Well, it’s hard to believe but another school year has begun! This time around I’m starting the year in a new country (Japan), new school (Yokohama International School), and a not-so-new job (Technology and Learning Coach). This is our fourth international school in eleven years and if the past few weeks are anything to go by, I think we’ll be here for a while!

Over the past month or so, Alex and I have been spending the majority of our time settling in to our new apartment (which we love). We’ve been to Ikea twice already, Muji (kind of a Japanese Ikea) more times than I can count, the electronics store at least once a week, and pretty much spent every waking hour not shopping for home goods building, unpacking, organizing and sorting everything into its proper place.

As much as I love setting up a new home, I’m realizing that this process is more than just decorating, it’s about feeling settled, safe and comfortable in your environment. What makes people feel comfortable when they move to new places may be different, some people might not feel at home until they’ve found their favorite restaurant or joined a gym, but the concept is the same. Until your basic needs are met, you end up feeling distracted and unable to take on new responsibilities. The same is true for a work environment. Although you may not be moving to a new school (or even a new classroom), we all need to feel a sense of stability before taking risks and trying something new.

For many teachers, doing new things (especially with technology) in their classroom can seem as daunting as an international move. Knowing how I’ve felt these last few weeks getting our apartment settled, I want to make sure my priority as Technology and Learning Coach is to help my new colleagues feel safe and comfortable with me and the technology they use everyday before expecting them to try something new in the classroom. Building a solid foundation of trust and security is the only way I can expect my teachers to take risks with me.

After learning from plenty of mistakes in the past, here are my top 7 priorities for starting the year off right (trying to take some of my own advice here):

Building Relationships: In my 3 years at ISB, I learned that the absolute key to helping teachers try new things in their classroom is for them to trust you. When you have a positive relationship with another teacher you are much more willing to work with them and to take risks. These first few weeks and months are critical for me to begin making connections on a personal level with as many teachers as possible. I like to think I’m a nice person, and even if I sometimes push people out of their comfort zone, I want them to know that I am always there to help.

Be Approachable: Sometimes technology is intimidating and people (especially teachers) can become reluctant to ask for help, in fear of a typical techno-babble response. Making the technology office a welcoming place by greeting people when they come in, treating their questions with respect, and answering with simple step-by-step instructions helps set people at ease. There is no limit to what a little patience, a friendly tone of voice, and simple responses can do to build a welcoming and approachable vibe in a technology team. Once people see that you can actually help them, they will come back for more!

Be Available: I’m not a fan of talking tech at lunch, but I know how important it is that people feel supported. Getting questions answered in the hallway, on the sidewalk, over dinner or in the grocery store is a clear signal to teachers that you are ready and willing to help. It is amazing how appreciative people will be if you are able to go just a little out of your way to solve their problems.

Be Proactive: Every day the past week I’ve made sure to spend some time walking around to each and every classroom in my division, just popping in to see how things are going and to make sure previous requests have been completed. I certainly haven’t been able to solve everything, but demonstrating that I care and want to make sure everything is functioning makes people feel supported and listened to. Every now and again all it takes is a sympathetic ear and an understanding of the issue for a problem to resolve itself.

Be Positive: It’s easy to become frustrated with technology, but maintaining a positive attitude and staying calm under pressure helps other teachers (and students) feel less stressed and nervous. I figure if I see technology in a positive light, I can lead others to see things that way too.

Being Appreciative: It’s easy to arrive at a new school and constantly talk about the way things were done at your last school, or to start comparing teachers. I get sucked into that kind of behavior every time I move, but it’s counter-productive. I need to make sure I am appreciative of what has been done here, where the school is at in its development, and how I can tailor solutions for this particular school, staff and students. I need to take the time to understand what is working before I can say with certainty what needs to be improved. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I don’t have ideas right now, but going in thinking I know everything is a surefire way to get started on the wrong foot.

Build Community: Every school has a group of keen teachers who are ready and willing to learn, but they don’t always know each other. Finding ways to bring those teachers together, as well as support those teachers who are not ready yet, is so important. For the last five years (at MKIS and then ISB) I’ve run after school walk-in tech support. There is something about an open-door tech support session, in a classroom, that helps put people at ease, and engages the more advanced users in a technology leadership role. In addition to those general walk-in sessions, I’m also going to run a weekly “Pimp My Mac” session for tips and tricks to help teachers be more productive with tech.

Final Thoughts

This is just the beginning of the year, I know I will need to add more ideas to the list as time goes on, but I hope a positive and supportive attitude will go a long way to establishing a strong foundation of techie goodness here at YIS. As much as I hate it, I know I can’t do everything at once. I hope we can start our own cohort of CoETaIL here soon, Parent Coffee Mornings are already calling my name, I would love to bring a Flat Classroom workshop here, I’m anxious to get a Digital Citizenship curriculum going, maybe start a GenYES student group, and continue building a coaching team. One step at a time!

What am I missing? What should I be doing now to build a solid foundation with the YIS community?

28 thoughts on “Building a Solid Foundation

  1. Sounds like you are off to a great start at your new school. I can’t think of anything to offer but I do want to say what a wonderful idea the ‘Pimp my Mac” sessions are. I would love to have that kind of support available to me at my school. So far our school doesn’t show any real commitment to teachers using technology. Keep up all the great work you are doing!

    1. @Meg,

      Thanks! To be honest, in all the schools I’ve been at, the only reason those training sessions are run is because I volunteer to run them. Maybe you can offer something similar at your school? Even if you don’t know how to do everything, it could be a dedicated time for people to come together and explore.

  2. Kim- These are great ideas you have. I am starting to move into a role of a technology coach, and I absolutely believe that having people trust you will help them then trust themselves as they grow in technology. Glad to have your blog back “up and running”! All the best in your new post- can’t wait to hear more.

    1. @Katie,

      Thanks, it’s good to be “back”! It was a crazy end of the school year with all the protests in Bangkok and I’m just so happy to be in the swing of things in a new country.

  3. One other comment- you questioned what else you should be doing to build community. I love your “Pimp my Mac” idea. At ASB in Mumbai we run a Tech Cafe to highlight key apps or sites that may be of interest. We also have surveyed the staff in the past to get a baseline of what they are interested in and then try to tailor offerings to that. Lastly- the best way to build community is to be open and allow people in to watch and learn as lessons happen so they can see firsthand the value of tech in the classroom, and that it is doable.

    1. @Katie,

      Yes! I need to do a survey to see where the teachers here are at. I’m getting a feel through conversations, meetings and co-teaching, but I know I’m not reaching everyone.

      I also completely agree with your idea about allowing people in to watch lessons. We used to call those “labsites” at ISB and they were invaluable. I should start up something similar here and at least advertise to the department that I’ll be teaching that particular lesson in.

  4. Great to have you back!! Have a great year in your new country!! You have always made me feel inadequate and watching you make another leap with a new language etc. reinforces that!!!! I always appreciate the way your thoughts push me to think too! All the best!!

    1. @Mick,

      Thanks! It’s always an excited adventure moving to a new country – challenging, but also so rewarding.

  5. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Kim. I would love to be a teacher at your school with support like you give.

    I have already ‘copied’ a few of your other ideas, like “speed geeking” for teachers to share their knowledge and continue to build a better sense of community and collaboration. The next one I plan to try is your idea of “pimp up your mac – (PC for our district).”

    Thanks a bunch, and keep sharing. You are a technology coach for a lot more people than at your own school, and we all appreciated it greatly. Enjoy your new school and town.

    1. @Rocketrob,

      Excellent! Feel free to use anything I share – and please let me know how it goes! The speedgeeking was such a huge hit at ISB, I can’t wait to use it again here. Thanks so much for your kind comments!

  6. I am an up and coming student going in to the educational field and I usually think how even being a new teacher at a school can be stressful let alone a new country. These are great tips not only for teachers going in to a new country but for new teachers just starting off in their first school. Thank you and I hope to hear more advise in the future.
    .-= edward hughes´s last blog .. =-.

  7. Thanks for the great post. I’m a literacy coach at a small midwestern middle school in Michigan. We’re adding so much technology this year that I consider myself to also be a technology coach. I can say amen to all that you have said. I’m looking forward to comparing our two school years. Should be interesting.

  8. I think that you have wonderful ideas! I commend you for all that you do! It is so stressful to start a new job, let alone a new job in a new country. I am an education major and technology is such an important role in the classrooms. It allows you to stay up to date with all the latest ideas. I look forward to reading your blogs in the future!

  9. Hi Kim, good luck with your new school year and thanks for your thoughts about the best ways to support the new learning of teachers. I think that another thing to consider is to be humble and empathetic. It is all too easy for those of is who enjoy the challenge and the excitement of technology to forget that for some people change is hard, threatening and scary. Your thoughts about being approachable, appreciative and the importance of building relationships obviously support this concept. While I think we could argue that this change a ‘no opt out’ change and one that we all have to embrace, it’s important to take a step back sometimes and put ourselves in the place of those who might be feeling a tad uncomfortable. Not that I’m suggesting that you have ignored this in any way at all. In fact I can tell by your post that you haven’t.
    .-= Anne Baird´s last blog ..annieb3525- been waiting 80 mins for specialist ALWAYS have to wait over 45 mins Why do docs think its ok to make people wait with no explanation =-.

    1. @Anne,

      You are so right – empathy is so critical. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in wondering why people don’t do certain things, but it’s much more productive to just help them do it in an approachable way. Often teachers aren’t doing things because they don’t want to, but because they don’t know how or don’t have time. Great point!

  10. Amen, sister! Well said… Especially the building of trust is absolutely the most important part. Teachers will never ask you for assistance, if they think you are going to judge. Always be supportive, even if the issue is something that seems so simple, it can be a huge problem/hurdle for another person. Thanks for the great reminder of these important beginning of the year ideas!
    .-= Tim Bray´s last blog ..The Love of Learning =-.

    1. @Tim,

      So true! It’s always interesting to walk into a classroom, or school, and see how the staff react to the news that you are an “IT person” – you can tell a lot about their experiences in the past, just by the automatic facial (or physical) reaction. Sometimes it’s like telling people you work for the IRA or your a lawyer or something. One of my goals is for teachers at YIS to expect a supportive, caring and non-judgmental environment from anyone related to IT – otherwise no-one will benefit.

  11. Kim, thank you so much for sharing your great words of wisdom. As a long time Tech teacher, moving onto and IB campus for the first time this year, I have drawn much from what you have posted to use as inspiration and hope. As a Tech Teacher Coach (especially on a new campus for me), this last post has been very timely. I know i’ve told myself over and over again about how important it is to build relationships first, I hadn’t taken the time to think it out or more importantly, plan for it.

    I’m hoping that I might someday be able to connect with you on a project or in a workshop. Thanks again!

    1. @Sean,

      Would be happy to collaborate on a project! I think building relationships takes a long time. Sometimes I wish it could happen faster, but building trust is not a quick process. I think it’s going to take me the whole year here to really get on solid footing with all of the teachers I’m working with. Every day is a chance for a new connection!

  12. Hi Kim,

    I am intrigued by your “Pimp My Mac” sessions. Do you do them before/after school? All your priorities are spot on! I too make a point of walking around my building the first week or so, just popping my head in, etc. It’s amazing how many times I’m called in to help out or lend a little encouragement.


    1. @Maureen,

      I do them after school during the standard “meeting” hour (when teachers need to be at school but may not have other commitments). Great point about the pop-in! Always a great technique – and as you say, so appreciated!

  13. Mrs. Cofino,
    I loved reading your post today! I like each of the 7 pointers you gave for various reasons. Being postive is something that I strive to do in my professional life as well as my personal life. Also, trust among co-workers is extremely important. When one makes an effor and goes out of his or her way to answer another’s question is a way that trust and dependability is built. I commend the work that you are doing; keep up the positive attitude!

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