Building a Solid Foundation by Kim Cofino

Building a Solid Foundation by Kim Cofino

Cross-posted on Always Learning

Well, it's hard to believe but another school year has begun! This time around I'm starting the year in a new country (Japan), new school (Yokohama International School), and a not-so-new job (Technology and Learning Coach). This is our fourth international school in eleven years and if the past few weeks are anything to go by, I think we'll be here for a while!

Over the past month or so, Alex and I have been spending the majority of our time settling in to our new apartment (which we love). We've been to Ikea twice already, Muji (kind of a Japanese Ikea) more times than I can count, the electronics store at least once a week, and pretty much spent every waking hour not shopping for home goods building, unpacking, organizing and sorting everything into its proper place.

As much as I love setting up a new home, I'm realizing that this process is more than just decorating, it's about feeling settled, safe and comfortable in your environment. What makes people feel comfortable when they move to new places may be different, some people might not feel at home until they've found their favorite restaurant or joined a gym, but the concept is the same. Until your basic needs are met, you end up feeling distracted and unable to take on new responsibilities. The same is true for a work environment. Although you may not be moving to a new school (or even a new classroom), we all need to feel a sense of stability before taking risks and trying something new.

For many teachers, doing new things (especially with technology) in their classroom can seem as daunting as an international move. Knowing how I've felt these last few weeks getting our apartment settled, I want to make sure my priority as Technology and Learning Coach is to help my new colleagues feel safe and comfortable with me and the technology they use everyday before expecting them to try something new in the classroom. Building a solid foundation of trust and security is the only way I can expect my teachers to take risks with me.

After learning from plenty of mistakes in the past, here are my top 7 priorities for starting the year off right (trying to take some of my own advice here):

Building Relationships: In my 3 years at ISB, I learned that the absolute key to helping teachers try new things in their classroom is for them to trust you. When you have a positive relationship with another teacher you are much more willing to work with them and to take risks. These first few weeks and months are critical for me to begin making connections on a personal level with as many teachers as possible. I like to think I'm a nice person, and even if I sometimes push people out of their comfort zone, I want them to know that I am always there to help.

Be Approachable: Sometimes technology is intimidating and people (especially teachers) can become reluctant to ask for help, in fear of a typical techno-babble response. Making the technology office a welcoming place by greeting people when they come in, treating their questions with respect, and answering with simple step-by-step instructions helps set people at ease. There is no limit to what a little patience, a friendly tone of voice, and simple responses can do to build a welcoming and approachable vibe in a technology team. Once people see that you can actually help them, they will come back for more!

Be Available: I'm not a fan of talking tech at lunch, but I know how important it is that people feel supported. Getting questions answered in the hallway, on the sidewalk, over dinner or in the grocery store is a clear signal to teachers that you are ready and willing to help. It is amazing how appreciative people will be if you are able to go just a little out of your way to solve their problems.

Be Proactive: Every day the past week I've made sure to spend some time walking around to each and every classroom in my division, just popping in to see how things are going and to make sure previous requests have been completed. I certainly haven't been able to solve everything, but demonstrating that I care and want to make sure everything is functioning makes people feel supported and listened to. Every now and again all it takes is a sympathetic ear and an understanding of the issue for a problem to resolve itself.

Be Positive: It's easy to become frustrated with technology, but maintaining a positive attitude and staying calm under pressure helps other teachers (and students) feel less stressed and nervous. I figure if I see technology in a positive light, I can lead others to see things that way too.

Being Appreciative: It's easy to arrive at a new school and constantly talk about the way things were done at your last school, or to start comparing teachers. I get sucked into that kind of behavior every time I move, but it's counter-productive. I need to make sure I am appreciative of what has been done here, where the school is at in its development, and how I can tailor solutions for this particular school, staff and students. I need to take the time to understand what is working before I can say with certainty what needs to be improved. Of course, this doesn't mean that I don't have ideas right now, but going in thinking I know everything is a surefire way to get started on the wrong foot.

Build Community: Every school has a group of keen teachers who are ready and willing to learn, but they don't always know each other. Finding ways to bring those teachers together, as well as support those teachers who are not ready yet, is so important. For the last five years (at MKIS and then ISB) I've run after school walk-in tech support. There is something about an open-door tech support session, in a classroom, that helps put people at ease, and engages the more advanced users in a technology leadership role. In addition to those general walk-in sessions, I'm also going to run a weekly "Pimp My Mac" session for tips and tricks to help teachers be more productive with tech.

Final Thoughts

This is just the beginning of the year, I know I will need to add more ideas to the list as time goes on, but I hope a positive and supportive attitude will go a long way to establishing a strong foundation of techie goodness here at YIS. As much as I hate it, I know I can't do everything at once. I hope we can start our own cohort of CoETaIL here soon, Parent Coffee Mornings are already calling my name, I would love to bring a Flat Classroom workshop here, I'm anxious to get a Digital Citizenship curriculum going, maybe start a GenYES student group, and continue building a coaching team. One step at a time!

What am I missing? What should I be doing now to build a solid foundation with the YIS community?