6 Steps to Transition from Teacher to Instructional Technologist
Every school has tech-savvy teachers that seem to naturally become "go-to" technology resources for everyone else in the building. If you're reading this, that's probably you! If so, you may be among a growing number of educators who love educational technology (edtech), know it inside and out, and are making a career transition into a full-time role as an instructional technologist. What follows are a few ideas, tips, and best practices for you to ponder as you transition from teaching.
Step 1: Your New Job Description
North Carolina's Guilford County Schools has provided a solid job description template for instructional technologists. In it, they emphasize true co-teaching, where the instructional technologist teaches a specialized portion of a lesson. Also prominent is staff professional development, both in core technology competencies and, critically, the meeting of curriculum goals. Finally, the stated essential job functions emphasize a need to stay current on technology and related instructional practices. All of these items represent a departure from your traditional role in the classroom. Take some time to absorb what your new job description means for you.
Step 2: Your New Mindset
Notice that you are now a specialist, looked to as an expert, a floating change agent for your building and/or district. You are no longer tethered exclusively to the bell schedule or to a set team. For one teacher in Mississippi, this was a natural fit. She was already a self-described "technology junkie," integrating technology into her lessons to the point where it felt strange when an edtech element wasn't present, and she knew that there was a larger world into which she was ready to step.
You will always be a teacher, but in your new role you will be an instructional coach for adults just as much as a day-to-day teacher of students. The field desperately needs technologists who function as effective instructional coaches. Adult professional development accomplishes little if the knowledge gained does not translate to action taken on behalf of students. As part of your new mindset, understand and embrace how many of the same aspects of instructional coaching apply to your role as an instructional technologist.
Step 3: Change How Your Colleagues View You
Your next step is to get your colleagues to see you as a coach and not just as the person who can show them how to attach a file to an outgoing email. One technology specialist in Pennsylvania showed that one of the best ways to accomplish this is by diving in as a collaborator. She not only maintained a repository of technology resources but, like a library media specialist, actively curated these resources for teachers and encouraged collaborative experimentation with them.
These informal activities and pilots grew into formal acceptance of specific apps and other tools that demonstrated an impact for student learning. This happened in part because the specialist successfully got teachers to see her as a collaborative partner, not just as the person who would help them fix their classroom wireless connection.
Step 4: Promote EdTech as a Tool, Not the Curriculum
A common trap into which schools and districts can fall is to view edtech as an end unto itself, when the proper role of technology in a school is as the vehicle, not the driver. In transitioning to your new role, be careful not to let your natural enthusiasm for technology lead you "to fall for fads or gimmicks" in edtech. Keep your focus on curriculum goals and then find and promote the resources to match.
Step 5: Relentless Collaboration
Back to the Guilford County job description: Notice how many specific tasks of an instructional technology specialist begin with words and phrases such as "communicates with," "serves as liaison between," "works with," and similar. Being a technology specialist is akin to being a professional consultant. You have knowledge that teams of teachers need to grow and be more effective, and you will work with them to build upon their strengths, diagnose deficiencies, and move forward over a (hopefully!) long and fruitful relationship.
Step 6: Never Stop Learning
It is likely that you already possess the all-important qualities of a lifelong learner, as people who aspire to specialist roles often have a voracious appetite for new and better ideas. One instructional technologist stated that there are many ways to become such a specialist, but pointed out that learning, helping others to learn, and not being afraid to say "Yes, that's a better way to do it." represent key, underlying characteristics.
I worked with a fourth grade teacher who recently made the transition from teaching to a technology specialist role in a neighboring school district. She embodied the concept of a lifelong learner. She was one of the first to embrace our district's new learning management system (LMS), she organized parent information nights in which she brought people together to talk about how the new LMS was transforming classrooms, and she was always sharing new ideas with her colleagues and the administration. I have no doubt that she will continue to do this in her new district and that she will be hugely successful because she will never, ever stop learning.
You are special. Maybe not exactly in the way in which Mr. Rogers used to sing, but Fred Rogers was ultimately successful because he created a neighborhood where learning and curiosity were the orders of the day. Your new role as an instructional technologist requires exactly that mindset. Don't be afraid to be special and help others be special in turn.
Do you have any tips for making the transition from teaching to becoming an instructional technologist? Tell us on Twitter @Schoology