Change is not a straight line. It is incremental. I read this in a New York Times interview with Karen May, the Vice President for People Development at Google. Not a straight line – that’s for sure. When I started in this world of instructional technology, I figured that I’d just drop in to a school district, show them the power of the technology, and they’d know what to do with it. Wrong.
I started teaching teachers and administrative staff how to use Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. I gave them step-by-step instructions and showed the plethora of tasks they could perform. Then I realized that, despite the fantastic reviews I received, some of my students would return for the same class several months later. The reason? They never had a chance to use what I taught them. Next, I started offering 2-hour laser-focused training with authentic projects for the work they did. That’s when it started to get practical but a bit too short.
When I entered the world of instructional technology coaching, I began to see the possibilities. It was no longer about training; it was about professional development (PD). Not only was I offering sessions on tools; I was asking big picture questions. My colleagues and I were Mentors. We formed long-lasting relationships with the Coaches we served. When we shared a cool tool, we also shared what we could do with it in a classroom. We mentored them to do the same. We built a network of individuals from around the state. They were required to come together from around the state face-to-face (F2F) once a year with opportunities for F2F PD, and they were given opportunities to come together throughout the year for statewide PD. Some of the best professional development these coaches received was in the hallway speaking with their colleagues. In between, we built a virtual network of a listserv and a Moodle with webinars offered regularly. We all felt as if we had a common vision, and we could reach out to each other for ongoing support to make that vision a reality.
Although that initiative has come to a close, the vision has not. The virtual network still exists, and it is still very active. In fact, our local ISTE affiliate asked me to continue in that virtual mentoring role, to help the fantastic educators of the state keep that vision intact.
The line veered when I began working with a group that realized it was time to give some thought to the role of instructional technology in their work as instructional coaches focusing on literacy. I began to have a series of reality checks. The bigger world, beyond the project that had just finished, was not nearly as keen on instructional technology as I had hoped. I had to start over and figure out where to begin. In many cases, I had to step on the breaks and decide what was reasonable to accomplish and how quickly I could accomplish it.
I also had a heart-wrenching realization. Not all of the coaches I had worked with in the past walked away from their professional development experiences with the same vision of their role. Some truly saw themselves as tech coaches. Although we had focused on instructional coaching, they had focused on technology. I could see that those who truly saw themselves as instructional coaches were the ones that were being kept in the position, despite the economic downturn. I believed that their participation in the project that I had joined was paramount to their success.
In the meantime, my reality check continued. In the real world, little glitches can hold someone back from embracing a wonderful tool. Push-back was more common than acceptance. Using a tool was much more effective than teaching it. Although I had been saying for years: It’s not about the technology; it’s what you do with it, reality stared me in the face and made me realize that decision-making about when to use it was hard.
Great strides have been made. The organization is all about ongoing professional learning that has layers of regional mentors, local mentors, and instructional coaches to support educators. An online course is in the works to make the connections between instructional coaching, literacy strategies, and digital learning. Not only am I modeling the use of digital tools, so are my colleagues. Using these tools is beginning to become commonplace.
The change I am convinced needs to happen in education has taken me on a wonderful journey – that continues to zig and zag. My involvement in regional, statewide, and national projects has opened up my eyes to the possibilities. The world of professional development is now turning into a world of professional learning – lifelong learning. My goal continues to be to help educators realize the promise of technology.