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Coaches and Champions: The Essentials of Educational Technology Support

By Matt Harris
Coaches and Champions: The Essentials of Educational Technology Support

Educational Technology in international schools is a complex undertaking. Schools must implement robust information technology systems that are reliable and sustainable. They must continually develop instructional practices, programs, and curricula that draw upon the potential of technology to enhance learning while accounting for teachers that come from diverse pedagogic backgrounds. And they must achieve student learning outcomes that align to the realities of 21st-century life while meeting traditional academic standards. All of this, while operating in a foreign environment with few of the support mechanisms enjoyed by schools that belong to Ministries of Education or school districts.
Consistent among all schools around the world—international or otherwise—the learning impact of technology rests primarily on one factor: the teachers. Teachers’ capacity for working with technology-rich environments, their understanding of fundamental learning principles and pedagogy, and their willingness to innovate are the life blood of exemplary EdTech programs. In international schools, this is far more complicated, as our teachers are transitory and their abilities to meet these needs go with them as they leave our schools to explore new opportunities and adventures every three to four years.
All the same, there are still many highly impactful EdTech programs in international schools around the world that maintain their levels of success despite rapid staff turnover. They do this by reaffirming their institutional commitment to teacher support in this field. Teachers in such schools have support to learn about technology tools and how to use them in teaching. They are given instructional support, both in and out of the classroom, to develop activities and collaborate with peers. And they are encouraged to explore new practices and tools that may improve learning within the school.
This type of support includes many different elements such as financial resourcing, time, and leadership. However, the most essential elements of EdTech support come in the form of coaches and champions.
EdTech coaches are members of the teaching faculty who are trained educators experienced in curriculum design, assessment for learning, and the fundamentals of good pedagogy. Secondary to these pedagogic skills, they understand how technology can improve learning. They are not IT technicians or systems engineers, but teachers who coach their peers on the use of complicated IT tools to meet teaching and learning needs. Often, EdTech coaches start their careers as classroom teachers and move to coaching after they develop skills with, an affinity for, and a reputation in using technology for learning in impactful and innovative ways.
The job description for an EdTech coach is simple: provide training to teachers on technology tools and their uses for learning, help departments or grade levels develop curriculum that leverages technology, provide in-class support for teachers delivering tech-reliant lessons, and offer strategic planning expertise in EdTech. These coaches must be personable, approachable, and energetic. They are the advocates for innovative practices in successful schools. Note: their role is not to directly teach students or to provide technical support. They are instructional coaches.
Schools will approach EdTech coaches in a few ways, but the most successful programs will keep their coaches off the timetable. They must be available to teachers during any period of the day, before and after school, and at lunchtime. Successful schools will also hire a reasonable number of coaches, often striving for a ratio of one coach per 500 students.
In my experience, there are two constants with EdTech coaches. First, even the ideal amount of coaching is not enough. Second, schools have a difficult time maintaining coaching positions, as they are qualified teachers with limited or no direct student contact time.
Thus, good schools will complement their coaching support with a network of EdTech champions. These are members of the faculty who show the same characteristics found in emerging EdTech coaches: excellent teaching practices, desire to try new tools and methods, a growth mindset, an approachable personality, and a commitment to the teaching faculty as a whole. Champions, once identified, can help deliver instructional support to fellow teachers and provide valuable insight into the needs of a department, grade level, or individual teacher. They can also serve as advocates for new endeavors or pilots for emerging technologies. When used well, champions can be the seeds, water, and sunlight of a growing EdTech program.
In my school, we identify at least one champion in every year level and department. My team of coaches and I meet with the champions on a regular basis to learn about their peers and offer insights into new projects. We reserve part of my departmental budget for special PD, and at times the occasional new toy to play with. We encourage our champions to share their passions internally, throughout the school, and externally to the international school community. As a result, we are able to better align our EdTech coaching with the needs of each department, supplement that support with a peer champion, and ensure a clear line of communication through the school.
Regardless of whether they use coaches or champions or both, effective educational technology programs recognize that their greatest impact of technology on learning comes in supporting teachers by using teachers.

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