Five days have passed since I presented on "10 Best Practices for Instructional Technology Coaches" at ISTE2015, and I am still absorbing the experience.
When I walked up to Room 111 just after noon on June 30, I had convinced myself to expect 15 or 20 people at most. Who was I, after all, that people would choose to come hear my thoughts about instructional tech coaching? Instead, I walked into a room buzzing with nearly 100 people. More people flooded into the room as I set up, and the room attendant (a fabulous young woman named Lauren) told me that at least 50 more people could not get into the session and were asking for links to materials and Twitter feeds so they could participate from the hallway. I was awestruck.
That energy continued as the session progressed. Participation, both in person and on Twitter, was enthusiastic. Faces shone with excitement. Discussions between attendees were accompanied by big gestures, laughter, and high fives. And I was able to absorb and reflect back that energy just as I do in my classroom on those awesome "superstar" days when everything is working just right. That kind of experience doesn't happen unless everyone in the room wants it to.
That hour spent with my colleagues from around the country was absolutely one of the highlights, not only of ISTE2015, but of my professional career. But I walked away wondering--what made this session different than so many of the others I attended? What drove the need I felt in the room? Why are my colleagues so thirsty for information and connection?
It was while mulling over this question in the Philadelphia airport that I received a Tweet containing a link to an article that Education Week's Sean Cavanaugh wrote about the session ("Blunt Advice for Harried Ed-Tech 'Coaches' Offered at ISTE"). And after picking myself up off the floor (again), I realized that I might have an answer to my questions.
The role of technology coach is nebulous and hazy--the "Jack/Jill of All Tech Trades"--and often lonely. We have to appear confident and knowledgable so our colleagues will trust us and rely on us, yet we usually do not have administrative authority and therefore must tread the murky political and social tides in our buildings with care. We must often balance our coach duties with teaching our students, and as much as we love what we do, we can be worn down by the weight of all the expectations and needs we carry.
THAT is what I felt in that room on June 30 and THAT is why the session was newsworthy. That hour was one of the few opportunities that any of us had to meet face to face, share our triumphs and challenges, and learn from one another. No wonder the energy was so high and the connections so intense. And I am both overjoyed and humbled that my session offered the chance for all of us to have that time.
If you were not able to attend ISTE and are looking for tech coach connections, check out the Twitter feed #techcoachBP to review the online discussions taking place during the session, and look under Presentation Materials for the slides I used. I plan to continue posting to the #techcoachBP hashtag to keep the connections from ISTE2015 alive. And please follow me @alytormala--I follow back!
ISTE 2014 gave me the opportunity to connect with other tech coaches from around the country. Of course, then we all went home, and those newly made, fragile connections could easily have waned. Enter Twitter.
Now I know what you are thinking. "Isn't that the social network that all those celebrities use to share unnecessary details about their lives?" Well, yes. But it turns out that Twitter is also one of the most widely-used professional development tools by educators. Does that surprise you? It did me.
Encouraged by my experience at ISTE, I brushed the dust off my little-used Twitter account (see my feed to the right on this page) and I joined my first Twitter chat on Tuesday, July 29. If you'd like to know more about Twitter chats, check out Janet Fout's blog post on this topic.
This online discussion was dynamic, energetic, and inspiring. Moderated by PBS Digital Innovator Adam Babcock, who asked a series of great questions, the discussion centered around how to empower students to lead in technology use and integration. Participants exchanged ideas, suggestions, questions, needs, and resources, some of which I've been able to use or pass one to our Tech Club. I was inspired and honored to be a part of the conversation.
So what can I take away from this? The power of connection. As educators we can easily become isolated within the four walls of our classrooms or offices. But our profession is inherently a creative and personal vocation, and if we don't feed that creativity through energetic interaction with others, we run the risk of stagnation, frustration, and loneliness. It isn't always easy in a busy school day to work creatively with colleagues, but five or ten minutes of interaction on a social network like Twitter, especially when combined with curating and sharing resources on Pinterest, can make all the difference.