What I Wish I’d Known as a 1st year Technology Integration Specialist

Note: This article was originally written last school year, but I never finished or posted it. At the time, I wasn’t actively blogging as much as I do now, and I wanted to get this post out there. This post applies to anyone brand new to the field of instructional technology, no matter the job title. Since I’m in a new district this year, you can bet I’m going to heed the advice of my past self!

I always see these articles for teachers, but I’ve never seen one for a technology integration specialist (TIS). I’ve decided to create my own article, and hopefully my experiences will help another TIS in getting started on their new journey.

As I’ve mentioned before, I became a TIS last year. I applied for the job in September, thinking that I would not be allowed to switch out of my current job as 4th grade teacher into the position. The deadline to transfer jobs had just passed for the district when the job itself was posted. In order to apply for the position, one had to have their TIS credentials, or be able to apply for the 1 year temporary certification. In order to do the latter, one had to be a part of the current TIS cohort for the 2014-2015 school year. I fell into the latter category, so I took a shot and applied. I was hired, and allowed to switch. Come the end of October, I said goodbye to my students and classroom, and stepped forward to begin my new journey as a TIS.

Looking back, there are many things I wished I’d known about being a TIS, or getting started in the position. Unlike a beginning teacher, I didn’t have a mentor in my building to go to for advice. I could email the technology office if I needed anything, but for the most part, it was a learn-as-you-go experience. I was pretty confident in my abilities with technology, but I was overwhelmed as to where to begin. My first day on the job happened to be a staff development day without students, and so I was to shadow the previous TIS at the middle school. We didn’t do the elementary school. After that day, I was to work 3 days a week at a middle school, and the other 2 days at an elementary school. The days I chose to be at each school were up to me, as were my hours. I could do 7-3, 7:30-3:30, or 8-4. Of course, I worked hard and made it through the year, but not without a few issues and lessons learned along the way.

So without further ado…

What I Wished I’d Known as a First Year Technology Integration Specialist

1. Exactly How Crucial Relationships are for Collaboration: As with any work environment, relationships are key. However, a TIS does not have the option to lock themselves away and be isolated. A TIS must be able foster and build a comfortable relationship with the teachers they will be working with. We all hear about collaboration and working as a team. I came from a school where for the past 3 years I’d been the sole 4th grade teacher. Collaboration between grades or areas was minimum at best. Collaborating with other teachers in the county? Difficult. We didn’t have time anymore to get together, and schools were spaced out. Not the best, but that’s how it was.

A TIS must be able to work with anyone- teachers, librarians, custodians, cooks, administrators, and more. This can be hard, especially when there are teachers who would rather be left to their own devices. As a TIS, one learns that some teachers do not wish to have them, or know how they want to use them. The best thing to do is to continually offer
services, but not push for them. Instead, building relationships with them. Find common interests, talk about the classroom, or just eat lunch together. Sometimes they’ll come around, and sometimes not. Don’t take offense to it, as there are others who are happy to have assistance.

2. Expectations of You May Not Be What The Job Actually Entails: Coming into this position, I knew that a TIS is expected to help teachers and students integrate technology into the curriculum. This means that we must teach both teachers and students how to use the technology. We also find new technology for teachers, show them how to use it, look for resources, and teach their students technology lessons or co-teach lessons involving technology. However, if the previous TIS did not do this, beware of what others’ expectations may be. Expectations for your position may be nothing more than a glorified computer repair person.

If the above happens to be the case, then a TIS has quite a task in front of them. The first problem that a TIS faces is that faculty expects them to fix computers or any other technology related issues that arise, and that is the only expectation. In my district, a TIS will take a look at the problem, but if they can’t resolve it quickly, or they don’t know how to resolve it, then a work order is put into the system to have the issue fixed by someone who can. At first, this is what most of my job was for teachers in the middle school, and the only time they would sign up for my assistance. I spent the entire year trying to show that my job was more on the side of technology integration, rather than just fixing. By the end of the year, I was leaning closer to a balance of the two. Hopefully this year I can swing it so that I’m doing more integrating than anything else. It takes baby steps to swing the pendulum the other way, but it pays off in the end.

3. Elementary and Middle School Collaboration are Very Different: I come from an
elementary background, so most of my knowledge and experience was with the elementary level. I was used to working as a team with a variety of staff, or working with a particular colleague. I was not ready for the difference I found in middle school. I discovered a lot of isolated pockets my first year, and found that there wasn’t very much cross-curricular collaboration going on. Granted, it may just have been my school, but still.

When faced with trying to build up collaboration, a new TIS needs to make sure that relationships and trust are gained first. I didn’t heed this in my first year. I worked toward it, but not as adamantly as I should have. Had I known this, I might have been able to gain
the teachers’ trust more quickly. I’m hoping that a year in this position makes a difference for me as a TIS and the amount of technology I can help my teachers integrate.

4. Go Slowly: A TIS cannot just through random bits of technology at the teachers and expect them to grab hold and use it. This is absolutely the quickest way to gain a staff member’s distrust. Not only is it overwhelming, but the staff have no buy in, and no reason to use it. Rather, a TIS should make suggestions from time to time, but really focus in on what staff do want. They may not know the name of the particular technology tool, or if it even exists, but they will describe what they want so that the TIS can research and see if something does exist.

A TIS should also learn about the staff members’ comfort levels with technology. Someone who is very comfortable may know exactly what they want and request it. They might be happy to go at their own pace from there, or they might need a little bit of help. Other staff
members may not be very fond of technology, or know what it can truly do. With this type of staff member, it’s best to go slow. Make suggestions, offer to co-plan and co-teach with the teacher as well. Make them comfortable from start to finish to help reduce the fear. Of course, you will have staff members that fall in between these two levels as well. A TIS isn’t meant to create more frustration in the work environment.

5. Always Watch for New Learning Experiences: Okay so this isn’t something I necessarily needed to know as a first year TIS, but it is something any TIS should always know. It’s a good reminder to start the year with as well. Technology is an ever changing field, and there are always new applications, programs, and websites for educators to review and look at. Just because one year a particular edtech tool is hot, doesn’t mean that it’s going to be the next year, or that it will be the only tool to do that particular task. There are always new programs, and they don’t always replace the old ones.

As a TIS, stay connected online. Research new edtech tools, and ask colleagues what they might recommend. Stay current on new changes in the field, and don’t be afraid to try something that doesn’t work in the end. Oh and one of the most important parts to this- always listen to the teachers at the schools. Just because they aren’t a TIS doesn’t mean they don’t have some great ideas or resources to share. It’s easy to avoid having to research, but it only hurts you as a TIS, and is a disservice to the teachers, too.

Hopefully, these 5 things will help get other new TISs started on their journey in the field, and help them to avoid making some common blunders. I wish all the new TISs the absolute best this school year!

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