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Facilitator, Coach or Coordinator?

2009 August 16

Cross-posted on the TechLearning Advisors Blog

What’s your job title? Yesterday I asked my twitter network the following question:

And received a lot of interesting responses:

Most of us share similar responsibilities, yet we have a wide variety of titles. Just looking back at my own experience over the last ten years in three different schools, my job titles have ranged from Technology Facilitator to Academic IT Coordinator, to 21st Century Literacy Specialist, to Technology Coach, to Technology and Learning Coordinator.

What is it about technology in education that makes it so difficult to define roles that everyone can agree on and understand? Even though we’ve had technology in schools for decades, it still seems like we’re making it up as we go along.

For the last few years I’ve been wondering if there are more established roles, that already exist (and are well-understood) in many schools, which could provide a model for this type of support position. Just because technology often deals with new ways of thinking about education, doesn’t mean that the process of supporting those new ways of thinking has to be different.

Looking at Librarians

When I first arrived at ISB two years ago, I realized just how much librarians have in common with technology facilitators. What impressed me most was the extensive research in the field of librarianship about the process (and effect) of collaboration among colleagues. Although the day-to-day tasks of a librarian versus a technology facilitator might be very different; the established, research-based process of collaboration, which librarians have been refining for decades, certainly provides an interesting inspiration for technology facilitation.

Considering Coaching

With the change in my position this school year, I’ve been thinking a lot about what another established educational role might have to offer technology facilitators: the Instructional Coach. This week, our fabulous visiting consultant, and experienced Literacy Coach, Maggie Moon, attended our Coaching team meeting. She shared an overview of her successes and pitfalls to avoid as a coach:

  • A coach’s 3 major tasks in order of priority are: in the classroom (with teachers & kids, 1:1 or with groups of teachers), out of the classroom (with teachers, 1:1 or with groups of teachers), prep & planning.
  • As a coach, begin with a vision of what you think teachers should/could do. What does the “ideal” teacher look like? How will we see the evidence that our teachers are meeting these expectations?
  • Teaching teachers is just like teaching students: always explain things clearly & succinctly, and remember to show not just tell.
  • Always focus more on the process of teaching well, rather than the content that needs to be taught. Let the content come through as you model best practice instruction.
  • Be sure to track teacher progress by using a conferring notebook with items you’ve been trying to teach, times you are going in to see the teachers doing it (checklist), quality of what teachers are doing – use this to plan more in-classroom work.
  • Have teachers bring student work with them during meeting time so there is evidence of what they are doing and students are learning.
  • Getting started: keep it small, cycle through grade levels (work with 2 grade levels a month, go into classrooms and check in 1:1 with the other grade levels).  Sometimes it makes sense to start with groups to plant seeds, and then continue 1:1.

3 Phases of coaching (rotate through these phases – always possible to return to any of the previous stages):

1. Modeling: in the classroom, you’re teaching the class while the teacher is watching.

  • Pre-conference: Be clear about setting up, discuss with the teacher beforehand what you’re doing & what to watch for and notice. Strategy: use guide sheets which gives structure of how lesson will go and the main components to keep teachers active during lessons
  • In the classroom: Model best practice
  • Post-conference: You reflect at the end of the lesson on what you felt went well, what you would change, to model reflection – reinforcement & refinement. Then, ask teachers what they notice (what questions does this raise?). Then discuss: “how does what you saw me do, differ from what you do?” (what’s different?). Finally, ask “whatever you just saw, how will that change what you do in your classroom?”

2. Coaching: in the classroom, the teacher teaches & you watch (next to them) – give feedback in the moment

  • Start with a reflection with the teacher, ask them what they felt went well, always focus on the positive and be complimentary (any issues, record them and save them for later).
  • If there are content issues (incorrect information), share this right away; issues with methods should be saved for later.

3. Co-teaching (good when you’ve planned a unit over time, building relationships)

Looking over Maggie’s coaching suggestions, I can easily see how all of them are relevant to technology facilitation. From the goal of being in the classroom as a top priority, to focusing on the process not the content, to starting small; everything Maggie shared fit closely with my experience and understanding of technology facilitation.

It’s particularly interesting to me that the process of coaching can be expressed in such concrete steps, so no matter what the grade level or content, Maggie follows a clear process that results in quality collaboration and teaching.

Although I like to think I follow a “process” myself, I feel that, in practice, technology facilitation is often far less systematic. Because it’s so organic, technology facilition can tend to be more individualized – different for each project and teacher. Although I love the fact that everything I do is tailored for each teacher, it’s possible that, as facilitators, we end up re-inventing the wheel each time, simply because we don’t have a systematic approach.

In fact, as Maggie was sharing her tips, our science and math coaches were nodding along with the terminology and processes she described, demonstrating that instructional coaching across content areas shares a vocabulary and philosophy that is worth investigating.

Final Thoughts

Although I can appreciate how much both librarians and coaches have to offer technology facilitators, I still feel that there is something different about technology. When Literacy Coaches are helping teachers learn how to teach reading better, those teachers still know something about teaching reading, they know how to read a book, they know how to spell, and how to write, because the tools of the subject are familiar to them. Technology doesn’t share the same tradition in schools. So what happens when the content area is just as new to the teacher as the best practice teaching?

And then of course, the technological support has to be considered. It would be great to focus solely on the pedagogy, but who deals with the broken projector and the students that can’t log in? I’m sure these are some of the reasons why we have so many different job titles and descriptions.

Clearly, while we can definitely benifit from the extensive experience of librarians and coaches in schools, there is more to a technology support role that needs to be included. So, I’m left wondering:

  • What is still undefined in our conception of the role of a technology facilitator/coach/coordinator?
  • How can we start building consensus on our roles in schools?
  • What can’t we find that’s relevant to technology support when examining more established positions in schools?
  • What does your job description include?
9 Responses leave one →
  1. Rob permalink
    August 16, 2009

    Starting in this new position this year. I have adopted your title of Technology Learning Coordinator, or TLC (tender loving care) which when I share with teachers they can relate to, as they feel technology is something they can really use some “tlc”
    In the past anything IT has been simply to keep the machines running. It is a new shift for teachers to think that they can have support in using technology tools in their teaching methods. For shift to happen, support needs to be provided. I’m anxious to get started.
    Thanks for your insights, Kim.

  2. August 16, 2009

    Hi Kim – Sorry I did not have a chance to tweet this yesterday – my titles were – Techologist II, Technology Coordinator and Academic Technology Specialist.

    There is a great article about “learning technologists” written by Martin Oliver a few years ago that may add some resources to your first question (What is still undefined in our conception of the role of a technology facilitator/coach/coordinator?) If you do not have access to the journal, let me know and I am happy to email it to you.

    Martin Oliver. Innovations in Education and Teaching International. London: Nov 2002. Vol. 39, Iss. 4; pg. 245, 8 pgs

    SUMMARY
    Learning technologists – who represent one example of the ‘new professionals’ currently emerging in higher education – are a rapidly growing group whose practices are little understood, even within their own community. In this paper, the questions of who learning technologists are, what they do and, perhaps more importantly, how they do it will be considered by drawing upon work undertaken through a SEDA small grant for research. This has shown that learning technologists may undertake any of a diverse range of activities, including staff development, research, management and technical support. What they have in common is that they work with small groups or with individual academics on sustained curriculum development activities. The paper will include an overview of the research, but will focus on the process through which these collaborations are initiated and structured, and will provide an insight into the values and strategies that guide their activities.

  3. Allen permalink
    August 17, 2009

    I really enjoyed your blog post! The plethora of different job titles are due to the spectrum of job descriptions and education levels of the staff members involved. Is the person a certified teacher? What’s their education level? High school graduate all the way to Ed.S/Ph.D? Are they involved in tech support, or teaching? Teaching teachers, students or both?

    In my previous school we had a “Technology Integration Coach”. This person attended many ed tech conferences, was great at solving tech support issues, helped teachers navigate different web applications, provided technology workshops, yet did not hold a bachelor’s degree or teaching certification. I always wondered whether someone with no teaching degree and no formal knowledge of pedagogy, should be teaching teachers about educational technology integration. In my mind technology integration is about improving instruction, not how to push buttons in a wiki, or Word. Technology is not the focus. Student learning is the focus.

    The other white elephant in the room is funding. I think many schools would love to hire a top-of-the-line teaching professional who can handle the teaching, coaching, and occasional emergency tech support issue, but they just don’t have the cash. Hiring a paraprofessional and placing the focus on tech support and ed tech “button pushing” is much cheaper than hiring a teacher trained in pedagogy, educational technology theory and practice.

    Overall, I think this debate has been going on for years in the reading, literacy, library media arenas. (If you don’t function under a fixed schedule, your job is open to interpretation.) Looking to the professional literature in these areas may help. Maybe “Technology Integration Specialist” (teaches students and teachers), “Technology Integration Coach” (teaches teachers) and “Technology Paraprofessional/Assistant” (tech support or non-certified staff) are where we should start? Keep it simple? Maybe I’m way off base…

  4. August 20, 2009

    In a newly formed position at my school and as somebody who has never worked in a coaching/mentoring/supporting role before, this post is extremely timely and beneficial for me, particularly the points that you have elicited from Maggie.

    To answer one of your questions, I find the largest undefined area to be how my role fits into the inter-play between various groups on campus: the Tech Department (am I tech support?), the IT faculty (do I teach ‘computers’?), the Library (am I a media specialist?), te Counselors (do I handle parent meetings and teach advisory/life skills classes?) and Learning Support (how do I support teachers/students in the classroom?).

  5. August 21, 2009

    It’s easy to know where we want to go. We want to get to that place where teachers and students are using technology to transform learning; to do what they could not otherwise do. But if we don’t take off at the right spot we’ll bump into obstacles and if the road gets too bumpy we might not get too far. Tech coaches/facilitators who identify where teachers are in a technology continuum and begin there find the road far less bumpy.

    Unlike maps, there is no tech continuum that can guide all of us. We need to customize one to match our school’s circumstances and approaches to teaching and learning. A continuum gives us a bird’s eye view of scene so that we can easily see where we’ve been and effectively plan where we are going. If it’s not already part of the role, I would add mapping out a technology/information literacy continuum to the tech facilitator’s role.

    Cheers.

  6. Nancy permalink
    August 23, 2009

    I think the biggest challenge to this position is that it’s new to the education community. Clint H’s comment expresses the starting dilemma when the first facilitator/coach enters a district- if it’s not expressly clear from the top.

    My experience has been that I’m viewed as tech support- meaning someone to go to set up your Outlook Calendar or learn how to set up transitions in a slideshow. I see that also as part of this position; when specific tasks are embedded in a relevant project or activity. I do constantly communicate the curriculum/learning core to my position, while engaging in support of many types to “get my foot in the door” with colleagues. To me it’s the growing pains in any school or on a campus that hold change back- and education has historically been slow to make changes. We also have to meet colleagues where they are to progress, just as with students in the classroom.

  7. September 12, 2009

    @Rob

    It can be difficult to overcome the history of simply tech troubleshooting. At first it seems like you might be doing less for teachers when they’re in a panic about why they can’t add a widget to their blog, but once you can demonstrate the power of collaborative planning and teaching in order to meet their goals, all the tech troubleshooting just fades into the background. Considering this is my first year at this particular school division, I’m going through those same growing pains as well.

    @Leigh

    Thanks so much for the article summary! I’d love a copy via e-mail!

    @Allen

    I think you’ve addressed a lot of the challenges in the public school system. In international schools, funding is usually not as big of an issue, but even so (and even with highly trained teachers in facilitation roles) we still struggle with getting to the point where “technology integration is about improving instruction, not how to push buttons in a wiki.” It become more about the immediacy of “my technical problem” than the long term focus of improving student learning. For me, the challenge is trying to help build understanding about the focus on student learning along with the need to build basic technology skills so that teachers are capable of focusing on student learning (and not panicked about making that wiki work).

    @Clint

    So true! All of those groups overlap in some ways, but they’re certainly not the same. I think the way that we’ve brought our library, IT, and educational technology departments together at ISB (into our ISB21 team) has helped us start defining those roles better – and helped us simply understand how and where we overlap and how we can help each other.

    @Tod

    Absolutely. We definitely need a technology continuum. It’s been part of our ISB21 team discussions for the past few months and we’re just beginning to get started working on it. Once we’ve created something that works for our school, we’ll be able to share it with teachers so that they can place themselves along the continuum as well. That would be a great way to begin individual reflection about what is truly important and how to move forward. Have you already designed something for IST? Would love to see what you’ve come up with!

    @Nancy

    Absolutely. Growing pains, getting our foot in the door, meeting people where they’re at all true. I also think demonstrating the power of collaboration with a focus on student learning can help move past the initial tech support focus. Sometimes I think teachers don’t realize how much we can offer because of the history of the position being solely tech support.

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