As our school year gets started, quite a bit of our time is focused on supporting the new school-based instructional technology specialists and media specialists in our district. It’s a tough job being “green” in any leadership role and especially in these two. A new technology leader may feel much like the two lizards pictured here – balancing on the edge and perhaps even feeling like you are being backed into a corner. I have often said that the learning curve is more of a vertical line; or put another way, it’s like drinking from a fire hose. It can be overwhelming and intimidating to go into a coaching role; especially as you realize that you not only don’t have all the answers, you have few, if any, answers!
While some might not consider the ITS or Media Specialist as a school leader, in my district we have always worked to grow leadership skills in these folks. In making hiring decisions regarding ITS or Media Specialist, I believe we should be hiring individuals in whom we see the potential to become a principal. That doesn’t mean every ITS or Media Specialist has to become a school administrator nor that the individual is ready to become a principal right away. But definitely the potential should be there.
I recently read Mary Beth Hertz’ post on Edutopia “Advice to New Technology Coaches” with great interest. The suggestions are spot on and well worth taking to heart. Being a listener is a key skill for all leaders. And Hertz does a great job of addressing the fact that it’s all about learning not about the technology.
Additionally Elliot Seif posted a great piece on ASCD’s edge called “Ten Teacher Questions for Self Reflection“. Though Self’s questions are targeted to classroom teachers, it’s not hard to extrapolate how those might be reworked for leaders. For the beginning leader and for the veteran, the practice of self-reflection is key to improving practice. Some of the questions work just as they are. “What are my beliefs about how students learn?” and “How do I build a positive climate for learning?” should be key points for coaches to consider.
Along the lines of the advice offered by Hertz and Seif, I offer the following insights based on my fifteen years of working with new instructional technologists and media specialists.
Induction is a Minimum of a Three Year Process
As I said before, stepping into a coaching role can be an overwhelming change. One reason for this is that typically the individual taking on that role was a master teacher. The person knew his or her job extremely well and had mastered the content as well as the strategies for success. Stepping into that new leadership role means being at a point where there are more things you don’t know than you do. And it takes time to build up your knowledge base in the new role, so be gentle on yourself. I often say that year one in the new role is just about getting comfortable in your skin; while year two is a time when you have the basics ironed out and you can begin to anticipate what will be coming at you and when. However it’s usually not until year three when you begin to really perfect your craft.
Focus on Relationships and Respect
When you start this new leadership role, your gut reaction will likely be to try to change the entire world on day one. That passion and drive are going to serve you well through the tough times of figuring out your new role and in the future as you do change the world one person and one lesson at a time. It’s also true that people won’t be willing to take a risk (change) with you until they trust and respect you. So in year one your most important goal is to build relationships with those you work with and to let folks get to know you so that your word begins to mean something to them. Don’t hole up in your office – get out there and eat lunch with folks and stop by rooms during planning periods (not with an agenda, but rather just to say hi and listen). Focus on just a couple of teachers who are willing to work with you in year one and share those successes with others. That will build trust and grow respect.
Grow Your PPLN
While as a teacher you have a built-in support network of people who are teaching the same grade level/content as you, moving into a leadership role means you will likely be the only or one of a couple of people in your building who do the job that you do. So it means that you have to grow your own garden of support. If there are others who do a similar job in your school district reach out to them! Ask for help. The social media universe is another way to find your PPLN (personal professional learning network). We’ve started a hash tag for instructional technologists and media specialists designed to give our own district folks a place to get ideas and share with a group of people who are walking down the same road. We encourage anyone who is interested to tweet with us to the hashtag “#4ITS”.