Coaching as an integral part of your district’s tech transformation
Lindsay Dixon Garcia
Head of Content | Hapara
One key component of a successful, student-centered school technology transformation: tech coaching. Nothing about transformation is one-size-fits-all, but one thing is clear: tech coaches can make a world of difference when it comes to improving teaching and learning, implementing tools that support pedagogy and putting students first.
What a tech coach is–and isn’t
Depending on the resources available, some schools have full-time tech coaches, others have teacher technologists that take on the role during an extra planning period, and in many states a certification is required to take on this role. No matter the model, the hope is that the coach will train and mentor teachers on how to leverage technology for learning. However, in many cases budget restraints, competing interests or lack of a central vision create obstacles, and professionals in this role end up connecting teachers’ projectors or fixing the copy machine.
So, you might be asking yourself, “What is the right model for tech coaching?” Just like many things in life, there probably isn’t one right way to be a coach, but there are best practices and guidelines that can ensure an effective coaching plan that moves your school into the realm of transformative learning that had been impossible for previous generations.
Mike de Leon, an instructional technology specialist in the Valley View School District in Illinois, says his district has a tech coach and a “Google guru” on every campus. These are full-time classroom teachers who work with teachers onsite to train and encourage them to use tech tools. They receive a monthly stipend for this position, and they are supported by instructional technologists like Mike at the district level. Valley View places a strong emphasis on making sure teachers know how to use the tools available to them, and offers many opportunities for training.
In Frederick County, Virginia, the school district has full-time instructional technology coaches (ITC) on every campus. Their mission is to support classroom teachers in a very individualized and personalized way. They offer professional development opportunities and work with teachers to find innovative ways to improve the learning experience for students. Amy Miller, a tech coach, says that they like to look at the standards and the content of the course being taught first, and then strategize with teachers on what might be the best way to deliver instruction.
What does a successful tech coaching model look like?
A clear vision
It can be trying in any industry to do your job without direction from the top, that’s why it’s so important that districts formulate a clear plan and vision for their technology transformation. This plan should clearly define the role and purpose of tech coaches. Involving stakeholders in the development of that plan –teachers, students, principals, tech coaches, district leadership– is imperative. The plan has to be student centered, and promote agency and student voice throughout every thread of its framework. It is equally important that the technology that you choose to implement is researched and underpinned by pedagogy. That way, tech coaches have tools to pull from that can empower students to explore and try new things. Amy Miller of Frederick County says for example, that the district adoption of Hapara has really encouraged student voice and choice because it promotes dialogue and collaboration between teacher and learner and progressive release of responsibility to students through its approach to browser monitoring and the upcoming release of the Hapara Student Dashboard.
Prioritize the improvement of teaching and learning
When it comes to tech coaching, the priorities have to lie in the improvement of teaching and learning, not just the technology. When used properly, technology can vastly enhance the learning experience. When used without teaching and learning in mind, technology can feel like a burden for teachers and students, and hinder the learning process. We can do amazing things with learning and technology that we couldn’t just ten or even five years ago. The caveat is that just like with a paper and pencil lesson, there must be clear learning objectives.
A coaching cycle for working with teachers
Developing a coaching cycle for working with teachers is vital to the success of your program. Within that cycle there should be a good amount of preparation and planning before a tech tool ever gets introduced to students. In Frederick County Public Schools, when a teacher expresses an interest in participating in a tech coaching cycle, tech coaches have a kickoff meeting where they can brainstorm together and then decide which resources they will use. During this session, they discuss what the ultimate goals of the lesson are, and what they want students to know, understand and do. Together the teacher and tech coach create an action plan that often includes modeling and co-teaching. There is also a lot of deep reflection built into the coaching cycle. Amy Miller says that she often documents everything in a Google Doc, and adds new ideas to a teacher-facing Hapara Workspace. This allows for reflection after the lesson has been delivered so they can debrief about how the tool impacted learning and how they might use it the next time.
Keep student agency front and center
No one would argue that student agency is the most important part of technology transformation, and that’s why it should be at the forefront of any tech coaching model. It’s essential that student agency is always part of the coaching conversation: “How can using this tool or method in a lesson empower learners?” This should always be the first question asked, because when you empower learners and give them choice, the learning that comes out of it is so much greater, says Amy Miller of Frederick County. Miller shared a story of how a teacher wanted to find better ways to give formative feedback to her students, so she showed her how to use a feedback tool in the Hapara Instructional Suite called Snaps. The teacher used it and the student was so excited that her teacher cared enough to reach out to her and give her feedback and a virtual pat on the back that she came by her room during lunch to thank her. These teachable moments solidify the student/teacher relationship that makes so much more learning possible–learning that has no limits.
At Hapara, we’re excited about the release of Student Dashboard, it’s a way for teachers to communicate expectations directly with students and empowers learners to drive their own learning paths as they access all Google Classroom and Hapara assignments, resources, grades and communications into a single place.
Having a single point of access and communication allows students to take control of their own learning and surpass the limitations of teacher tech tools such as Google Classroom and past tech such as paper, pen, email, and text.