One of the most interesting aspects of my job is figuring out how to best support teachers – everyone is at a different comfort and experience level with technology, and most are uncomfortable admitting what they don’t know. Building individual relationships with new colleagues, as well as getting to know team, department and faculty dynamics are a critical factor to my success as a 21st Century Literacy Specialist (or as a Technology Facilitator, for that matter).
Over the past few weeks, one thing has really stood out for me: Just like I believe I need to get to know a class and their teacher when working on a collaborative project, getting to know the team is essential to deeper, more authentic and appropriate support, for both the curricular needs and the needs of the individual teachers on the team.
Towards the end of last year I realized that I was able to make connections with a number of individual staff members, and therefore help shift those teachers through projects at every grade level. But, I realized I still wasn’t starting the shift with any groups of teachers. Most of the teachers were at different grade levels and didn’t regularly cross paths with the other teachers I was working with. The momentum was with individuals only.
As powerful as that momentum had been, I started to realize that teachers truly appreciate support and common goals with their team. If they can try something new with their team members, they have a built-in support structure that fits easily into their daily practice of teaching and learning that also conveniently slots right into the existing infrastructure of the school. Plus the added benefits of a safety-net: everyone participates, everyone helps, everyone agrees that this is the path to take. Convenience, comfort and accessibility are all be strong benefits to working through the process as a team.
So, this year I started my quest to find a team at ISB that would allow me to be a mostly-silent, but always willing to help, member. Luckily the wonderful and welcoming grade 4 team allowed me to join, sit in on their weekly team meetings, and offer my two cents when appropriate. It has truly been a valuable learning experience.
Working with an entire team has helped me understand each individual member of the team better through their interactions with others. I also have a deeper understanding of their needs for curricular support, as well as the challenges they are facing in their classrooms. I hope that, by being there for them, they also see me as a productive and contributing member of their team. I try to offer ideas that will streamline their daily tasks, help engage their students, and add a digital literacy component to their units of study.
One of the most powerful experiences has been over the past week and a half while the team has been discussing their current social studies unit, Influence. The team had previously decided on their Enduring Understandings and Essential Questions, but were not sure how they wanted to assess student learning.
As a member of the team, I was part of all of the discussions about how the unit went last year, struggles and successes, ideas for improvement, concerns and how it all fits into the bigger picture of student learning in grade four. Because I had all of that background, I was able to share an idea for a final assessment that (hopefully) will meet the needs for this unit, adding in a 21st century-style approach, and also take into consideration time factors, other units of study that need to be completed, technical resources, and teacher and student comfort level with technology tools.
Without being a participant in all of those discussions I would have only had a one-sided view of the need at hand, and certainly would not have been able to put the curricular needs of the unit into the context of the entire grade level. Just stepping in to offer my ideas for a quick 10-minute discussion once in a while would not have prepared me to truly meet the needs of the team. I have also been able to spend dedicated time with some of the team members and our Curriculum Coordinator to fully flesh out this unit so that it meets the needs of the teachers and the students. Now this unit will be part of the grade 4 curriculum for years to come.
To truly collaborate with teachers, I am starting to believe that we, as resource people, need to be part of their team environment. I can certainly work individually with teachers to help them with their specific classroom needs, but to make any major shifts in the thinking of the school or to effect change in the curriculum, the collaboration needs to come at the team level.
What do you think? How are you best supporting your teams or departments at your school?