1d. Initiate & sustain technology innovations

Reflection

I believe that to truly initiate and sustain technology innovations, schools must reconsider traditional methods of professional development. 

Outsiders delivering outdated one-and-done professional development sessions often lack the personal connection to attendees that is crucial to tailoring and initiating development. Further, this outdated model does nothing to sustain the innovation long-term. The solution is coaching, whether utilizing the role of a TOSA (Teacher on Special Assignment), Director of Academic Technology, or simply asking knowledgeable teachers to participate in peer coaching.

Research supports the idea that ongoing learning is best supported by collaboration and coaching. This is the conclusion reached in the thorough and fascinating 2014 study done by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on what teachers need from professional development.

Below are two pieces of evidence I’ve collected to demonstrate competence within this substandard. The first is a set of two blog posts that give an overview of effective peer coaching and how the inquiry method can support coaches as they oversee the change process in schools. My next piece of evidence provides two creative strategies coaches can use to initiate and sustain technology innovations: EdCamps and Appy Hours.

Evidence: Initiating Change through Peer Coaching

When I think about the potential of professional development and coaching I’m reminded of the popular proverb of the man and the fish. If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. But if you teach him to fish, he will eat for a lifetime. I feel that professional development and coaching can be viewed through a similar lens. Professional development is often seen as a once and done training. For instance, “We just got Schoology! Here’s a two-hour session and that’s all you’ll ever hear about this particular tool.” On the other hand, effective coaching can plant seeds that enable and equip teachers to find resources and explore innovations for the rest of their careers.

With this philosophy in mind, I spent some time reflecting on the work I’ve done regarding coaching. The Digital Education Leadership program changed my perspective on coaching in many regards. Rather than a “gotcha” tool or yet another task to complete, peer coaching can support teachers in a collaborative and supportive way as they implement new innovations. In the linked blog posts below, I explore what effective peer coaching looks like and how inquiry can be a powerful tool for coaches to support teachers in becoming innovators.

Evidence: Teachers as Allies in the Change Process

EdCamp and Appy Hour are two outside-of-the-box ways to approach initiating and sustaining innovation in schools. Having participated in both forms of professional development over the years, I found them to be inspiring and effective. Both ideas (along with many other creative approaches to professional development) can be found in the book Four O’Clock Faculty by Rich Czyz which I highly recommend.

Image credit: @4OClockFaculty

EdCamp:

EdCamps are a unique form of collaboration where teachers from different schools get together and choose which topics they want to discuss through the course of the day. Instead of having a strict schedule determined by administrators, topics are open-ended and can change as needs arise. Typical EdCamp events happen on a weekend day and last several hours. EdCamp is all about the power of sharing and connection.

Rich Czyz, author The Four O’Clock Faculty, suggests using a blended model for EdCamp where several sessions are preplanned based on anticipated needs and interests of attendees while other slots are left open for spontaneous discussions. Whether you are using a completely open-ended model with rooms sorted by topics for discussion (such as “Google Forms”) with no set presenter, or going a more traditional route and having presenters lead specific sessions, the format will look very different from traditional conferences. It will sound like a conversation, not a lecture. Ideas will be shared and collaboration encouraged. Central to the idea of EdCamp is that all educators attending have valuable insight and contributions into the various topics covered.

One unique aspect of EdCamp is that it’s completely acceptable to walk out of a session if it’s not meeting your needs. Another interesting aspect of EdCamp is the end of the day ‘smackdown session’ where educators stand up and share out something they learned throughout the course of the day.

You can learn more and search for EdCamps near by using their website

Appy Hour

I first was exposed to the idea of Appy Hour at the first school I ever worked at. The school had an amazing technology integration specialist who inspired me to push myself in terms of how I was using technology in my classroom. The specialist hosted after school events that were narrow in scope and scaffolded based on level. For instance, there might be an ‘Intro to Google Classroom’ Appy Hour and on a different day there would be a Level 2 session. For an informal hour, teachers would enjoy snacks and treats while exploring a new tool with a presentation geared toward their interest and level. After a short presentation, teachers had an opportunity to work with the tool one on one with the support of the specialist and peers. 

Reflecting back on this model, I feel there were three key factors to success. One was the energy that the specialist brought to these presentations. They were a wonderful time of communication and collaboration which felt more like hanging out with friends then getting through a boring professional development session. Another key element of success was the fact that the sessions were tailored to specific interest and level. This personalized learning worked well because teachers were engaged and their time respected. A final component of success (which admittedly not all districts could afford) was the fact that our school provided hourly pay to attend these sessions.

A different version of the Appy Hour as featured in the book has the coordinator selecting a few teachers or students to present a new tool or app at the start of the meeting. They spend just two minutes ‘selling’ that particular tool and then they move to tables to oversee different stations. Based on interest, teachers attending the development get to choose which station to visit and begin to work with the tool. When they feel they have the basics covered, they move on to the next station. 

If you’d like to explore a creative approach to Appy Hour from an elementary level coach, Kristy Rocquin has some wonderful resources on this site.

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