Life as an Instructional Technology Coach

Last school year I was offered a new position in my school.  Prior to this change, I was one of my high school's two media specialists. The position I was offered was one I had been dreaming about for some time - Instructional Technology Specialist!

As a former high school English teacher, I loved creating my own resources for my students!  Prior to leaving the classroom for another position, I was experimenting a lot with technology and providing unique ways for my students to demonstrate their learning and knowledge.

I began utilizing technology and tech tools even more frequently in the 12 years I spent as a middle school and high school media specialist.  During this time, I began receiving an increasing number of requests from teachers to work with their students when creating podcasts, videos, or when using a new presentation tool.  In fact, during my last year as a school media specialist I was receiving more requests than I could handle!

The opportunity I am now provided is ideal for me. I can focus on working directly with teachers in order to enhance their instruction with technology.  I  am able to design PD training and materials that will allow teachers to personalize student learning through choices and differentiation.

Through my collaboration with teachers and my conducting professional development training, I've learned a lot the past two decades!  It's smooth sailing from here!  Right?


This brings me to where I am now.  Though I wouldn't change a thing about what I do and the passion I feel for this position, there are a few stumbling blocks and misconceptions that always seem to arise.  This post is written to address these issues.

1.  We are not experts in all things technology.

There really is no such thing as an expert in technology.  You have some who are more comfortable about technology.  Some of us are passionate about tech tools and the effective use of technology in education.  We seek new things to try.  We read blogs.  

We attend conferences - during our free time -  and over the summer - because we love technology THAT much!

ISTE Conference: San Antonio, June 2017

WE GEEK OUT over technology and the many ways it can benefit both teachers and students.

Despite our passion and enthusiasm, we aren't familiar with ALL new technology, all apps, and all tech tools.

We need time to look over the apps and sites you are interested in - time to examine free accounts vs. paid.  We need a discussion and collaboration to determine your end goals, what content you want to assess, what your expectations are, etc.

All tech tools are not equal.  It's not even about the tech tool - it's about learning and pedagogy.  It's about selecting the right tool that will serve its purpose and will meet your needs and the needs of all of your students.  In light of that, Instructional Technology Specialists or Technology Coaches don't operate on the fly!  We need prep time just like you do!

So, please give US a heads up and time to prepare.  That way, we can better serve you!  I personally never recommend a tech tool I haven't used myself! Please give us the time we need in order to do that!

This brings me to my next point - point number two.

2.  Instructional technology and network administration, hardware, and software maintenance are not the same thing.

Teachers frequently call me, email, or stop by to ask me to fix their Promethean Boards, help with their work laptop when they cannot login from home, help with a software program (that I don't use or maintain since I am not in the classroom nor am I our technology equipment/software contact person).  They still ask for help with their personal devices, help with the school copier....

See where this is going?  : )

Trust me when I say that I would be more than willing to help out if I had an all-encompassing knowledge of any and all things tech.  I don't.  

I will help if I can - regardless if it's my job responsibility or not. Teachers need help RIGHT NOW.  I definitely get that.  What is difficult to me, however, is when I hear..."since you are the technology expert..." 

Instructional technology and technology maintenance are two totally separate areas.

Most of us who work in instructional technology do learn to troubleshoot  various applications that we use, but many of us are still not the contact people, the go-to, the liaison, nor do we have the training to address all "technical issues."

This really is not so much a teacher problem but rather a communication issue or unfortunately, it could stem from a lack of support being given locally for hardware/software maintenance or not enough support being provided to schools on a district level.

Either way, we would appreciate a distinction being made and this being communicated in a helpful way to teachers.  We want this NOT because your asking for help is irritating or taking up the time we need, but because we really hate letting you down.  We hate saying - I don't know.  We don't like having to direct you to a different source  (or the person who HAS to be contacted for help) though it may take days to address the problem you are having. We want to help you right then, but sometimes we just can't.

3.  Instructional Technology Specialists and Technology Coaches love teachers who are open to trying new things.

I personally love it when a teacher contacts me and says, "Hey, our department needs fresh new ideas!  Can we meet with you?" "I want to try that video tool you showed us.  Can you help me set this up?"  "Can you come by in case I need help?"  

Yes. Yes. YES!

I will be there. Two heads are better than one.  I will ask you what your students need help with.  I will check to see if there are unique situations or obstacles.  I will ask to see your project materials so I can select the right tool for you and help create materials to ensure tech activities and projects contain the content that students need to know and that you need them to show!

If it should fail, I will be there by your side with a back-up plan.  We will get through it gracefully together.  I won't let you down.

I don't hesitate to tell students - "I'm not sure!" "I wish this website would do that, but I don't see that as an option.  If you can figure this out, please make sure you give me a heads up!"

There's no shame in mistakes or in not knowing all the answers.

Many times students have shown me things I didn't know about tech tools that I was supposedly teaching THEM to use!  Was it embarrassing to me?  

No!  I was thrilled!  I love it when students figure things out or discover a different way to do things - a capability that I didn't know about prior. That's one more handy tip I can provide to others.  I love it when the student steps into the role of teacher.  Rock on!

In fact, I make sure that I share what a student has discovered or taught me out loud to his or her classmates!  

It's about your attitude and your willingness to learn new things - to show your imperfection.

I've looked at a student before and said, "Ummmm...will you come up here and teach this because I'm beginning to think you know a lot more than me!"  

The class laughed.  They weren't laughing at me, but with me.  The student I was addressing for having those advanced skills beamed with pride.

At the end of the day, technology and tech skills are much more inherent with our younger generation than they will ever be to us.  Embrace that!  Utilize it! Let them teach you!  It's a beautiful thing!

Do not let your fear of the technology hold you back.  EVER!  It's all a learning experience.

We all stumble before we learn to walk.

4.  Though we love your bravery and open mind, we ask that you do your homework before trying to implement new educational technology.

Better yet, let us do the homework with you!  All programs, sites, and apps are not compatible with all devices.  Some things are free but contain limitations that will hinder your students from creating the end result you want.  When you reach out after the fact, it becomes awkward and difficult (if not impossible) to fix.  

Let us handle the compatibility issue.  Let us help in guiding you as to what tool you should choose according to what you want students to know and to learn.

This is what we do.  You are not bothering us by asking for that help.  

5. We are a team!  That's right!  You and I!

I want to enhance what you're already doing and teaching.  That being said, I want you to be by MY side.  In light of that, please don't grade papers or disengage while I am working with your students.

This takes a team effort.  I need you because you are the content area expert.  You also know your students the best!  

In order for you to continue implementing a tech tool, you will need to pay attention, also.  I am asking that you observe and see how I am helping others.  This will eventually allow you the independence you'll need to lead this project on your own.  

Even then, I will still be there for you and be your back up when needed.  

You have to get your feet wet before you can swim!

These are the things we want you to know.  Together, we are stronger!  

Let's never be afraid to forge forward as a team!

Are you ready for our next adventure? 

I know I am!

Digital Portfolio Tools for Education

As a former high school English teacher, then Library Media Specialist, and now Instructional Technology Specialist, I am always on the lookout for new presentation tech tools.

One of the biggest trends that I am seeing at all the recently attended ed tech conferences and workshops (including at this year's ISTE conference) is the emphasis on allowing the expression of student voice.

I was particularly touched by one of ISTE's keynote speakers,  Jennie Magiera.  I highly recommend all educators watch and listen to her inspiring words.

In her keynote address, Jennie discussed "single stories" and how we often rely and judge others on singular understandings of people based on a specific set of characteristics. The goal, she said, is to focus on addressing the untold story rather than the one that can be seen on the surface.

The mistake in making false presumptions and not looking beyond the surface is also beautifully expressed in author Chimamanda Adichie's TedEd Talk "The Danger of the Single Story."

In summation of Chimamanda Adichie's TedEd Talk:

"Chimamanda tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding."

As teachers, how can we allow students to express themselves and to let their own stories be heard?

A great way to allow for students to tell their stories is through the creation of student digital portfolios!

Digital portfolios can serve a variety of purposes.  Students are able to make them individualistic, have control over the look and design, while including content that they write, search for, and select. It becomes a  representation of who they are  - both as students and as people.

What a great way to highlight and showcase their unique voices in the classroom!

Two Free Tech Tools for Student Portfolio Creation

Tech Tool #1: Bulb

I love the polished look of Bulb digital portfolios. And it's free! Though teachers can pay for a subscription (which allows opportunities for a student management system and gives students the flexibility to work on portfolio pages collaboratively), the free accounts also provide more than enough options and features for students. One of the great features in Bulb is the ease of using Google Drive content.

Students can make pages private for public viewing but can share with individuals. Pages created using Bulb has a setting to allow others to comment. This feature provides  a great opportunity to share your portfolio pages and to receive feedback from peers.
The ability to type in content (along with the capability to stylize the font and to create hyperlinks), import Google Drive files, include embedded videos and audio, and insert images are just a few of the generous features that Bulb provides with their free accounts.

I used Bulb with the 12th grade English teachers at my school when they were searching for a new presentation tool to use for their students' Senior digital portfolios.

You can view the sample porfolio template I created for them HEREInterested in implementing Bulb in your classroom? 

Feel free to use my How-To Guide for Creating Bulb Digital Portfolios with your own students!  You will need to log into a Google Account in order to access and copy this guide into your Google Drive!

Tech Tool #2: Adobe Spark Pages.  

This summer, I had the pleasure of attending one'of Monica Burns's tech workshop sessions on creating classroom videos using Adobe Spark. I was so impressed at how user-friendly Adobe Spark is  - whether you create a video, post, or page.

This is a free tool that can be easily used with both secondary and elementary school  students.  Adobe Spark has a browser-based version and is also available as an iOS app

Interested in Adobe Spark's beta Google Play/Android app?  Register in order to use this soon-to-released version at their site.

Students can use virtually any device to create in Adobe Spark.  And it ALSO is free! Just like the website Bulb, students can use Adobe Spark to create dynamic, polished webpages.

There are many things I like about creating pages with Adobe Spark.  First, you can choose from their theme library in order to create different looks for your page (colors, font types, etc).

Secondly, you have great options for inserting images.  Students can use their photo tool to include a photo grid - which is basically a nice picture collage of images. You can also create a glideshow for your page background.  LOVE this!  If you include a glideshow, you will need to upload multiple images.  The resulting scrolling images give a unique panoramic look to your page.

Adobe Spark has a very clean, simple to use tool when creating content on a page.  Students just simply choose from text, photo, and video options.

Though it is very simple, the pages created using Adobe Spark do not appear to be simple or rudimentary.  They're modern and beautiful!

You check out this sample (fictitious) student portfolio page I created using Adobe Spark.

If you would like to use Adobe Spark in order to implement digital portfolios with your students, I recently created a resource for student digital portfolio pages that is featured in my teacherspayteachers store.
The resource is titled "What's Your Story?" and aligns with the theme of allowing student voice and providing an outlet for creative expression.

These top two technology tools are amazing resources for any teacher and students to use for their digital portfolio platforms. Make sure to check both of these dynamic websites and tech tools out!

What's Your Story?  Autobiographical Project