Empower Digital Learning Leaders: The Tech Ambassadors Program

Preliminary Investigation: Learning Leaders


We have many great learning leaders at our school. A strategy to support them requires as a preliminary step to identify who these various actors are. Some have already been identified and organized:
  • Tech ambassadors program for teachers
  • Tech crew program for students
Others still need to be recognized:
  • Admin and leadership teams
  • Teachers who are not tech ambassadors
  • Students who are not in the tech crew
  • Parents

Tech Ambassadors Program

We initiated a thorough review of the main axis of our  strategy to support and empower the learning leaders at Kaohsiung American School: the existing KAS Tech Ambassadors program. The following document details the origins of the program from its inception to its self-determined mission. It further examines the accomplishments and challenges that have been met leading to a reflective piece by Victor on its past 3 years. Tom develops the existing foundation into a the leadership platform it needs to become. The main component is to encourage collaboration within the group on a variety of levels and media.


Inception

The Tech Ambassadors program is the logical place for us to start. It debuted in 2013 under the influence of Melinda Martin who was then working on her final project 2 for COETAIL: Going Bigger. Her goal was to tap into our own faculty to offer consistent professional development throughout the school year. Originally conceived as a series of weekly workshops called “Tech Tuesdays” organized by and for KAS teachers, her project’s main benefit was to identify, recognize and publicize who amongst our teachers were the tech innovators. This team became known as the Tech Ambassadors.

We selected 10 teachers in our then faculty of 60, carefully picking the tech inclined amongst all levels (2 ES, 3 MS, 4 HS, and 1 Library) and all departments (1 IT Department, 1 Elementary, 2 English Department, 1 Math 1 Social Studies, 1 Science, 1 English, 1 Chinese, 1 Media Center). Although not all chosen necessarily identified as “geeks”, they all clearly demonstrated promising skills in terms of tech integration. Today the nucleus of the original group remains, and the teachers who left have been replaced. In the words of Diana Beabout, the Tech Ambassadors are the “lighthouses of KAS”.

Mission

The mission of the tech ambassadors as established by themselves in 2014 is to:
“Transform the learning environment through modeling the integration of technology across curriculum.  Promote and encourage the KAS community to share, explore and celebrate learning within and beyond the classrooms.”

Our original path to accomplish this mission was by conducting workshops throughout the year, actively curating the Knowledge Base -a series of self-help articles on all topics-, and coaching other teachers on technology. Beyond the official recognition as Tech Ambassador, we offered each the opportunity to attend one tech conference every two years and to spearhead all tech pilot programs throughout school.

Accomplishments

The first year was very strong. Their first speed geeking initiative helped recognized the worth of our faculty and the contributions of individual teachers. This format was presented to the board in a very successful mini-session. Tech Ambassadors workshops were offered every week throughout the year including during the 3 PD days scheduled in 2013-2014.

The Tech Ambassadors literally decoupled our efforts in term of PD. Beyond this strength, they are also an invaluable resource as the early adopters of pilot deployment in technology. Chromebooks, flat screen TVs, wireless document cameras, Apple TVs all get tested out in their trenches before being released to the rest of the classrooms. These initiatives makes the Tech Ambassadors feel special and really help in determining the future of technology rollouts. They were invaluable in assessing the classroom technologies to be adopted on our new campus. The positive feedback on these has been immense since day one which I fully attribute to this team of beta testers.

A correlated development from the Tech Ambassadors are the regular unplugged meetings lead by our COETAIL graduates. Each monthly discussion opens with challenging readings and videos which prompt passionate debates in an informal context. Although the core group of unplugged attendees are Tech Ambassadors, the meetings are open to all and allow to extend our influence to the early majority (see Diffusion of Innovation Theory via Diana Beabout).

Challenges

In its 3rd year now, the program has lived through some challenges and setbacks from which we continue to learn. The first of these took place last year when all PD days were requisitioned towards the move to our new campus. The impact of this scheduling change became very obvious by the end of our first quarter. We lost a lot of momentum and the new recruits were not exposed to the culture of technology integration we had developed previously. It was compounded by a request from the Tech Ambassadors to not have to present so many times throughout the year to allow a variety of approaches in their interventions:intervention in department meetings, blog posts, publications, KB articles, 1-on-1, screencasts. This translated into a decrease of workshop offerings during the first semester further reducing the visibility of our program. We eventually changed course to bring back weekly workshops in the second semester.

The variety of approaches is welcome but keeping track of each opportunity proved to be challenging. We setup a Google form to record each opportunity the Tech Ambassadors had to train another teacher but the form had little success despite regular reminders. At our meetings, it was clear that actions were taken but without any formal data collection, it was nearly impossible to evaluate our impact.

We have sat in too many wasted faculty meetings where the power of all is entirely wasted on reading a list of announcements which deserved no more than an email. With this suspicious mindset, the Tech Ambassadors have met very few times -sometimes as little as 4- each year. We have now realized that it is better to improve the quality of the meetings than to not meet at all. Regular schedules have been set for the year and Tom and I are working on creating even more opportunities with the Tech Ambassadors.

We offered attendance to conferences and sent Tech Ambassadors to Learning 2, 21CLHK and Google Summits. Surprisingly not all Tech Ambassadors seized the opportunity. I consider this to be wasted chances and I hope we can gently nudge them to attend these super-charged professional development whirlpools in the future.

Action Plan


With a solid foundation of hardware, combined with a motivated staff, KAS is a school ready for a coaching initiative. My challenge is to help start and guide that process.

How can we use the current foundation to help empower teachers?

Space and Time

To build a culture of sharing, teachers need to be given space and time to discuss their ideas and practices with each other. Offline spaces combined with face-to-face opportunities to meet will give teachers a chance to share ideas, lessons, failures, and successes with each other. This can lead to more confidence with themselves, better relationships with their peers, and innovation within the school.

Online

  • Sharing space in the form of a website or blog
  • Social media presence
  • Discourse forum

Victor created a weekly newsletter, Tekiota (http://tekiota.com/ ), to share how-to's and tech tips with the teachers, but each newsletter also includes a “Tip of the Hat”, an award that recgonizes teachers for extraordinary work.

Moving forward, Tom is interested in also creating a shared space where outstanding teaching and learning can be shared with the whole community with the Shekou International School Share Center (http://share.sis.org.cn/)  being one such inspiration. There are many possible uses for this including: sharing exemplar lessons, sharing outstanding student work, notes and recaps from parent meetings, and technology tips for teachers. I imagine this to be started by the coach initially, gradually including teachers to contribute as they can.

For real-time information, social media is great for sharing lessons, teaching practices, and technology integration. Twitter has been used by the school to make school life visible using the hashtag #KAStw. I have added a tech tips hashtag (#KAStech) for technology tips and articles about technology integration. We have also begun trialing a KAS Twitter chat (#KAStwChat). Again, the idea is to give teachers a space on their own time to find their voice, have their ideas heard, as well as to show other teachers how social media can be used professionally. If successful, we could possibly look for other forum possibilities that allow for longer posts.

Face to face


  • Meet every two months with the Tech Ambassadors
  • More frequent Tech Ambassador meetings
    • 20 minute meetings
    • Teacher-led meetings
  • Grade level meetings
  • Peer observation and review
Collaborating online is great to network and build connections with people in other locations. The online component is needed for sharing, while the offline component is needed for building relationships and moving deeper with conversations. The personal interactions are the key to building a strong, cohesive staff. Collaboration amongst staff requires a strong community. (https://hbr.org/2015/10/we-need-both-networks-and-communities )

The first step to empowering teacher is to build their self-efficacy. This starts with a basic understanding of how to use technologies that already exist in their classrooms, and be able to use them confidently. Moving forward, I would like to try to do monthly cycles of one workshop a week after school and do the same workshops the following month on a different day. My goal is to hold workshops that focus on not only how to use tools, but also how to use them effectively in their classrooms with teachers sharing ideas with each other.

While giving a workshop about how to use Google Calendar with two high school math teachers, the conversation shifted to Google Classroom, and one teacher started sharing about how she is using it to help streamline her own classroom. This conversation helped pull the other teacher to a new understanding and their bond was strengthened. Technology workshops among grade-level teams have opened up conversations about how teachers are using a tool in their classrooms, and have led to the sharing of ideas and practices.

The Tech Ambassadors are the school lighthouses, and I see them as an obvious way to test coaching initiatives. Soon after our speed geeking session I began seeing the session ideas show up in teacher’s lessons. These sessions that allow ideas to pass between teachers need to happen more often, and in turn, gives the Tech Ambassadors a chance to shine.

Meetings between the Tech Ambassadors are now scheduled every 2 months. Each week the school schedule is packed with activities and teachers don’t have time for another superfluous meeting. However, face-to-face time is important to maintain relationships and foster idea creation. If meetings are kept short with a cut off time at 20 minutes (http://scottberkun.com/2010/the-22-minute-meeting/), we could have more, short meetings in between the main ones that occour every two months. This would help the Tech Ambassadors and the coach stay connected and up to date with grade-level interactions. A rotating could be set up so teachers would also have a chance to share an exemplary lesson, or a lesson they would like help to improve upon at each 20-minute meeting. Attending teachers would be able to ask questions and give feedback as in the peer coaching model.

Grade level, or subject level teams will be encouraged to plan together along with the coach. As I said with the workshops, the most powerful learning I have encountered while at KAS has been when grade level teams come together. I think the same would apply to planning and I would like to encourage further interactions with teachers allow them to make what they are doing more visible. This has an added benefit that it is more efficient for the coach to meet with teams rather than individually.

One other initiative I would like to see happen is peer observation. I would like to empower teachers to open up their classrooms to other teachers and share what they are doing and engage in reflective dialogue. A purely collaborative model of peer feedback would not only follow the administration’s vision of more professional interaction among teachers in the school, but would also benefit the teachers themselves.

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