Integrating Technology Instructional Coaching
Hampton High School has integrated technology across its entire program with a full-time instructional coach who supports the teachers in this work. The presence of a coach sharpens the school's focus on how technology can best make the learning more engaging and relevant for students, and gives teachers support in navigating the vast field of technology applications and devices. Many teachers either do not have the time or might even be resistant to bringing technology into their classroom; others may think it's just about doing the same thing with new tools. A good instructional coach not only provides teachers with the resources, support, and know-how on working with technology, but also ensures the smart use of technology to deepen the teaching and learning for all involved.
Funding: How They Got Started
Hampton High School initially received funds from the state-funded “Classrooms for the Future,” Pennsylvania’s three-year grant program that gave schools technology equipment and required them to turn a classroom teacher into an instructional coach to help support technology use. The idea was to bring technology into the schools along with a practitioner who would be trained to help teachers learn and integrate the technology in their classrooms. After the funding ended, Hampton High School approached its school board and made an argument for how the instructional coach role had developed their capacity to collaborate, increased student engagement, and was essential to their school's continued growth. The board has been funding the full-time instructional tech coach position ever since.
Bringing Teachers on Board
Principal Jeff Finch admits that the first year of having an instructional coach to integrate technology was a hard sell for teachers. Some were resistant to technology, while others didn't have the time or interest in changing their lesson plans. The school administration found that a good way to initiate momentum is to start with those teachers who are already willing and excited to work with technology, or who like experimenting with new opportunities and collaborating. Working with this group during year one is a good way to bring others on board by showcasing what has been accomplished.
During staff meetings and professional development days, Principal Finch would ask Andrew Halter, the instructional tech coach, and his teacher partners to present some of the work they were doing. As teachers learned about the coach's role, witnessed what others were actually accomplishing, and saw the praise they were getting for their collaboration, school-wide momentum began building. During that first year, Andrew had to go out and rally teachers to work with him. Now, his schedule is packed as teachers willingly and happily want to work with him and learn how tech can enhance their curriculum and deepen student engagement. Eventually, the school got to the point where they had very few teacher holdouts, and instructional coaching with Andrew became part of teachers' yearly goal setting.
Key Questions for Integrating Technology
A key part of understanding how best to integrate technology grasping that no one should use technology for its own sake. Technology is more than the bells and whistles of new tablets or laptops in the classroom. Sometimes, introducing technology can ruin what is already working well in the classroom. The goal should be thinking about using the technology to effectively change or enhance instruction, so that you are doing something greater or more efficiently by using it.
Starting with a solid instructional idea is a key place to begin. Then you can figure out how technology can enhance the unit, lesson plan, curriculum, project, assessment, etc. Here are some key questions to consider when thinking about technology integration:
- Why do you want to use this technology here?
- Why hasn't the approach that you've been doing in the past worked?
- How do you hope the technology will change it?
- Can the technology make this idea more relevant to students?
- Can it push the lesson up a notch, or can it enhance things for students by allowing them to do something that they couldn't do without the technology? For example, does the technology allow students to collaborate beyond the classroom walls?
- Is the technology making possible a certain level of transparency for the teacher to assess where students are individually?
- Does the technology provide a platform for students to be creative without overbearing them with gadgets and apps?
Thinking through these questions can begin to give a direction on how best to use technology in your classroom.
Role of Tech Instructional Coach
The instructional coach provides a range of support and resources to teachers around technology integration. This isn't the tech support guy who comes into the classroom to fix the printer or install software. The coach is here to help teachers to improve practice, whether it's using technology, trying different strategies, exploring new classroom or literacy approaches, or finding resources to support them in their day-to-day teaching. The coach also acts as a conduit of best practices, working with teachers across the school, and sharing what's worked, what can be adapted, and how to do it.
It's important to remember that the instructional coach is not a content expert in all areas. Rather, teachers remain the content experts, while coaches bring some creative ideas, resources, and support to the table.
The Coaching Cycle
Like many instructional coaches, Andrew uses the BDA (Before, During, After) coaching cycle with teachers.
Before meeting with a teacher, he will touch base with them. Sometimes it may be informally, like in the teacher's room, where he asks how their semester is going and tries to get a sense of how he might be able to help. If the teacher is interested, he starts generating ideas around their particular classroom needs. Andrew will then prep some resources and materials for specific lessons or units before formally meeting with the teacher. He'll collect information on navigating all the different technologies out there, and come up with some tech applications to enhance the lesson. During their formal meeting, Andrew will share ideas or useful things that other teachers have done with technology in their classrooms, and a plan will begin to emerge around redesigning the lesson with meaningful tech integration.
During the course of working together, Andrew will sometimes co-teach the class. Sometimes, he is there as classroom support while they implement a new lesson utilizing technology. Other times, he works with students in the class as additional support while the teacher is using the technology. Occasionally, he leads the class and models for the teacher how to work with a specific technology.
After implementation, Andrew follows up with teachers to find how things went. This process of reflection and refining takes place for individual lessons as well as whole units. In these evaluations, he asks:
- Do they need to troubleshoot something, so that it's easier next time around?
- Did the implementation bring up new questions or needs for the teacher?
- What was successful and what still could be tweaked for a more refined delivery?
- What does the teacher still need help with?
Ultimately, the coach takes the burden of technology off the teachers. They no longer feel the pressure of needing to know all the ins and outs of how technology works, or of how to do it all themselves. Instead, they can focus on understanding the collaborative tools available to students, the multiple means of showing their understanding, and the ways to create a lesson that will engage different types of learners who have grown up with technology.
In addition, Andrew designs professional development workshops for teachers in technology. Among many other topics, he has provided workshops on flipped learning, developed online courses for teachers on Web 2.0, and explored universal design for learning and differentiated instruction. His role is bringing tech integration into the school on several levels.
A Flexible Schedule to Meet Teacher Needs
The coach's schedule is fairly flexible, allowing him to best meet teachers' needs. They can schedule an appointment or drop by Andrew's office any time he is available. They might show up during their prep period to discuss working together, or to follow up on something they're already working on. Andrew typically works with several teachers during the course of the day, prepping, observing, or implementing a lesson. The rest of that time is spent on planning and researching what was discussed with a teacher. His schedule allows him to do the research, find resources for teachers, and do the things that teachers may not have time to do in their limited planning periods.
Teachers can write working with an instructional coach into their professional goal setting for the year. They can plan to meet with Andrew X number of times and design lessons related to tech integration. If things are ever slow in Andrew’s schedule, he will "drum up business" by chatting informally with teachers, observing them in class as a non-evaluative peer, and providing ideas based on how what he's seeing could be enhanced through technology. These conversations often lead to co-planning and working together.
The role of the instructional tech coach has been immeasurable at Hampton High School. It's brought even the most resistant teachers on board once they had someone who could support and guide them. It's provided the school with more meaningful instruction, engaged students more deeply, and given teachers the tools to best meet their students' needs.