Saturday, May 30, 2015

Important Characteristics of a Technology Coach

School systems around the country are getting on board and seeing the importance of Instructional Technology Departments with "tech coaches" and because I've been doing it for a little bit I get asked quite often "What should it look like?" I believe every school has its own dynamics but after seeing this role in action for a few years now while, watching and hearing other people in this role, I think I can say there are things you should look for in a tech coach regardless of the school dynamics. While I think the role can be slightly different based on each school's needs, the character traits needed for success are closely the same.

Technology Coaches should be:

  • Innovative- My definition of innovation is the intersection of "need" and "passion" under an umbrella of creativity. That being said, your tech coach should have the type of personality that is constantly looking for new ways to meet the needs of students. Ways that typically haven't been done in the past. Your tech coach should be a creative soul.
  • Resourceful- Your tech coach should be someone that can think on their feet and adjust in the midst of a lesson. They are the ones the teachers are looking at to not feel intimidated by tech. When tech fails in a lesson (not IF but WHEN), a good tech coach has a backup plan and shows teachers that it isn't the end of the world. 
  • Fearless- Your tech coach shouldn't worry about failure. They should work within a culture where they have permission to try things that might not work. They should be the personality type that isn't so overly perfectionist that they can allow themselves to take chances that might lead to failure. This only works if the administration creates the type of environment that says "just learn from it for next time."
  • Tenacious- A good tech coach is much like a salesman. They can't sit in their office if teachers aren't wanting them in their rooms. They must push at times, pull at times, but they can't take "no" for an answer. A tech coach must have the support of their administration to hold teachers and students accountable for technology integration. This is the hardest point for me- to not take it personal when a teacher is anti-tech. A good tech coach can separate themselves from what they do so that they can keep relationships good.
  • Diplomatic- A good tech coach realizes you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. They work on being relational with the teachers they support, not dogmatic or dictating. A good tech coach meets the teachers where they are and holds their hand when needed but pushes them out of the proverbial nest when it's time.
  • Inquisitive- A good tech coach asks lots of questions of themselves, of their students, and of their teachers. They are in the hallways, listening to conversations, gleaning ways they might be more useful or resourceful. They are reaching out to their professional learning communities to see what others are doing. They are in contact with their professional learning networks to stay on top of the newest educational technology initiatives and innovations. Good tech coaches are connected educators.
  • Digital Leaders- The best tech coaches are digital leaders, not digital managers. In a recent post by my friend Katrina Keene, she hit the nail on the head about digital leaders. She says "digital leaders model effective digital tools, have a strategic vision for the digital age, inspire use of digital tools, inspire teachers to own their own learning, shape a new digital age culture"  (!What%20is%20Digital%20Leadership?/cufo/55675f530cf23d0164c8c2f8). And here lies the line in the sand- to me this is the hardest role to fill. A digital leader is a great tech coach and it is what separates the mediocre, good, and great. I believe you can be a digital manager and be a mediocre/good tech coach but to be a GREAT tech coach, schools should be looking for digital leaders. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Why Being Average Is So Hard

"At the end of the school year my heart saddens for the average kid. The kid who didn't receive the plethora of accolades that others hauled home from end-of-the-year ceremonies. Not because the ones who received the awards weren't worthy of the award, but that there are a ton of kids out there giving it all they've got for the low B or the high C. Ah, those trophies and treasures. My prayer is that we all teach that those are the shiny things that are of greatest value living there on our insides. Character, commitment & excellence. Yes, everyone can excel in these three. May we all look to find these in each face we teach and parent." - Meghan Casey Cobble.

This blog post started with the above post my friend Meghan had on Facebook, but the sentiments could have been written by me. These are thoughts I deal with on a weekly basis. How best can we meet the needs of the average child and help them to see their worth and value? I've blogged around the idea before, today I will blog it headlong.

Schools spend extra time and money trying to meet the needs of student learning in the extremes- in fact, they are required by law to meet those students needs of the low achievers and the high achievers- therefore, the accountability of laws make states, administration, service staff, and teachers focus on these students. This is important, I am not saying that it isn't. Schools also spend funds trying to help students find their niche that isn't maybe "rigorously academic-based." For instance- the athlete, the actor, the singer, the artist, all have self confidence, much like the student that excels in learning due to the fact they have found something that pulls them out of the mundane of everyone else.

The average child that is not plugged in and the lower-level learners don't have this confidence thing going on. Yet that lower-level learner tends to have more one-on-one instruction/mentoring time to offset this issue. Connections matter! But what about the average child? How can we help them to feel confident and valued? My heart aches in this because there were times I was that kid. I was borderline average/above average most of my school career but the thing that kept me going was that I truly loved learning and had a knack for writing.

I have two children of my own that fall into that "average" ranking that don't necessarily love learning as a rule. Learning is hard for them at times. Frustrations are high for them at times. Successes are measured differently for them than for some students. There have been times I have definitely been guilty of pushing them too hard- as an educator and a mom. The truth is, there are times I've been disappointed as an educator and a mom- not just disappointed in their grades but in my inability to help them see their worth outside of their grades. I'll be honest, I probably own the angst of this more than the typical "mom educator" should.

How do I, as a mom, encourage them to be their best without smothering them or pressuring them? How do I, as an educator, see students like them and help them see their positive attributes to this world? It is a struggle for me, I will not lie, and I don't think I am alone. Average kids fly under the radar so much of the time- sometimes we don't know if they are meeting their potential or if they are skating on the "good enough" rink they have been placed.

Here is what I know- these are the kids that look back at high school and don't have a lot of fond memories. These are the kids that think there has to be an easier path, a better fit, nicer people, at the school down the road. These are the kids we often let down because they are either "easy," or because we perceive they just don't care so we don't seek to engage them. BUT these are the kids I'm passionate about- the kids I want to figure out better ways to reach. I'm open to suggestions and ideas, I'm willing to take the blame for my part, I want to help be a change agent in this area. Maybe it's because I was a "fall between the cracks" student that it makes me want to work hard to cause a culture change. Anyone with me?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Think Star Trek: Next Generation- Technology as an Accelerator

I don't admit this often but there was a time in my life that I didn't miss an episode of Star Trek: Next Generation. Just for the record, before the judgments begin- I didn't have a Trekie costume nor did I ever go to a convention. This admiration is way before I had decided to be a teacher but the idea of holograph rooms, telaportation, and all the gadgets that went along with planet exploration kept my attention week after week. My "hay day" with being enamored with the show was circa early to mid 1990's. I think back to that time and see how real some of those innovative gadgets on that show really are today. For example:

  • Augmented reality and holograph technology is here. It's being used in the classroom to pull students in, to give visuals that have never been available before in 3D/4D ability (for instance
  • Wearable technology is here; the weirdness level will become less weird and the price point will continue to drop. We will see more and more of the population, student and beyond, talking into the watch on their arm or blinking to see incoming emails, texts, or videos. Are we all going to be like "Data"?
  • While telaportation for humans isn't here, with the use of Skype, Google Hangouts, and FaceTime we can communicate with each other in real-time meetings. With the very recent invent of Periscope and Meerkat we can also be a part of events anywhere in the world in real-time. It's not telaportation but it's getting there.
What does all this mean? Technology is an accelerator- in life and in the classroom. In twenty or so years since I watched Star Trek: Next Generation in an almost non-believable sense of futuristic nonsense, we are seeing those novelties come to fruition. For many of us, the greatest benefit of technology is that it allows us to get more done in a shorter amount of time- not in a lazy sense of "I don't have to work as hard" but in the sense of "I can focus on other things that I never could before" way.

Technology in an accelerator in terms of flipped learning. Students can watch videos and take pre-assessments as homework the night before a new unit and teachers can spend more time working one-on-one with the students in the midst of processing. This approach takes a day of instruction away because it is done at home and allows teachers to have more flexible time to meet curriculum needs.

Technology is an accelerator in terms of the amount and path of learning for our students. We give students topics for research and with a few key strokes they are on their way to discovering insurmountable amounts of information. They then start narrowing down their topic of choice and quickly curate all that information into usable data for the lesson at hand. What once meant going to the library, seeking the card catalog, perusing a few pages of several books, going back to the card catalog, and repeating now has been streamlined because of "one stop shopping" of research due to the Internet. Technology allows students to dig more efficiently. 

Technology is an accelerator in terms of assessment. Software and apps have intricate algorithms built into them that allows teachers to gather data quickly and often to assess student understanding. Teachers now have the ability to personalize learning more than ever before because of this capability.

Technology is an accelerator in terms of communication. In my entire k-12 experience I never once contacted one of my teachers to ask them a question outside of the school day. E-mail didn't exist, teachers didn't give out their home phone numbers, and the culture was different. Today, technology allows teachers, parents, and students to be in more constant contact (for better or worse) to meet the individual students needs in real-time (or at least in much sooner time) than ever before.

I found this quote on Twitter via Fishtree Education this morning and it inspired this blog: "Curriculum is the road, pedagogy is the driver, technology is the accelerator, passion is the gas, student learning is the destination." I like the overarching attitude about education indicated in this quote.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Happy #TruthBombs of EdCamp GigCity

Yesterday, after weeks of preparation, EdCamp GigCity came and went. That sounded simple, didn't it? Ha! It was one of the most stressful days I've had in a long time and a completely roller coaster ride week but I want to share the powerful inspiration I saw from this exciting edCamp GigCity experience. I choose positive thinking.

  • There is safety in cross-school collaboration. When you are in a room with other educators and transparency happens, it feels somewhat easier to share struggles and successes. I'm not sure why; Maybe it is pride in your "home school" about successes. Maybe it feels easier to share failures with outsiders because you realize all these other schools have them too. Sharing with educators in your building adds the fear of judgment, sharing with non-building educators doesn't leave that hanging over you- just a thought.
  • There is beauty in corporate learning. Brainstorming, roundtable discussions where there is the ability to share and ask questions allows for maximum results of information. When I look at the shared notes folders that were set up for edcamp gigcity which can still be accessed at  I realize just how much learning was going on yesterday. Before we broke up for sessions, questions were asked like "What's augmented reality? PBL? Flipped learning?" Things that I take for granted as an instructional technologist, but quite honestly those questions made me excited for the day- it meant some teachers were going to have their socks rocked off- and I'm fairly sure I'm not wrong. Which leads me to the next point...
  • There is value in blowing someone's mind. It happens to me as well- I go to the ISTE conference and feel like I am in "information overload" mode but what happens is that after I self-curate all the amazing things I've learned I come out with a "nugget of wisdom" (or two) to implement. Sometimes conferences/edcamps/professional development days feel like learning through a fire hose, but the value is that within the overwhelming amount of intake usable information comes forth for future greatness.
  • There is awesomeness in the fact that edCamps aren't Tech camps. I'll be honest, even though I repeated this 27 times, because I was pushing it, most teachers thought it was a tech conference at my school. I love edCamps because they are NOT tech camps, therefore the "techies" aren't the smartest people in every room. Everyone brings value to an edCamp because the path of learning is based on all those lovely little sticky notes that started the day- the ones where anyone in the room could say, "I wanna learn this!" edCamps tend to have many technology-based sessions due to the educators that tend to attend but it isn't locked into just that. I love this fact because it allows us to learn from everyone in attendance.
  • There are outstanding educators choosing to better themselves on Saturdays. On. A. Saturday. Educators that worked all week dealing with the frustrations of "end of year personalities" choose to better their practice. They made the choice to be a part of learning ON. A. SATURDAY. Do you see the awesomeness of that statement? Yeah- 136ish educators that care enough about what they do to come to an unconference on. a. Saturday. Ok, ok...I may have gone to far with that point but what I am trying to say is that there are outstanding educators out there in our community and beyond. Everyday on the news we hear the negatives of schools in our area but I'm here to tell you that I met a ton of teachers and administrators yesterday that care about what they do and how they do it. They should be applauded.
  • There is innovative dreaming for the future of education. I wrote a recent post about the value of innovation in education- yesterday I saw it firsthand. I saw teachers asking questions, leading discussions, weighing possibilities and thinking "what if..."- I totally, completely LOVE "what if" thinking educators. I was fairly busy doing behind the scenes stuff during the day but I did get to pop in and out of a few sessions. I myself have a "what if..." moment I hope to implement next year from listening to what the Sequatchie county school system is doing with a "student tech club." I can't wait to see what people had to say on their exit form to see what they got from the day as well.
  • There are determined outstanding educators all around me. Wowsers. I loved listening to what was going on in the schools represented in those sessions. I was blown away by the intelligence in the rooms. We need to tap into this greatness. We need to visit each other and see what's happening. We need to grow these newfound relationships- after this weekend, our PLN (professional learning network) exploded. We don't need this to be the end, we need edCamp GigCity to be the jump off point for continued greatness and learning. We need to follow each other on Twitter and communicate via educational Twitter chats, we need to follow up with our home schools and make suggestions to those around us to connect with those we met. There is such great value in breaking down the silos of not only our own rooms but our own schools. One tweet I 100% agree with said, "Build collaborative culture not competitive - open the doors of learning from each other " -@hollowayreader. This is an opportunity for us- it is up to us to move forward with it. We talked summer "lunch and learn" networking opportunities that would continue to include private and public educators. This excites me.
  • There are educational administrators that see the inspirational benefit of the edCamp model. I was thankful for the attendance and support of various administrators at this event. Educators that see their administrators value edcamps see the value themselves. Those are the type of principals/ administrators that see teachers willing to think outside the box because they feel safe to innovatively think. My "YES" moment of the day was when the assistant superintendent of Hamilton County schools tweeted  "Most significant edu discussion I've had in years #makerspace #edcampgigcity" -@RRSharpe. He's not even my administrator but to me this was an epiphany moment. He spent the day going from session to session, listening and learning. There was nothing he could really implement in the classroom but he was supporting the Hamilton County teachers there and listening to their hearts and minds. He got it.
I realize the experience may not have been what everyone was looking for but I woke up this morning tweeting the Chatt Tech Crew about things we could do to make the next one better. What a gloriously wonderful day of collaboration and learning that I now have in my educational toolbox for the future.

Monday, May 4, 2015

What are you known for?

If I am walking down the halls of school as kids are coming into the "holding tank" before school starts, I say "Good morning!" to every student I pass in different ways- sometimes I sing it, sometimes I use a silly voice, sometimes I give a fist bump but regardless, I intentionally speak to every person I pass. This week a parent said, "my daughter loves the mornings when you pass her in the hallway, she always tells me about it." Folks, I'm probably the least likely "morning person" that you know- but I'm now known for my bubbly morning greetings.

Several years ago my husband opened a donut shop, Chattanooga's Julie Darling Donuts. He chose to use my name in the business name. On a fairly regular basis I get asked questions about the business and donuts because I'm the "icon" but folks, I've never made a donut in my life. I've signed autographs, had my photo taken with costumers, and to some I am known as the "local donut lady."

This week, I had the honor of being listed as writing one of the Top 50 Must Read I.T. Blogs for 2015. I'm number 48 on a list of amazing blogs- some of them are full time presenters and publishers. This acknowledgement of my blog seems to have immediately affected my "standings" in educational technology credibility. Did I change as an instructional technologist since I first started blogging several years ago? No, but I am now viewed as someone worthy to be listened to and followed due to EdTech Magazines recent article.

Some of the ways we are viewed in life we have no control over- they happen due to our choices and the views of others towards us. Sometimes we do, say, or accept things that affect the ways others see us as well. 

As I've thought on this, I've realized the roller coaster of life for myself- the positive and negative ways I've been  viewed in my lifetime are longlasting and far reaching. As an educator, I relate to administration, children, parents, and co-workers everyday and they view me based on biases, experiences, and words that have been formed in their minds regarding me. As somewhat of a people pleaser, that sometimes petrifies me.

Everyday I try to be a positive, helpful, encouraging, loving, innovating, educator in the lives of others. At the end of the day I sometimes fail in any one or all of those areas but I strive to be better the next day. But I'm in it to be a game-changer. I can go through the motions and just see what happens or I can be intentional about the type of changes I want to see in education and how I can be a part of those changes in a positive way. I'm not a fan of status quo- I am not a fan of complacency. I desire to be better and do better. Sadly, if you aren't moving forward as an instructional technologist, you are not drifting in place- you are falling behind. I don't believe the educational technology field allows for stagnancy. My world is constantly changing with the advent of new apps, gigs, and educational philosophies that bring it all together. I choose to be remembered as a digital learning leader. How do you want to be viewed as an educator?