Today’s educational landscape is rapidly changing, and every educator is riding a roller coaster of professional development opportunities. Teachers are feeling like rag dolls in the middle of traditional professional development and the popular unconference model of learning. Are we ready to throw our hands up and suggest that large-group professional development is now a “thing of the past”?

I’m certainly not here to say that there is no longer a place for group professional development. I love hearing motivating keynote addresses from greats like Adam Bellow or Glenn Robbins or watching master presenters like Jon Corippo or Dave Burgess hold hundreds in the palms of their hands.

But the question remains: is this type of professional development just entertaining and motivating, or am I actually learning something that I can take back with me and use right away? Often, we can’t reach out to the presenters on stage and ask that one question that is troubling us and could help us become master teachers.

For this very reason, teachers and school districts are turning to a more individual and personal style of professional development. They are bringing in master teachers to not only provide group professional development to their district at large but also to provide much-needed 1:1 personal learning opportunities for their teachers, administrators, and support staff. This “technology coach” can be deployed districtwide to provide authentic learning both for staff and students.

What Is the Role of the Technology Coach?

Colleague, friend, mentor, supporter . . . these are all terms that you can use to describe a good technology coach. Some of my other favorite terms are resource, curator, lifesaver, mediator, advocate, and—my personal favorite—therapist. The list goes on and on because a good tech coach is never just one thing. I like to describe the job as a Venn Diagram with 100 circles.

One quality that makes a great tech coach is a background in education. By being an educator first and a technologist second, a tech coach serves as an ally to the teacher in this professional development process. A tech coach that is educationally focused rather than technologically focused can allow the curriculum wag the dog rather than the device. Another quality of a tech coach is the ability to teach teachers how to use tools that make them more efficient in the classroom rather than just demonstrating them on command.

Let’s take a look at how a tech coach can be used districtwide to improve the quality of education in three situations

  1. Implementing New Ideas and Technologies into the Classroom

Often, a teacher has an idea to do something out of his or her comfort zone but is a bit nervous to proceed. The teacher first meets with the tech coach for a personalized 1:1 conversation where the coach serves as a sounding board, resource gatherer, and brainstorming partner. The next step is the innovation. The tech coach is used best when working side by side in a classroom with the teacher. This can be in a supporting role or in a coteaching role to assist with implementing new technology. The final step of the cycle is a postlesson conversation where the teacher and tech coach reflect and discuss possible adjustments. Because the teacher is working with a tech coach instead of being formally observed by an administrator, she has the ability to make mistakes and learn from them. In this situation, the tech coach serves as a mentor so the teacher can ask questions without being judged by her superiors.

  1. Curating Resources Designed Specifically for a Single Teacher or Department

Quite often, a teacher attempting something new in the classroom doesn’t know where to turn for ideas, resources, and materials. The teacher can Google it, but he may not know how to sift through the millions of websites available. A tech coach can be called in to provide resources, share links, and organize digital materials for classroom use in just about any part of the school. Department meetings, lunchrooms, and hallways are valuable places for a tech coach to hang out because teachers have the ability to sit down and get their little questions answered quickly as they go about their busy day.

  1. Asking Teachers What They Would Like to Do in Their Classrooms

This is the ultimate conversation starter for a tech coach. Giving a teacher the forum to share her vision for a perfect classroom is an amazing way to create long-lasting professional relationships. Every teacher has a vision of an educational utopia that, for whatever reason, is just is beyond her reach. A tech coach’s role is to help all teachers reach their goals to the best of their abilities. Perhaps a teacher wants to implement blogging with his students. Maybe a department wants to create a series of Google Forms to act as pre-assessments for an upcoming exam. By simply asking the question “What would you like to be able to do in your classroom?” the tech coach creates an opportunity to help teachers make their goals a reality.

What Exactly Do You Do?

Quite often, a question such as this is asked of a tech coach. Many tech coaches take this as an opportunity to provide a long list of things that keep them busy throughout the day. The best answer, however, is this: “I’m here to be a resource for you and your students.”

Should My District Have a Tech Coach?

Is your district looking to bring professional development to the masses on a personal and professional level? Are your teachers seeking a safe place to ask the questions they don’t feel comfortable asking? The tech coach is that districtwide educational resource for administrators, teachers, and students. If you don’t currently have a tech coach in your district, there are many to turn to online who are willing to assist you with your classroom needs. Some of my favorite online tech coaches are Jennifer Judkins, Jennifer Scheffer, Kerry Gallagher, Andrea Grouser, and Rob Pennington. These are just a few members of my PLN who help me answer the questions that I am asked every day, and they can be great resources for you, too.

What’s Next?

Are you a tech coach, or are you seeking assistance from one? Check out the new podcast, “#AskTheTechCoach,” where a team of professional tech coaches is available to you to share their insights and answer your questions.