An integral part of professional development in districts today involves teaching teachers about technology. A great deal of time, money, and effort is put into getting all teachers to use technology in their classrooms. Should districts likewise get IT and other technology staff familiar with teaching and the classroom? Technology professionals hired by districts generally don't have teaching experience. Should they be encouraged to get to know the classroom better in order to better implement technology programs and learning?

Tags: pd, professional development

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It would sure help. After all, hospital administrators are often doctors, and principals are normally teachers because they understand the peculiarities of the organization they run. It would make sense that a tech professional needs to know something about the group he's helping. Having him as a current or former teacher would be very logical.
I agree with Ashlyn! I know that the technology staff is more effective if they are teachers. In my position as technology coordinator, I collaborate with teachers to find ways for technology to be used as a tool in their classrooms. They are sometimes amazed at how closely I can match their learning objectives with the technology activity or product. Through collaboration with a "teacher" (I like Ashlyn's term "hybrid") many non-techy teachers really grow in their own understanding of technology as a tool and their own skill. They see the connection and continue to develop activities using technology. I think as a former classroom teacher, I had a lot more credibility when I made suggestions. I could "talk their talk" because I have spent a few years "walking their walk", so I understand the challenges like lack of time to learn the technology, overwhelming expectations, etc. In addition, and most importantly...I am there for the kids ultimately, not to fix the printer.
Nadine, I like what you said about how you are "there for the kids ultimately, not to fix the printer." I feel that in too many districts (mine included) tech people come into the classroom, fix the printer (or other technology), and then retreat back to their tech room. I think it should become common place to have instructional technology leaders that are liaisons between the teach and tech worlds.
I spent the past year working as both a teacher and a tech professional. The teachers in my building were amazed at how much more I could help them with technology than any other tech professional had before. I think that in theory, this is a great idea. The problem is that schools don't even manage to attract people who are capable with technology to their tech positions, much less people who are qualified to teach. Most building level tech staff that I have met have started with no real tech experience, except for a few rare examples who have retired from the computer industry and are seeking a quiet second career. If schools can barely find people who are competent with technology, it seems unlikely that they will be able to hire people who are also good classroom teachers.

I am sad to say that I have done what almost everyone else who is qualified, either as a techie or as a teacher, will do when faced with jobs that pay far less than the going rate for their skills. I have left my tech position for a spot in the classroom. I would imagine that this problem and these reasons face most school districts.

I think that perhaps we should differentiate between technology integration specialists, who are people who are adequately paid to teach teachers how to integrate technology into their classrooms and who usually started out as teachers, and run-of-the-mill tech staff who are paid far less than teachers, burdened with maintaining the technology for an entire building, and are primarily qualified to fix the printer. Adding the task of knowing all of the school's curriculum and aiding teachers in integrating technology into their classrooms to the latter's job would result in a dearth of people who are even willing to set foot in a school to fix the printer. Until schools are willing to pay acceptable wages to hire and keep people who can help teachers with tech integration, they will have to live with people who just work with the technology.
You are certainly correct, and as with many things it boils down to money. In our district the tech staff is expected not only to "fix the printer", but also tasked with staff development, finding/learning software for all grade levels, trying to determine each building's "needs", and occasionally helping with classroom activities. All for FAR less than what the teachers earn, and as you would expect there is high turnover. I take issue with the licensure, in our state anyway, that continues to encourage the status quo. It seems an antiquated notion to me, to believe a person without certification cannot "teach". That will be the primary obstacle to many of the things the "big thinkers" in the Web 2.0 movement will face. It shows our kids that all of this talk about encouraging them to become life learners, is just that...talk. I think we need to find plausible solutions to keep Steve Jobs on staff (when he is ready for the paycut), and not limit him to one role.
I feel very strongly about this. IT people have a lot to do, but ultimately if what they are doing isn't helping in the classroom, sometimes hindering, what's the point? I think the most important thing IT people can do is just ask the teachers what is going on, how they are doing/feeling, and try to be in the lab or classroom when teachers are using the tech so they can see how it's working. I think it's especially important for them to visit different grade levels. For example, understanding the kinesthetic issues of a kindergartners learning how to use a mouse to high school students being able to use Google search w/o constantly being blocked by a filter.
You made a very good point. Many times teachers don't tell the tech people what's going on. They just assume that they have to live with issues. A good relationship and effective collaboration is imperative. Teachers need to trust the tech person. Trust is facilitated by two way conversation and the effort made by the tech person to understand what is happening in the classroom.
This is one of my great beefs. Techies doing PD frequently turns into "Wow, look what I can do. Isn't it exciting." Yup it's great to watch and I come away with no idea about how to do it myself in my classroom. I even hate coteaching workshops with techies because they consistently get excited by some obscure question from the audience and we run out of time to teach what we set out to do.

My favorite story about this is based on a class about educational video. We went into the editing room, watched a great 20 minute demo that amazed and astounded. Then each of us was given 30 minutes alone to edit our personal video. I sat in front of the machine and cried because I had no idea where to begin.

In my how to teach workshops, I tell instructors to teach skills in small discreet chunks, moving on only when the students demonstrate a minimal proficiency. I wish techies would learn to do that.
Some things to consider (coming from an IT guy).
In order to properly support technology a district needs people who are professionals to support the infrastructure and the hardware. They also need people who understand the educational value of the technology, its implementation and its usage.
We have a technology integration coordinator who handles the educational side and works with licensed staff to provide professional development and support for integrating technology into the classroom. We also have a staff of 30+ people who provides the actual technical support for the schools and district at the hardware and infrastructure level. While this system is not perfect, it seems to work for us. When the printer breaks our staff responds and corrects the problem - leaving the teachers to teach.
If a teacher wants to know if a certain piece of software works - we let them know if the hardware they have available will run it. If they want to know if it is a good program they are referred to the technology integration coordinator. We have some teachers who are very competent with hardware and software - those are the staff members that we use as a test base for new hardware or new operating systems. They usually are the ones that test new software (both for functionality and educational value).
We have staff based in all the schools in the district. But their role is very clear - support the functional side of the technology only. If a staff member wants to know how to make a movie, use a spreadsheet program, etc. they are referred to the professional development side of the house. Each of our schools also has a licensed staff member who is a "tech coach". Those are the people who have demonstrated knowledge of technology and are charged with assisting the other members of the staff in using the technology. Our department might work with these coaches when new hardware or a new operating system comes out to assist them in getting up to speed. But we leave it to the teaching professionals to teach technology integration.
Hi Deidre,
I think there might be a different take-away from your story. Being put in a room ALONE to try some new skill is simply torture, not teaching. No wonder you cried. Think of all the teachable moments if the whole group of you had been there to support you and think through the problem together. You weren't missing "skills" -- you were missing a supportive environment, collaborative partners, and a leader to scaffold your learning.

There are techies who learn how to do PD, and some people are natural teachers. They tend to be the ones who love what they do, and want to share the excitement (not the facts). They let people try things for themselves, but with guidance.
Hi all-
Tech support staff are often faced with a horrible choice of supporting an inadequately resourced hardware and software environment, versus giving teachers the support they need. I wrote an article for THE Journal, Keeping Tech Support in Step with Technology and have done conference sessions on this topic too. (podcast , session handouts and slides here).

As some of you know I work for Generation YES and we have many schools who use students to provide technical support. Many of our schools tell us that because these students understand the culture of the school, and know many of the teachers, they provide excellent tech support. They are around a lot longer than most tech support staff too! Plus it's great for the kids, not only from a work experience perspective, but self-esteem too. sort of a win-win for everyone.

Actually, we've been asked if we could revise our curricululm to give it to tech support people, since it focuses so much on how technology supports education, customer service, and understanding how schools use computers differently than businesses. From my perspective, IT people should not only be encouraged to get to know the classroom better, but this should be mandatory. You don't necessarily have to have teaching experience to do this, but you have to understand that learning trumps technology, and that learning is a messy process, not a neat clean system. Ashlyn said it well, but what is happening in her school is rare.
Yes! There are many different "demands" in education than in business. This has been something that I have had many discussions around. My present title is "Educational Technology Director" - and certification / classroom experience are required. However, the 'systems' people in the district do not all have this background. I have personally taken the role of helping these people to understand the needs for teachers and students.

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