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?

32 thoughts on “Lessons Learned: Tips for New Technology Facilitators

  1. Great post! I completely agree with your main points. For me, the most difficult part is stated in your final thoughts; that not everyone shares my particular passions and interests and the “non-teaching” part of the position. I have remedied that to a degree by building collaborative relationships with teachers so that I am co-planning and co-teaching on short and long term projects more regularly now and I also greatly enjoy my after-school groups.

    The only thought I would add is that it does become better each month as trust and relationships are established allowing me to collaborate with colleagues and work with students in the classroom more. Patience, visibility and thinking on one’s feet are crucial start up qualities. After all, this position is relatively new, varies from school to school and takes a bit of time for teachers to figure out how they want to utilize the person- so it requires patience and opening minds from everyone involved.

  2. Hey there Kim,

    This post couldn’t have come along at a better time for me. I am about to launch into a similar role in the elementary, and I can see I am going to have to temper my grand and ambitious plans for world technological domination, in favour of a ‘start small’ approach.

    I am heading in to school tomorrow, not because we are due in yet, but because I want to get it all framed in my head, so I know when we start back, that I have a solid plan.

    This post is an ideal reminder of one of the most crucial tenets of our jobs as teachers: it’s all about relationships.

    Best of all, I know you’re only an email away :-)

    Thanks!

    Keri-Lee

  3. Hi Kim,

    Good to have Always Learning back.

    Here is my concern about your strategy. It will guarantee you have brilliant successes with individuals, but is unlikely to result in school-wide, systemic change. Personally, I’m concerned about the kids with the teachers who aren’t tech enthusiasts as well.

    I’d add to my list working with building leadership to create common expectations for ALL teachers in regard to technology/constructivism/etc. See: http://www.doug-johnson.com/dougwri/starting-off-on-the-right-foot.html

    Good luck this year. You’ve got a great school and great program!

    Doug

    PS. I did not see Lake Okoboji on your list of summer travels. And I thought you were looking for the perfect beach!

  4. Great ideas here, Kim. You are totally correct regarding one of the main drawbacks of the facilitator role is not having a group of students to work with. However, this can be changed! I would urge all facilitators and administrators to find a way to be directly involved with a group of students so that you have the opportunity to model some innovative methods for the school community. Running a club, coaching, serving as an advisor, offering an online class, etc are all potential ways for individuals in the facilitator role to get directly involved with youth. I would go a step further and urge administrators to do the same thing. One of the highlights of my career recently has been serving as the facilitator/adviser for our school’s new live radio show project, “The Gator Radio Experience.” This has been a fantastic opportunity for me to get involved with group of students on a project that has had a positive impact both within and beyond our school community (http://gatorradio.blogspot.com/)

  5. Our blog was shared with me by a colleague and it made me take a huge sigh of relief! I, like Kim, am just starting my career as a Technology Support Teacher in an elementary school setting. I will be overseeing 2 schools, each with about 600 kids. Your advice is very valuable and I appreciate you taking the time to post start-up tips for us newbies! I look forward to visiting your blog frequently for advice, ideas, and answers.
    Thanks!
    Mary

  6. Guilty as charged! I couldn’t agree with you more about “Don’t Be A Pusher.”
    I teach middle school electives – we call it “Digital Technologies” but my passion is turning more toward working with teachers to help them understand and use tech effectively. No one in my school or district pays me to offer any PD in any formal sense but people come to me when the official tech folks are busy or can’t answer their questions.

    In the first several years at my present school I slowly and unintentionally built a reputation as “The Technology Fanatic” and instead of people perceiving me as enthusiastic, helpful (and of course, inspired – LOL) they began to see me as over-the-top, judging their skills, and hard to relate to. It didn’t help that I have a lab classroom full of 32 computers all day every day when they can barely get lab time… The staff might still all me in a tech emergency (frequently) but they didn’t want to collaborate or learn from me. I became frustrated that I wasn’t getting anywhere with my tech evangelism and just gave up. Now I do my own tech thing in my own class and lots of professional development with my PLN on my own time. I don’t speak unless spoken to when it comes to embedding tech in my own District.

    I know now that it is my fault. The damage will take a while to repair. Giving up was good; I’ve learned some things by doing so. Now I am shutting up and listening. (I belong to a group which has a policy of Attraction Not Promotion, meaning that people will participate if they want something we have. What a great philosophy!) I know now that I’m not meant to start the fire; at least not here and not right now). If some tech-best-practice is going to go viral it won’t start with me. I’m going to be there in the background if they need me, trying to serve instead of sell.

    I would encourage others to avoid intimidating other teachers with your knowledge and desire to help–you are just trying to share but they see it as criticism. And definitely follow the rest of Kim’s advice. She is right!

  7. With a few more weeks before I have to return, this is already an inspiring way to start thinking about the school year ahead. Your style is so clear and passionate I always look forward to the next posting.

    My two keywords this year will be the following:

    1) Affective – keeping learning effective by sharing affection for learning with students, teachers, administrators. Hiding your feelings went out with chalkboards.

    2) Appraise – the biggest part of which is praise. Assess is for asses.

  8. Hey Kim!
    I enjoy reading your thoughts and I look forward to hearing more about your year.

    Just one little comment — you said “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”

    smiles — remember, you DO still have students……other people just might call them teachers. :)

    I am in the struggle of do I return to the classroom or continue to be the tech facilitator because I miss the classroom so very much…..
    but then I remember, I am still teaching (they are just taller, a bit more stubborn, but still enjoy the pats on the back of praise, stickers, and “good job”. I miss bulletin boards …. but then remember I can decorate my website and blog each month like I did bulletin boards.

    Smiles, you are always and shall be a teacher — no matter WHERE your office is.

    Jen

  9. What a timely post. My mind is shifting toward thinking how to make downsizing work, how to provide services without killing myself. I think looking at what others need most is so critical, as is knowing the critical elements of what makes my job more successful. Thanks for highlighting those!
    The only advice I can give at this point is that which I keep giving myself: “It’s my job that keeps getting in the way of me doing my job!”

  10. Thanks so much for these great ideas! I am starting a new job next week helping teachers use technology (principal’s words). This will be my first year “out of the classroom” after having taught 4th grade and Gifted Education for 8 years. I am looking forward to it and trying not to feel overwhelmed. Your post helps a lot. :)

  11. Kim,
    Your timing couldn’t be better. I am transitioning into the role of technology facilitator/coach this year as well. I did request that I still be able to teach 3-5th grade computer classes so that I can still interact and teach the kids. I find that I make better, more realistic suggestions and help when I remember what it is like to actually carry out those plans :) For me, it is easy to forget the challenges of the classroom. I can always tell the lessons that I wrote over the summer, away from students. They are always much more ambitious in goal and time frame than my lesson plans written while I am teaching students.
    Great list of suggestions, I’m printing them out now so that I can post them as a reminder to myself as I move forward this year.
    Appreciate the post and look forward to hearing about the great things you are doing this year!

    1. Hi,

      Our school is getting ready to offer technology to the Elementary. And I want to help shape this and suggest best practices…

      So you do have classes where the kids come to the computer lab for “CLASS” and do you also

      have a more inclusion type set up where the teachers sign up for lab time and the you as the tech support teacher work with the teachers to use technology for the lessons?

      Are there parameters around the teachers as to how often they should go to the lab, use the support etc?

      Many thanks for any input!

      Afra*

  12. Kim, you hit the nail on the proverbial head. Your writing is brilliant and so well thought out, it’s almost like I was typing it.

    I’ve heard these same thoughts from other excellent tech directors such as Bob Furst and Jeff Johnson. They have the knowledge and background to think “outside” the box, but keep it small scale and build on those person to person relationships.

    I have struggled from time to time being a facilitator and strictly support person and finding that “happy” medium. While I like the networking/server support, my passion is technology integration and working w/ staff and students.

    BTW, if you ever get a chance to read my blog post Blog Companion, I’d love to hear your thoughts being such a respected educator that you are. It’s really started to catch on, which I’m proud of, and all I was really trying to do was create a basic “cliff notes” for my blog.

  13. Kim,

    Thanks for this post! In addition to these good ideas, I would also add trying to find ways to get the students involved in the process of coaching/mentoring ala Generation YES (http://www.genyes.org/). Students are a wonderful resource for schools: with faculty guidance and oversight, students can not only provide support for teachers but learn valuable leadership, collaboration and communication skills along the way.

  14. I am so glad I found your blog today! My school is initiating a one to one laptop program (MacBook) this year at my school. I teach K; we will be using laptops on a cart. At this point, I am a bit overwhelmed at where to begin. I have been researching websites to use but really want to use this program to its fullest. I am eager to read more of your blog. Thanks for sharing! Diane

  15. I am a fan of yours, as I often refer to your blog. Thanks for being a great resource. I work in teacher support, and stepped out of the classroom five years ago. I don’t have a lot to add to list, except maybe this: embrace low tech/no tech when it’s appropriate. I love offering books to people, I love to suggest a great idea that involves gardening or buiding a model or something, because I know my colleagues gain respect for me when they see I am more interested in learning and educating than I am in just technology. I hope you have a great year in your new role.

  16. Hi Kim,

    Excellent ideas that are very practical- thanks. As a friend in graduate school said to me “You will use your counseling skills more than your technology and instructional skills when you start working as an instructional technologist.” So I could not agree more that our skill set must include relationship building, attentive listening and knowledge of how we are coming across to others.

    I invite your readers to read your previous posts about your collaborative efforts in developing curriculum with your elementary grade level teaching teams. Technology and information literacy integration during curriculum development time can really help one’s learning community make the shift to Learning 2.0.

    I would add that part of the ongoing celebration of teachers should also be about teachers who might not be using any technology but who are using discovery learning, supporting the UbD process, truly differentiating, etc. As we always say, it is about the learning and not the technology. As you so often point out, we are then seen as co-teachers and folks then become more interested in our ideas to use technology to enhance learning.

    A last note for the new technology facilitators is to take care of yourselves. Being a change agent often working on your own is very difficult work. Work to form your support base in your school with your early adopters and in your virtual PLN.

    And terrific comments from your readers- very helpful.

  17. kim,

    great post! In addition to these good thoughts, To be a good teacher i think need constant working at ourselves,find new and interesting materials for our lessons.to get students involved in the subject .am using flashcards to make the learning process more interesting. Learning should be made a fun activity and interactive to get the students like and learn the subject.

  18. Hey Kim,
    Thank you so much for your post, I completely agree with your 5 tips! I would also like to second two of the above comments. I am a Middle School Instructional Tech and I LOVE having an Advisory. It keeps it real for me and my teachers see me as part of the team. I think it is very important to have a group of students that you are working with as a coach, advisor, etc. Secondly, I also find that I try to support my teachers with many low tech thoughts, books, etc. That also really works for me as my teachers see me as something more than just a tech head.

  19. @Nancy

    I totally agree – those quality relationships with several teachers that can allow you some flexibility and creativity in how you develop projects together is the key to dealing with the “non-teaching” part of the job. I would consider myself very lucky to be working with a number of teachers that are very flexible and allow me to try new things. Though, I must admit, I am always much more conscious of their time than I would be if I was on my own. Knowing I’m “using” another persons teaching time – even if we’re working toward the same goals – is always a consideration.

    @Keri-Lee

    Oh those grand plans! Even if you don’t get to them as fast as you like, it’s definitely important to have them. Your job is your learning too, you want to have a goal to strive toward for yourself as well. Sometimes it takes longer to get there, but it’s always worth it! Email anytime!

    @Doug

    You’re so right. Considering I’ve taken so long to respond to these comments, some of these thoughts have come up in my recent post “Difficult Conversations” about coaching. Not exactly what you’re talking about, but definitely a step in that direction.

    I agree that we need to define and communicate common expectations for all teachers (and admin). This is part of our focus for our ISB21 team this year. First, we need to adopt some standards (yikes) for the students, then we’ll begin working on something for the teachers. Thanks for the link – that will certainly help us get started!

    I guess I’ll have to put Lake Okoboji on the list for next summer…

    @Matt

    I totally agree about working with students outside the structure of the school day. Most schools I’ve worked at require teachers to do something similar already.

    However, I do think there’s a big difference in being able to tell teachers that something worked perfectly in an after-school activity (with no assessments, school-based scheduling issues, resource challenges, etc), than being able to tell them that it was a great choice for a specific curricular area to meet student learning outcomes. I guess that’s my struggle – to “sell” something with validity, it’s best to be tried and tested at least once in the classroom, but I don’t always have that possibility.

    @Mary

    So glad the post was helpful for you! Good luck in your new position!

    @Suzanne

    I’m intrigued by your Attraction Not Promotion group! On one hand, I can certainly see how powerful that would be – just let everyone interested come to us. But, then I am wary that not all teachers would eventually come around. How do you deal with that? Or maybe it’s not your that group’s responsibility to get all teachers to do things in a certain way so it’s not a concern. Either way, a very interesting idea! I like things that sell themselves!

    @cchater

    Nicely put!

    @JenW

    Great point Jen!

    @Edi

    So true!

    @Melissa

    Good luck with your new job! I’m sure you’ll love it!

    @Kelly

    So true about being more realistic when you are the only one responsible for making it happen. It’s dangerous to get so far out of the classroom that you don’t remember what day-to-day teaching is like.

    @David

    Thank you! I love your Blog Companion idea!

    @Jeff

    Agreed – a student tech team, or something along those lines (probably not the official GenYes) is definitely one of the things on my agenda for this year. Students love having these kinds of responsibilities and their help is often invaluable for teachers. Thanks for adding that to the list!

    @Diane

    Glad my blog is helpful for you! Lucky you, 1:1 Mac! Enjoy your year!

    @Gary

    Great point about embracing low/no tech – it’s all part of building those relationships and focusing on student learning. Thanks for adding that to the list!

    @David

    So true! Always focusing on student learning, and promoting and sharing the power of project-based learning, UbD and differentiation is so important. Using technology in a classroom with poor teaching practice doesn’t make the learning experience any better. I see technology as an amplifier – it can make a great learning experience better, but can equally amplify to the negative. Thanks for adding that to the list!

    @Lisa

    For sure!

    @Katie

    Agreed on both points! Thanks!

  20. Kim,
    I recently started my Graduate Degree in “Integrating Technology in the Classroom” through an online university. I’ve never blogged before, but I am excited about starting the process and getting actively involved in many discussions and projects concerning this area of education, and I hope to incorporate many ideas learned from blogs into my lessons. As a K-12 music and band teacher, sometimes it is difficult to think of ways to integrate technology into the lesson, not just for integrations sake, but to improve the quality of education I present.

    As far as advice goes, I would try to get involved in the planning of lessons with other teachers to try and team-teach a lesson with their content and your technology-based ideas. As a newer teacher, I wouldn’t be threatened by your presence, I would welcome the help in my classroom and also enjoy the learning experience. I would think teaching along side of veteran teachers would show them that there is nothing to fear even though the use of computers or other technology may feel foreign or alien to them.

    Thanks for your post and ideas, once again this is new to me so I hope this can help,

    Thanks again and good luck!

    1. @Dustin,

      Good luck in your new career! I couldn’t agree more with your advice! I feel the same about welcoming help, but unfortunately not everyone agrees. It’s always good to be aware of the different perspectives teachers might have about guests (even if they’re there to help) in their classroom. It can take a lot to build up a trusting relationship, but once you’ve got one, it’s very valuable!

  21. Kim-
    Any ground on defining and communicate common expectations for all teachers around using the tech support person?

    Any one else have any luck or bad luck with this?

  22. Dear Kim,
    I could not have read this post at a better time. My role too has changed this year and I have had a difficult time getting used to my new role. Reading your post has given me a new insight on how to make things better not only for myself but for my colleagues as well. I like the 5 suggestions you have given yourself and I am going to get inspired by those. Now being a part of COETAIL I also feel that I am now a part of a community that is out there to help each other with ideas . Hope you are enjoying your new year. I am beginning to.

  23. Dear Kim,

    This post and their replies have been extremely useful to me. Thank you for making such a great summary of things to take into account!

  24. This is great insight below. I was in a similar position last year with a dual support and class role and I am now missing the freedom to try my own things without having to be at the expense of other teachers. Finding this balance has been tough, however forming those good relationships with my colleagues has made it easier to introduce new concepts or practices.

    “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 something 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.”

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