Advice for the Newly Hired Instructional Technology Specialist

by Jean Tower

So, you are starting your first job as an instructional technology specialist (ITS) this year, and you are wondering, “What do I do first? What are the most important things I should do in my first two months on the job?” Here’s my advice, based on my own experience of almost twenty years in educational technology.

OBSERVE and ASK QUESTIONS
Before you can make suggestions for changes and improvements you need to know what is already going on. Get to know what hardware and software is available in your school, who the teacher leaders are, and what technology initiatives are already in place. Learn about the strategic goals of the school so you can partner with people to help achieve them through technology. You can’t support the goals of the school if you don’t know what they are – in addition to the strategic plan get to know the school improvement and technology plans. Get to know all about your budget and the budget process and how you participate in it. Be a sponge – find out as much as you can about the curriculum, which units teachers would like to improve, how your school performs on state standardized tests, and what your principal would like you to accomplish.

BUILD RELATIONSHIPS
Get to know people and help them know you. Be approachable, dependable, collaborative, friendly, and supportive. You’ve probably heard the John Maxwell quote, “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Show you care about people’s technology problems and issues by joining them in solving them.

GET OUT IN FRONT
Be fully present and be visible – walk around and meet people; ask teachers if you can meet with them one-on-one, in grade level meetings, and in department meetings. Get yourself invited into classrooms to observe and help. Work with the principal to define expectations and plan ways for you to work with and present to staff.

COMMUNICATE
Talk to people, ask questions, listen, and find existing bright spots of success to celebrate. Start an eNewsLetter. Make sure you work as a partner to the principal. Find out what his or her expectations are and support them. Talk to him/her about your own ideas for technology in the school and see if they are a fit. Find avenues to have teachers share out successes. Communicate what you learned in the ask questions stage – you now know all about the inventory and software available? Make this information available to all. Share resources, information and links on the school web site.

SERVE
Even in your first couple of months, there are many ways you can serve the staff and students in your school. For example, even if your job is strictly non-technical support, if someone has a problem that you can quickly solve, do it. Say yes, and help with enthusiasm. Get into classrooms and use the entry to ask what they are working on, what lessons they are working on so you can suggest ways to be involved to help them further integrate technology, or better yet, to transform their lesson or unit. Offer to collaborate in whatever way helps that teacher the most – offer support, cooperative planning, and consultation on all things technological.

PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR OWN LEARNING

Remember the last time you were on an airplane and the flight attendant reviewed the emergency procedures? You were told that in the event of a change in air pressure, the oxygen masks would drop from the compartment above your head, and that you should put your own mask on before trying to help others. Well, it’s important to adhere to the same principle here.

oxygen-mask

In order to effectively help others, you need to address your own learning first. The job of ITS requires continual learning. I suggest you address this in multiple ways: develop your own personal learning network online, read the blogs of other educators, take classes, go to conferences (like MassCUE and CTO Clinic) and attend your local job-alike groups. Finding out what other schools are doing might help you to solve problems without reinventing the wheel. Collaborate with the other ITS people in your district and if the technology department doesn’t already work together on professional development, suggest it. Make sure you stay abreast of the latest research and technology in education issues, subscribe to your state education department newsfeeds, and read the key journals in the field.

HAVE FUN
The role of ITS offers so many opportunities to have fun, that if you aren’t enjoying your work you may be doing something wrong. I find it is joy to help others become more effective technology users. Enjoy your own learning journey and take pleasure in seeing others grow and learn. Good luck in your new job!

Readers: I know you all must have another suggestion or two for the novice ITS, or event the experienced ITS starting a new job. What advice would you offer?

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