Earlier this year, I had a chance to email a few questions to the authors of Naturalizing Digital Immigrants: The Power of Collegial Coaching for Technology Integration, in particular Dr. Dawn K. Wilson and Dr. Katie Alaniz.
As you know, I’ve been looking into the role of “technology coach” or digital coach as ISTE refers to it. I really see the role of coach as a natural evolution of the instructional technology specialist position, which in my opinion, has been stymied and hit a dead-end (or a cul-de-sac that involves circling for a way onward! haha).
Source: Wilson, D. K., & Alaniz, S. K. (2015). Coaching for technology integration: A peer partnership approach. AACE Conference Proceedings. – Presentation
One of the fears I’ve heard folks express is, “What cultural changes have to happen to make these positions possible in our schools?” I know we have coaches already, but they are seldom required to have technology skills. I explore this in one of my latest blog entries, Through the Neck of the Hourglass: Exploring #educoach and #growthmindset via #edtechcoach.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to chat further with Dr. Dawn Wilson and Dr. Kate Alaniz. Questions appear in bold with their responses as quoted text.
Question #1. What do you think of the role of instructional technology specialists? Should those disappear and give way to digital coaching positions?
In reflecting on this question, we were challenged by a former instructional technology graduate student, who seemed surprised at the suggestion of no longer hiring instructional technologists. In her thinking, “We worked hard to get these degrees in instructional technology, and now you are suggesting that districts don’t need instructional technologists anymore?” In reality, our book suggests just the opposite. We certainly do not suggest that instructional technologists are no longer needed, and we also don’t advocate for combining the role of content specialist with instructional technologists, thereby streamlining personnel into fewer positions.
In fact, we believe there is a need for more boots on the ground, or additional specialists helping teachers integrate technology with greater content expertise. Schools need to ensure that content specialists and instructional technology specialists are provided meaningful opportunities to collaborate with one another and those teachers they are supporting, thus providing faculty with multiple “digital learning specialists” on each campus. Their titles are ultimately irrelevant, but what they do is critical. They must work shoulder-to-shoulder with teachers to focus on effectively teaching content through instructional design and technology integration (when appropriate) that addresses students’ needs.
2. Do you think we are placing the emphasis on a title rather than what they are doing? Whenever I bring this up to colleagues, people tell me “Technology” or “Digital” should appear in front of “coach.” To not do that means that technology focus is subsumed into curriculum and lost. How do you address those fears about recalcitrant school cultures who may not embrace this position and the activity unless it is appropriately named? How would we change the culture to accept the change?
Some technologists are fulfilling the responsibilities of a tech coach, but not all of them are doing so. Thus, we think schools must focus on these specialists’ day-to-day activities rather than their title. Context must also be considered. That is why the activities that the “learning specialist,” “digital learning partner,” or “digital learning specialist” perform with the teacher are the most important component, not what they are called.
You asked, “How would we change the culture to accept this concept?” In addressing this concern, we suggest starting with instructional technologists and having them collaborate with instructional coaches to share expertise in content, pedagogy, and technology knowledge. By combining knowledge and skills from both perspectives, the technologist coaches the instructional specialist and the instructional specialist coaches the technologist, thus creating a sort of information sharing. In the end, both groups of people learn and grow in order that they can more effectively perform the work we want these “coaches” to fulfill (as noted in our book) – yielding more boots on the ground.
3. What are some of the critical elements needed in order for the coaches to be successful?
In our own work, we have experienced that the most important criteria for a digital learning specialist is that they are respected for their own work in the classroom, both as a teacher who uses technology effectively and often, as well as a trusted colleague who will not openly share their teammates’ secrets. This is important because teachers will want to learn from someone who has lived in their shoes and prompted great achievement among students while using various technological tools.
One campus we have dealt with quite a bit is structured so that their technology coach teaches a few classes every morning and then supports teachers with their various classroom integration needs every afternoon. This allows the coach to earn credibility among the teachers while never losing contact with what it is like to be in the classroom. In fact, at this particular school, even many of the administrators teach a unit of instruction to students for a couple of weeks out of every year.
We believe that when coaches are seen as “partners” rather than elevated “specialists,” they will garner more cooperation and less resistance from teachers who might otherwise elect not to implement technology tools. This teaching responsibility isn’t required, but in observing experiences of coaches on their own campuses, we believe that part of their success comes because they are first a teacher and co-worker (without any real authority over anyone), and second a partner or peer that has a vested interest in helping colleagues to be successful.
4. What should be the goal of the technology coach? How do you know when the goal has been met?
In our book, we refer quite a bit to “ripples.” We believe the successful integration ripples from teacher to teacher, and these transformations are the most effective way to help other teachers to consider new tools for instruction. If a campus relies only on just one or two specialists to “infect” the teachers with the “technology bug,” they will probably never reach all of the teachers. However, when a coached teacher participates in meaningful integration experience and then shares it with a colleague, the ripples begin.
As Katie was sharing just this last week, such ripple effects have played a tremendous role on her campus in teachers’ willingness to consider new integrational opportunities for iPads. After she coached one kindergarten teacher in planning and implementing a lesson with the ChatterPix Kids app, another kindergarten colleague happen to pass by and hear of the ideas and excitement surrounding this lesson. The colleague was impressed to learn that the students would be using this app to create multimedia text-to-self connections after reading a book together in class, and she decided to implement the same lesson the very next day! The excitement had created ripple effects that will continue to open new doors for meaningful technology integration among this team and throughout other teaching teams in the school.
5. What is the best approach to spreading this type of innovation?
We believe the goal should be to use ripples to “infect” as many teachers as possible, in order that everyone will eventually be in on the “ coaching” activity. In this way, the entire campus will be transformed into a learning community, with colleagues simultaneously supporting other colleagues. Success is evident when coaches are coaching teachers who are coaching teachers.
Special thanks to Dr. Alaniz and Dr. Wilson for sharing their insights and wisdom in writing. This blog entry was written almost entirely by them and any errors are mine alone. Expect a series of podcasts in the future, and you can pre-order a copy of their book!
Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure