Yes, I know Chromebooks, but do I know enough about these teachers to be able to help them?”
This spring, I had the opportunity to support two pairs of Gladstone teachers (two middle and two high school teachers) as they enriched their teaching with new sets of Chromebooks. I was excited, but I also had my concerns. I worried that, as someone from outside of their school district, I didn’t know enough about the teachers’ contexts to give them what they needed. I didn’t know the obvious things: their curriculum, their personal strengths, or their existing technological practices. And I certainly didn’t know the more subtle intricacies that make each school and each teacher unique such as teaching styles and school culture.
Yet, as soon as we jumped in, my concerns dissipated. Far from being Chrome newbies, it quickly became apparent that these teachers were already doing a lot with technology and they were ready to do more. These teachers were receptive to new ideas, and wanted to learn how to further enrich their teaching.
In the first session, we established priorities and set goals. The high school teachers wanted to find ways to use the Chromebooks to develop student grammar in writing. They set up NoRedInk accounts and planned student grammar journals, requiring students to apply new skills in practice. The middle school teachers focused on planning technology rich projects. Read Teaching the Importance of Diversity in Science for an overview of a culminating lesson.
I recently heard Alisa Simeral, co-author of Building Teachers’ Capacity for Success, speak about the central role that reflection plays in learning. As I reflect on my experience, these are the aspects that went well:
- A focus. Preparation and a specific purpose helped keep each session on track. Accomplishing the goals for one session led naturally to next steps for subsequent sessions.
- Dedicated time. It’s tempting, but unrealistic, to always wish for more time; the key is to make full use of the time you do have together. A Google Doc tracked our goals, discoveries, and ongoing questions so we could hit the ground running.
- An equal relationship. Going in, I knew I had just as much to learn from the teachers and they had from me.
- Presence. While norms never needed to be explicitly discussed, everyone committed to putting aside distractions and being “present” when we met.
Of course, after reflection, there are things I’d do differently. If possible, I’d find a way into their classrooms earlier to observe how the technology was being used and be available to co-teach or support a lesson. Also, to make learning more continuous, I would explore a better communication system to keep the back-and-forth going in between sessions.
Fortunately, my initial concern that my lack of context would limit my ability to support these teachers proved largely unfounded. In fact, one of the teachers expressed the opposite: she actually valued my role as an “outsider.” I was able to contribute fresh ideas, not limited by internal constraints. Whether or not my contributions were realistic, they pushed teachers to challenge their thinking and imagine completely new possibilities.
In the end, just as there are many types of effective coaches in education, sports, or life , there is no one right “framework” for technology coaching. What’s most important is participants meeting each other where they are, collaborating, and committing themselves to learning.