How coaches help teachers get the most from ed tech

Instructional technology coaches also help teachers improve teaching and track building culture

As educational technology has quickly developed and evolved, sometimes overwhelmed school districts and teachers have found an instructional coaching model can ease the way to incorporating ed tech into the classroom.

For many districts, the answer has been to hire instructional technology coaches—which also go by other titles, such as technology integrationists, professional development coaches or tech trainers.

In many cases, however, an instructional coaching model alone isn’t working because many districts hire a “tech coach” without clearly defining what that role will involve, and without communicating to teachers about the value these coaches can bring to their classroom, says Jeffrey Bradbury, instructional technology coach at West Rocks Middle School in Norwalk Public Schools and creator of the TeacherCast Educational Network.

To maximize the expertise of tech coaches and improve learning outcomes, district leaders must understand the value an instructional coaching model brings to the table and how technology coach resources foster success, says Bradbury.

Instructional coaching model is all about support

A recent analysis of more than $2 billion in school spending showed that ed tech represents one of the largest categories of waste in school budgets: 67% of educational software purchased for schools goes unused, according to the study.

Instructional technology coaches can help reduce or eliminate this waste. Beyond teaching instructors how to use ed tech, the good coaches help educators focus on improving their teaching.

“The best tech coaches will tell you their job doesn’t have to involve technology,” Bradbury says. “If a teacher is scared of turning on a tablet, I’m not going to start with technology. And another teacher may understand all about technology, but their teaching really needs work. Coaching can help in both situations.”

For example, Linda Bollendorf is an instructional coach at Fleetwood Middle School and High School in Pennsylvania’s Fleetwood Area School District. While she supports and assists teachers with technology, she says that’s not her sole focus.

The instructional coaching model can provide an invaluable resource for school leaders because coaches are constantly taking the pulse of the building culture, student achievement, and professional learning needs, Bollendorf says. “Wise administrators know this and work with their coaches to grow and advance their buildings,” she says.

Collaborating with technology coach resources

Although tech coaches are valuable resources, they can easily be overlooked by administration. This may happen because leaders want to keep their distance so that teachers can feel their work with coaches is held in confidence, or possibly because administrators aren’t quite sure how to support or promote the coaches.

“In many cases, a district has its heart in the right place and budgets for a tech coach position, but then the person in the position is not supported so teachers don’t use their expertise,” Bradbury says. “Eventually, the person appears to be an unnecessary expense and they lose their job.”

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For instance, in Bradbury’s experience, teachers understand what he can provide and come to him when they want help or support in the classroom. But at a previous school, administrators didn’t encourage teachers to take advantage of his expertise and they never quite understood how to work with him, which could be frustrating, he says.

Outside of his district, Bradbury leads tech coach mastermind groups, which consist of professionals who want to help teachers but their districts may not be properly supporting them for success. Some also struggle with being in multiple buildings and every principal wants something different, he says.

Instead of allowing the instructional coaching model to languish without coaches skills being utilized, district leaders can empower them to be more effective. That starts by clearly defining expectations—to the tech coach and to the teachers with whom they are expected to work.

For example, after observing a teacher, a principal could say, “You’re doing a great job with this, but I’d really like for you to spend some time with the tech coach to improve in this other area, or add in this other type of instruction,” Bradbury says.

District leaders should focus on providing communication and classroom presence for tech coaches, Bollendorf says. “Leaders need to get out and see what’s going on so that they can collaborate with coaches about how the building and district goals are advancing and how to help students and teachers do their best,” says Bollendorf.

Fostering innovation

Once coaches’ roles have been made clear, they need ongoing PD to remain effective, just like all other school personnel. As the role of instructional tech coaching is still emerging, PD is also evolving—but practicing coaches say there are plenty of viable opportunities.

The National Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) recently partnered with the Bagwell College of Education at Kennesaw State University to provide a new certification program for technology champions, instructional technology coaches and others interested in expanding their professional knowledge of education technology.

The certification, known as the FETC® Coaching Collaborative Powered by iTeach, will involve education about the evolving role of the ed tech coach, new strategies to implement and effective ways to make an impact in schools and districts.

In addition to attending conferences such as FETC, Edcamps and ISTE, earning ed tech badges such as Google Teacher Certification and Microsoft Innovative Educator is recommended, says Katie Fielding, technology coach at Woodbridge Senior High School in Prince William County, Virginia.

“Badges like these provide your teachers with a little bit of credibility that shows they know what they are talking about when it comes to this tool,” Fielding says.

While the educational opportunities sponsored by large providers is helpful, learning from other practitioners can be equally valuable.

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“Some of the best professional development I have found is on Twitter,” Fielding says. “My online personalized learning network is strong and provides new ideas daily. Following hashtags such as #EdTech will get you into the community.”

By keeping coaches learning and engaged, district administrators can boost teacher development and learning outcomes.

“Technology coaching is essential to the quality implementation of a district technology plan,” Fielding says. “Teachers span a wide array of digital literacy. If you want the devices you are putting in students’ hands to be more than a Google search or word processor, you need to show teachers how to be innovative with the tool. Coaches help foster this innovation.”

Nancy Mann Jackson is an Alabama-based writer.

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