As schools bring more technology into their classrooms and teachers strive to put more technology in their students' hands, schools are also planning more and more time for teacher training and ongoing professional development for implementing these changes. It is common knowledge (or at least it should be) that one-and-done professional development (PD), especially one-and-done PD that is centered around tech integration, is ineffective. So how do schools ensure that their staff has the ongoing support that they need to be successful?
Here is where schools can use the experts in their buildings to their advantage. Any teacher, whether novice or seasoned, requires time, support and reflection to successfully integrate technology into his or her classroom. Too often, the responsibility for that support lands on an IT department or a single Technology Integration Specialist. The former is a complete mismatch of expertise, and the latter often cannot possibly support an entire school of teachers unassisted.
So what's the solution?
Two Functions, Two People
Schools need to ensure that they have a network of mentors and can provide an adequate number of coaches to support teachers' technology integration efforts. Mentors and coaches, you say? Isn't that redundant?
As I've been learning recently (thanks to ASCD and some wise colleagues on Twitter), the two roles are very different and serve different purposes.
Imagine that you are a classroom teacher who wants to begin blogging with your students. You approach your colleague who has been blogging with his or her students for the last three months to get some advice and throw some ideas around. Voila: mentor.
Imagine that you are a classroom teacher who has just received a laptop cart in your classroom and received a three-hour training on how to turn them on, plus a quick overview of programs and applications, basic care and your personal responsibility for the machines. You are also told that a colleague will be working closely with you to help you implement this new technology successfully. This colleague will meet with you once a week, model lessons, share resources and reflect with you as you set goals for yourself. Voila: coach.
The Technology Integration Coach
Based on these descriptions, it may be easier now to see why it is necessary to have both roles in a school. Many schools already have Professional Learning Communities in place, which encompass this kind of support. These communities provide a place for teachers to air their frustrations, look for solutions and share resources. They also provide a space for reflective practice. The important aspect of these communities is that neither a coach nor a mentor is an evaluator of performance.
This kind of community also shows why, depending on the size of a school, a single Technology Integration Specialist cannot play the role of coach for the entire staff. Many schools already have Reading Coaches and Math Coaches, and it is definitely time for the role of Technology Integration Coach to be brought into the mix. Just changing the name from "Specialist" to "Coach" can do wonders for the relationship between teachers and the person in place to support them as they integrate technology.
However, it is also necessary that teachers work with and support each other through the process of mentorship. In every school there are teachers who are early adopters with technology, or those who are a little less leery of taking risks in the classroom. These teachers are a great resource to their colleagues as mentors -- someone to go to when you need ideas and resources. However, for the deeper reflection and support, teachers need the guidance of a coach, someone who is not also burdened by the day-to-day responsibilities of teaching a class.
Where to Go
For more on coaching, check out October's issue of Educational Leadership.
To learn more about the difference between mentoring and coaching, check out this article (please note that the author lists this as for individual use only): http://www.coachingandmentoring.com/Articles/mentoring.html
The Center for Coaching and Mentoring also has a wealth of resources in their newsletter articles: http://www.coachingandmentoring.com/newsletter.htm
A big thanks to Kent Manning for sharing these resources with me on Twitter.