wrong at once. Three students will think they know everything already and yet still do everything wrong, two students won’t be able to log in, one of the laptops won’t turn on, the projector won’t mirror displays, etc, etc – and everything is happening during the most critical part of the project, the beginning.
As a tech facilitator the last thing I want is for a teacher to have a bad experience because a few minor tech-mishaps occur during a lesson. And something will definitely happen, no matter how well-planned a lesson might be beforehand. For those teachers who are inexperienced, nervous or hesitant about technology, there’s a level of comfort that is difficult to attain just by planning something together and sending the teacher off on their own. It’s to be expected that some teachers won’t feel comfortable with certain kinds of technology projects unless they have in-class support, and one of my favorite things to do is to show those teachers just how successful a project can be with proper support.
My interest in working together in the classroom with teachers is not just a matter of providing moral support. I’ve done all different types of projects with teachers and students (from just giving hints and tips, to coaching on the side, to full blown collaboration), and can honestly say that when I have the time and permission to go into the teacher’s classroom and work with the teachers and students on the project, I have always seen tangible benefits in several major areas:
As every teacher knows, lesson plans need to be modified while a unit is actually in progress based on where students are in their understanding. Sometimes a little on-site fine-tuning is all that’s needed to turn an untried plan into a great success, and other times huge chunks of curriculum have to be turned inside-out at the last minute to avoid complete disaster. This process can be time-consuming and nerve-wracking enough when a project is within a teacher’s comfort area, but when ever-changing, unfamiliar and sometimes-intimidating technology is involved, many teachers simply aren’t able to make the necessary modifications on the day. When tech projects are involved, this can lead to undifferentiated, rigid projects which leave some learners behind, or worse, promisingly planned projects that mysteriously take far too long to get underway, or which cause too many technical headaches, and are then abandoned before they achieve their goals.
With a tech facilitator is on hand as a true collaborating partner from beginning to end, projects can be far more flexible, and teachers are able to appropriately modify the project as it’s being implemented. Experienced and ready tech-savvy students can be identified and teams of student-led support infrastructure can be built, struggling students can get the modifications they need, and pacing can be adjusted as each day goes by. This approach creates a feedback loop that leads to smoother-running projects and even more appropriate future projects. By getting immediate student and teacher response data via experiencing the project firsthand, tech facilitators can better coordinate a cycle of continuously improving project approaches, which in turn would eventually decrease the number of unknown variables and problems teachers would need to deal with on the spot, lowering anxiety and increasing success.
It is so exciting to see teachers ready to run with an engaging technology-rich project, but the first time (or just the first time with a new class or a new tool) can also be nerve-wracking for the teacher – what if something goes wrong, what if the kids don’t know how to do something we thought they did, what if kids are off task and not listening? Having someone co-teaching in the classroom as a partner can alleviate most of this stress, help the teacher feel more comfortable and offer the type of support I know I wish I had the first time I tried using technology in the classroom. We often talk about collaboration in education, but how often do we actually have two teachers working in the same room, one with one set of skills and experience, the other with a different set – perfectly complementing each other and supporting (and modeling) the learning process for both teachers and students?
Class Dynamics and Management
Having had the opportunity to work with many different teachers over the years, it is very interesting to see how significant a role class dynamics can play in the implementation of any given project. The same project can be a dream in one classroom and a nightmare in the other – just based on the way the students and teachers interact, personalities, and established behavior patterns – and there’s no way to know what that really looks like aside from seeing it yourself.
On top of the attitudes and behaviors in any given classroom, classroom management with any kind of technology, especially laptops, can be a challenge for teachers. There are many little tips and tricks that I’ve developed from constantly working with students using technology. Similarly, each classroom teacher usually has dozens of subtle ways they interact with their class which an outsider might miss. Unless the tech facilitator has some time to see the students in action, and model appropriate classroom management in tandem with the classroom teacher, the easiest, most engaging tech-rich project could go off the rails.
So, while it can tempting to design technology projects on paper and send them off into the world on their own, I’ve found that I feel much more effective, reflective and flexible if I can actually be on-hand in the classroom while the projects are underway. Of course, this means that schools need a manageable facilitator-to-student ratio, time for the facilitator to co-plan and co-teach, and a willingness and openness on the teacher’s part to allow another teacher into the classroom.
These are just my top three support areas, what are other key ways you ensure your teachers receive the support they need to have success with technology?