I am fortunate to serve as Instructional Technology Coordinator for my school district. Not many school districts have a position like mine, which is solely focused on improving teaching and learning with the tools of technology. No boxes. No wires. Just 24/7/186 Instructional Technology. Then the summer to get ready to do it all over again…time to retool, rethink, clarify, redirect, build and create…and get better at what I do, and help my school district to become better at what we do together.
But what does the job really look like, and what is required of a person in this position?
My week really never has a beginning or end, but if I could identify a single starting point, it’s probably Sunday afternoon, right after the Bears game, because the phone calls from teachers start. How do I do this? How should I proceed? Can I reserve one of the mobile labs for tomorrow? And of course…my favorite… I lost my password…here you go.
To stay current, I process 186 RSS feeds. Much of that information, resources, and creative thought go into my del.icio.us account, where 233 other del.icio.us users tap into what I do. Some of those ideas get repurposed into my blog posts here or at The Strength of Weak Ties. Much of that becomes internalized in how I do my job, and that translates directly in my ability to support classroom teachers with ideas on how to make learning come alive. Some of it also finds its way to other administrators, so that I can be a resource for helping them make proper decisions regarding a wide-variety of topics, ranging from professional development to school reform. It’s about developing the deep and wide reservoir of experience and understanding that is required to lead a large school district with something as important as technology.
To stay current, I also read. Books. Magazines, Journal Articles. I even have all of this stuff in my car. Just ask my fellow administrators. I’ve even got a toaster. Just. In. Case.
To stay current, as well as contribute to my profession, I present at conferences. I’ve been presenting nationally since 1995 and have done numerous spotlights and am finally getting keynote opportunities. Why is this important? Presenting at conferences is about sharing, and my perspective on presenting is to specifically represent to a larger audience what we do, and do well. Here it is, here is how it works, here is why it is valuable, and here is how you can do it too. Think that’s easy? Go stand in front of 500 critics and put yourself, and your school district, out there-you better be ready, you’d better have good stuff, you better be prepared, and you better be able to contribute. Because that’s why those people are there. But more importantly, the presentation simply honors what we do-everything that goes into that presentation represents a great deal of hard work by a large number of people, teachers, students, and administrators. And guess what-we’re proud of it, and we’re going to tell people. Here we are and here is what we can do! Take advantage of our experiences and expertise….we want to be a leader in this.
There is also a great deal of power in the preparation for that presentation…the prep is reflective, and gives me time to think about the evaluation of the experience against learning goals. As a profession, we need to begin to think about the value the technology has in the learning experience. We evaluate the learning, but do we evaluate the role of the technology in that learning? To be the best, you have to. That’s just non-negotiable.
A great deal of my time is spent managing our Blackboard presence, which contains a suite of tools that give our teachers access to a number of tools that can drive learning. And before you go there, it works for us, because being an Instructional Technology Coordinator means you understand what your climate and culture is, and what you realistically can and can’t use, despite the fact that you might like to use other tools. It’s about the organization and not you. And so you use it to the best of your ability, and build capability, expertise, and learning opportunities with it. You outfit it with blogs and wikis, with Turnitin.com, with WebAssign. You support it passionately and relentlessly, and you provide professional development opportunities that have entry points for a variety of users, and that move them down a continuum towards more effective use. And you also do those professional development experiences with the very teachers that have the expertise, because there is nothing like building capacity, nothing like building community, nothing like building a common shared direction.
I’m very proud of our Blackboard use but I’m especially proud of our digital storytelling program, which has been in our schools for over four years. How many kids have created digital stories? Literally thousands have. And in a world where video is exploding, where there is YouTube, TeacherTube, SchoolTube, DNATube, and undoubtably other “tubes” on the way, the ability to create content, distribute content, and create a competitive voice that can be heard is an essential 21st Century literacy that needs to be developed in students. And we’re doing that.
But it’s not all easy. Sometimes you have to say no, we can’t do that. I had to learn that. As a classroom teacher, I could shut my door and deal with my kids. As an administrator, I have to have a much more global picture. I have to think deeply about my decisions and I have to evaluate their impact on many levels. I have to be adept at politically negotiating the two different climates at North and South, because the schools, even though they are about seven miles apart, are very different. One’s bigger than the other, one has been around 75 years, the other 44 years. The departments are different, the two libraries are different. That’s not a bad thing, it just is, and you have to be aware of how those differences impact what you do, what you can accomplish, what you need to accomplish, and how fast you can do it. Successful technology coordinators are leaders, and leaders understand that leadership is about relationships. Having relationships with people that understand you, and support you, are required to be truly successful, but this only comes with honoring and understanding them first.
The bottom line? I’m pretty fortunate. I have the opportunity on a daily basis to experience the entire range of responsibilities that an educator can have, from meeting with a school’s administrative cabinet, to discussing a technology tool with a department chair, to writing our Illinois state technology plan, and then finally working 6th hour today with a group of Seniors at our North campus on how to dramatically improve their presentations with the inclusion of visuals from Flickr.
And that’s what I do.