As an Educational Technology Coach, I have been fortunate enough to work with so many amazing educators from across the DDSB. I truly love getting the opportunity to sit with a passionate teacher and co-plan a lesson or unit and help them find ways to integrate technology into their great ideas, and that was what I believed the most valuable part of my role was: to help teachers find ways to integrate technology into their classrooms. However, I had an appointment recently that made me rethink my role and what I can offer to the teachers that I support.
Back in November, I spent three days at Bobby Orr P.S. in Oshawa where an amazingly dedicated P.L.P. teacher named Vicki Davis booked an appointment with me for each of the days I was at her school. While I really enjoyed working with her, I also felt somewhat ineffective since each appointment included at least one tech-related question from her that I was unable to answer. I always felt like I was saying “I’ll have to look into that and get back to you.” My lack of answers to her questions never seemed to bother her (in fact, I feel like she quite enjoyed stumping the tech guy), we just moved on and continued to work on different ways she could utilize technology to support her students’ various needs and learning styles.
On the last of my three days there, she was my last appointment of the day and at the end of another great collaborative discussion, she asked when I would be back. When I told her that I had several other schools to support, so I wouldn’t be back for a few months, she became visibly upset. I was a little caught off guard by this as I felt like I had fallen short on supporting her because I had not had immediate answers to all of her questions. She quickly apologized for her reaction and explained that she was upset because she hadn’t realized how much she missed working collaboratively with another educator. She went on to explain that as a teacher in a small class placement, she often feels like an “island”, separate from the other teachers in the school and that the few periods she had spent working with me had reawakened her love for teaching, her creativity and her desire to grow and learn herself.
This interaction made me realize that she didn’t care at all that I hadn’t had an answer ready for every tech-related question she threw at me. What she valued was the opportunity to discuss, plan, and bounce ideas off someone else. It was the collaboration she was going to miss, not my ability to know how to move a resource from D2L into Google Classroom. It also occurred to me that the daily dose of collaboration that I get to engage in with teachers was what I most loved about my role as a Tech Coach. My favourite appointments are the ones when teachers bring just an idea of what they would like to do, and then together we plan the lesson or unit using both of our skill sets and input. Seeing the excitement of an educator when they discover a new tool that they can use to support their students and then helping them integrate that tool into their lesson, is the most rewarding part of being a Tech Coach.
The research about the benefits of teacher collaboration are clear and decisive; teachers who work collaboratively with other teachers are more effective, less stressed, and more content in their profession. However, even though the benefits are undeniable, there are barriers which impede teachers’ ability to collaborate effectively. One obvious barrier is time. Not just the difficulty of finding any available time in a teacher’s busy day, but also finding a common time to meet with grade or divisional partners who can mutually benefit from the collaboration. This barrier is one that I hope the Tech Coach role can help to alleviate. Our role is designed to be collaborative, and our skills and knowledge are at your disposal.
Studies have proven that collaboration can benefit teachers as well as the students in their classes so my humble advice, for what it’s worth, is to book an appointment with the Tech Coach assigned to your school next time they are in the building. It does not matter if you know the name of a specific tool that you want to learn more about, or how ‘techie’ or not ‘techie’ you think you are, the real benefit comes from the act of working together, sharing ideas, and no longer feeling like an “island”.