This is a reflection on my first year as a technology integrator. Taking a look back, I decided I could break things down into the stages of adjustment that I experienced through the year. This probably won’t apply to everyone who has moved into a similar position, but perhaps some of you can relate. Anyway, here they are, my five stages of transitioning to technology integration!
Stage 1: Exhiliration!
At the end of my first year as a Kindergarten teacher at Taipei American School, I was presented with an interesting opportunity, our PreK-2 Technology Integrator was retiring. Sure, I had mentioned to a few people at work that in maybe five or six years I might seek out a career shift into educational technology, but never did I think it would happen so soon! Within about a week of the retirement announcement, I had suddenly gone through an interview and been given the position. All of this occurring with less than three weeks left in the school year, what a rush! I had been given a dream opportunity to jump into a field I was passionate about sooner than I had anticipated. To think, I was just talking about how great it was I had survived my first year…
Stage 2: Loneliness and Envy
I’ll be straight with you, I cried at the end of last year. As I packed up my Kindergarten materials and cleaned out my classroom, the thought of not having a group of my own little ones to work with all year long was a little heartbreaking. Even at the beginning of this year as all the teams were introduced to families and new students, I felt a twinge of jealousy in my gut…I missed being a part of it all, I missed having my own class, I missed being a part of a grade level team.
Not that I wasn’t a part of a new team, but there are just two of us who run the Lower School technology curriculum here at TAS, Leanne Rainbow, our team leader, and myself. If we include our assistants we are a lovely little team of five. However, our schedules are so different and the areas where we work are in different parts of the building. So, we’re lucky if we get to see each other in the hallways on any given day! It’s a rare occurrence to say the least. We do try our best to meet, but even then, our communication through the year happened mostly over the phone or through emails. For the first time, I felt quite out of place in a school, a part of every team as an integrator, but at the same time, not really a part of any team.
Stage 3: Clueless Diligence
I was and am very grateful to have been given this opportunity, but to be honest, I felt like I had no idea what I was doing! The solution? Blindly but diligently, fumble my way through and hope for the best!
Just when I thought I had a better grip on the kindergarten curriculum, I suddenly had to understand the curricula of three other grade levels. Having just come from the classroom myself, the most familiar way to go about this was to make extra effort to get to know what was being taught in the classroom at each grade level. This meant a lot of time going through unit planners, asking questions, and borrowing materials and resources.This way I had a grasp on key objectives and essential understandings of each unit.
Once I had a clearer picture of what they were teaching in class, I then assessed the tech tools we had available to us and reflected on how they were best used to support and enhance our curriculum.
Stage 4: F.A.I.L.ure
Whenever you attempt something new, there are always bumps and bruises. I was no exception to this. This is when the acronym for F.A.I.L. (First Attempt In Learning) came in handy for encouragement. What did I learn from my failures?
1. NEVER ASSUME. Going into my job, I had never worked with so many people in a school at the same time. Which meant I never had to consider this many opinions before making a decision. The beginning of the year was so crazy with questions and tasks flying at me left and right, that I made the mistake of rushing and not double confirming information before sending off an email…oops. The result, I didn’t make myself look bad but rather my team leader, Leanne. I felt horrible! Needless to say, I never made that mistake again (I hope!). Leanne was very kind about it all and since then I’ve made extra effort to make sure communication was clear and all parties had the correct information before sending off information or making decisions that would affect multiple people!
2. TEST, TEST, TEST! It doesn’t matter if you know the software/program/platform inside out, ALWAYS do a dry run of your lesson or planned activity first!
My assistant and I manage over 400 student blogs and that’s excluding all the teacher blogs we help to keep track of and troubleshoot. I personally have my professional blog among other sites I work on outside of school, so I did what was familiar when embedding YouTube videos, I simply copy and pasted the link. WordPress automatically converts YouTube links into an embedded video.
The mistake: this doesn’t remove the related/suggested videos at the end!
After embedding some first grade work into the student blogs, I got an email from a parent forwarded to me from a class teacher. I’m sure you can guess what kind of content popped up at the end of the student’s video…
I wrote a huge apology to the parent and class teacher and of course, worked late into the night going into every single first grade student blog, removing the YouTube links from multiple posts and re-embedding with an embed code. I double checked every single one to ensure it had the magic “rel=0” to remove related videos at the end!
I spent the following week calling emergency meetings with all grade level teams to make sure they knew about how and where to check for the code “rel=0” when embedding videos.
Since then, I found and had a plugin installed into our WordPress blogs which automatically strips the related videos regardless of how you embed a YouTube video. Either way, that was definitely a lesson learned!
Stage 5: Cruising
This doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing ahead, but I’ve finally gained enough control that I feel like I can do the job a little better. There will always be days when I run into some rough weather, but at least I have some awareness of the way things work!
Being in the technology integrator’s role requires that you build trust with the people you are working with. Technology integration does NOT happen without the people who execute the core curriculum, the teachers. Here are a few things that I think have helped me along the way:
1. LISTEN FIRST. When you’re working with multiple teams, it means multiple personalities, opinions, and teaching styles. You are the outsider and they know their curriculum best. This doesn’t mean you are a pushover though. The best advice I was given going into this job by others who had come before me, was to remember to always hear what they had to say first, remembering to take into consideration their background knowledge when collaborating and planning with them. They are one of the best sources of information into the curriculum and can paint a picture for you that no unit planner can.
2. BE PREPARED. I try my best to walk into all my meetings all read up on the units that are coming up in every curricular area. I also prepare ideas linked to these units that I think may work well with what they are already doing in class, or take what they’re doing to the next level. The teams have fed back to me that they appreciate I come prepared with ideas that we can then iron out or even improve together. Lots of my ideas have been vetoed by the teams, but the fact that I come with them saves us a lot of time trying to think of them on the spot. Some of those ideas that got thrown out sparked other ideas that we ended up planning together.
3. ASK QUESTIONS. I’m not super woman. I don’t always have the answers. I’ve taken a lot of time not just asking my superiors questions, but you’ll often find me in one classroom or another asking “How can I help you make this unit better?” or “What do you feel I haven’t covered or taught enough of?” Yes, I could be asking these questions during meetings, but I find that time is precious during meetings and teams have many other things they need to cover. Plus, these are questions that I can leave with teachers and they get back to me within a day or two.
4. ALWAYS TOGETHER, NEVER ALONE. Whether it was building trust or taking risks, I never saw anything I did as a solo lesson, unit, or project. I wasn’t in my own classroom anymore. So, every decision made was a collaborative one. As the year went on, and relationships were strengthened with the teams, I started to take more risks and explored ways I could weave the core curriculum with the technology curriculum at our school. I planned more robotics and STEAM units into the lessons I was teaching and the teachers were willing to let me try these things now that we had spent a good chunk of the school year together.
I am looking forward to next year, continuing to build on my relationships with each team and taking more risks together.
Happy summer everyone!