Leading digital transformation in K–12 can be a cumbersome task, especially for technology directors who are commonly short-staffed and overworked.
Josh Harris and Kelly Martin, education technology directors from Alisal Union School District and Lake Tahoe Unified School District, respectively, found that by turning certain educators into education technology leaders (ETLs), IT directors can free up their days by cutting down the time they spend on menial tasks and driving more support for larger technology projects.
“At this point, my most successful ETLs are working hand in hand with their principals, and we’re accidentally professionally developing our principals,” Harris told attendees Monday at the International Society for Technology in Education’s 2019 annual conference in Philadelphia. “They are becoming our models for technology integration. They are also my eyes and ears at every school site.”
ETLs Close Gaps in Tech Knowledge Among New Hires
When Harris and Martin joined their respective districts, they became acutely aware of how many new teachers were not ready to handle the demands of a modern learning environment.
Shrinking school budgets coupled with teacher shortages have forced many K–12 schools to hire teachers who are unprepared for the modern classrooms many districts have adopted, said Harris.
In fact, he said, 70 percent of schools nationwide have had groups of new hires where between 26 and 50 percent were not capable of using classroom technology effectively.
At LTUSD, Martin developed an ETL program across her district’s six school sites. Each teacher was given a yearly stipend he or she was able to use to hold office hours, conduct afterschool professional development workshops and invest in using communications programs such as Google Hangouts.
At AUSD, Harris took a slightly different approach. While the ETL model across the 12 school sites in his district also required participants to hold office hours and develop onsite tech clubs to facilitate PD for their peers, Harris found replacing stipends with an hourly rate held ETLs more accountable to follow through with their projects.
Both suggested not only offering money as incentives to teachers but also offering opportunities to get the first crack at learning opportunities such as attending conferences and trying new classroom tools.
Technology Directors Should Recruit ETLs and Set Guidelines
The speakers noted that when their schools were starting ETL programs, it was important to set expectations to lead teachers to be the technology coaches they needed them to be.
“Our first year, we weren’t terribly successful, and part of the reason was we left it wide open. We were going to build the program around teacher autonomy,” said Harris. “What happened was the same thing that happens when you give a kid a bunch of pieces of paper: There were too many options. We had to start setting some expectations.”
This could include creating an agenda for technology clubs and afterschool PD sessions, where ETLs split their time focusing on technology they are interested in and skills technology directors need.
Harris and Martin agree it is important to carefully select ETLs, prioritizing those who are passionate about sharing education technology with their districts and who are open to learning.
“What we found is recruitment is really important. We found that bringing in people who are really passionate about bringing education technology to their peers was way more important than finding those with tech skills,” said Harris.
Through both programs, Martin and Harris have been able to create a close-knit community of educators who are capable of extending the reach of their districts’ IT teams and help pave a path toward further digital integration.
For more of the latest stories out of ISTE 2019, check out our conference page here.