Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Administrators and Technology - What should professional learning look like?

An educator I know recently asked what the role of an instructional coach should be when it comes to providing professional learning to administrators. I’ve given quite a bit of thought about this through the years. The instructional coach is in a perfect place to provide professional learning opportunities to administrators. We know what can be accomplished instructionally when technology is used well and with a purpose. However, my experience has been that as much as administrators want to see technology being used in their buildings, they are not quite sure what it should look like. I’ll never forget the Principal, who when asked if he was happy with how technology was being used in his building, responded with a “Yes, when I walk down the halls, I can see the rooms glowing (from the interactive whiteboards).” Yikes! That was a formative moment for me. I realized that although many educators get it, that is not always the case for everyone.

Now comes the question of how best to get the use of instructional technology on the radar of administrators. Ideally, I think that all educators need to find ways to use these tools in their everyday lives. I can almost guarantee you that if I show a new father/mother/grandparent how to make a slideshow or movie of their (grand)children’s  pictures, blog about their hobby, create an interactive Christmas card, customize their reading so that they receive articles and alerts about their favorite teams or hobbies, I can get them to think about how those same tools can be used for reading, writing, speaking, and listening about content. Did you know that there are still, unfortunately, some districts that do not allow school devices to be used for anything personal? Ugh.

Another approach is getting administrators to model for the faculty. After all, unless there is a sense of urgency from administrators, we are going to continue to see only pockets of excellence in any district. Teachers are stressed with so many different initiatives; they are going to pick and choose their priorities. I believe that administrators need to use Google Docs, Padlet, Google Forms, OneNote Staff Notebooks and 1-take videos to model effective communication, collaboration, problem solving, self-regulation and knowledge construction between and among faculty. Then, once the faculty has used these tools, the faculty needs to have a facilitated conversation about how these tools can be used in the classroom to promote critical thinking. Then, make a plan how each subject area or grade is going to use it. The expectations needs to be explicit. Ideally, I would sit with administrators as they design their faculty meetings and communications, the things they do anyway, to recommend tools that could be used most effectively. Most of the communication that happens in faculty meetings could be done virtually. Why not do it? Then, use the time together to have that conversation about how that tool we used for a virtual faculty meeting could be used in the classroom.

The trick is getting in the door to make this happen. That four-letter word is thrown at me – Virginia, if I only had the TIME.
Another piece of this is the ability of instructional coaches to make the connections between initiatives and technology. I have heard, “Oh, we can’t do technology this year, our focus is formative assessment or differentiated instruction or literacy across the curriculum.” Huh? If we continue to think of these things as silos, then the connections will never be made. As coaches, we can work with administrators to see how the tools our students have at their fingertips support formative assessment, differentiated instruction, and literacy.

Having these conversations with administrators is not easy. They have so much on their plate. The amount of time they spend on observations overwhelms them. To make professional learning very practical, one of my projects has been to work with administrators on taking a look at the Danielson Framework to develop examples of effective uses of technology for each of the components. It’s a work on progress – one this post reminds me I need to return to.

Friday, May 6, 2016

My Work Here is Not Yet Complete

Since November of 2006, I have been involved in statewide programs. Much of my focus has been on the seamless and appropriate integration of technology into reading, writing, speaking, and listening about content. This week, I had the opportunity to have some serious discussions with instructional technology coaches who have been on that journey for nearly as long as I have. Upon reflection, I realized that, despite the fact that they have been working with their teachers for many years, our conversation still centered around whether we were using an LMS, which one we were using, and if GAFE or O365 was the right answer.

We lamented the fact that each of the schools has determined that there is not time in a student's school day for formal learning of technology. As a result, teachers are unwilling to try new technologies for fear that they'll have to spend a significant amount of instructional time teaching the tool. Our lament continued…, if no one teaches the skills, that excuse for not using the technology will continue to be valid.

All of us are still spending a considerable amount of time thinking about how teachers can post assignments and learning resources, create self-grading multiple-choice tests, and organize their thinking using digital tools. Don't get me wrong. These are all solid results of 1:1's, easy access to carts of tablets, computers, Chrome Books, and BYOD. However, it became clear to me that, 10 years later, we are still focused on logistics. And the folks I was talking with are the coaches who "get it." They understand that the role of technology is to be used to help students grow in their understanding of content, while creating, communicating, collaborating, and thinking critically. These are the coaches who spend time consulting with teachers on their instructional goals, gather data for them during lessons, and then provide opportunities for teachers to reflect on evidence from their lessons.

All of those around the table philosophically agreed that the combination of a master teacher and appropriate use of technology can engage students with content. Injecting job-embedded professional development, instructional coaching, into the mix provides ample opportunity for the continuation of PD beyond the drop-in session. Yet, 10 years later, none of us is where we want to be.

There is still so much work to be done.