Instructional Technology Coaches can be helpful advisors for teachers if they learn strategies of encouragement and empowerment. Deb Ramm helps us learn the techniques to help powerful improvement happen in classrooms.
IT Coaches Leading Change in the Classroom
Link to show: www.coolcatteacher.com/e329
Date: June 7, 2018
Vicki: So today we’re talking with Deb Ramm from Rhode Island about leading change.
Now, Deb, you work with implementing lighthouse classrooms, but you’ve also recently moved into instructional technology.
What kind of things did you have to do to shift from classroom teacher to instructional technology leader? How did that work for you?
Ramm: I think the change happened pretty organically. Being in a classroom for the past twenty years teaching the same grade gave me the comfort to really explore a lot of the ed-tech tools and have the liberty to really explore that with my students and then just start to share that with colleagues.
I think becoming a leader was one of the things that I worked at probably through doing a lot of the external pieces like being a ??? Fellow. We have this amazing fellowship in Rhode Island with the Highlander Institute that really works to develop leaders.
Working with that group, I really found my tribe, and I really worked to explore and expand myself in a leadership role and helping other teachers in other districts build their own blended-learning capacities. So I think I developed myself as a leader through some of my external pieces.
Vicki: But how do you keep your classroom focused? I’m sure you’ve seen it, sometimes, when people leave the classroom, they forget what it really feels like to be in the classroom. It’s hard to be relevant teachers in that way.
Ramm: For sure. In the past couple of years, I’ve been in my brand-new role. I think one amazing thing that I’ve started to work on with teachers since I’ve left the classroom is to really help manage complex change and to also help them to build their growth mindset around really just working for this change.
Really, we’re changing the landscape of education in our classrooms, and so we’re moving from being teachers in a classroom to really moving toward that blended environment – what does it look like?
I think helping teachers to understand the vision and helping them to develop their skills and their competence and providing them with some incentives and resources along with an action plan really helps to build in how they can manage that change and also how I can remain relevant in their classroom.
For them, what I do much of the time is to really model lessons for them or to work directly with their students and even offer them some kind of embedded supports within their classroom.
That helps me to see at a consistent level what they’re doing in their classrooms and then how I can support them in that work so that I’m constantly having a leg into what’s happening in the classrooms on a daily basis.
Vicki: Now do you find that you need conversations around these? When you do a model lesson, are you going to spend time ahead of time talking to the teacher about what they’re trying to do? Is there a time when you hand over the lesson to them? How does that work?
Ramm: Yes, it’s a very scaffolded approach.
I really do build classroom cohort so that we meet outside of the classroom as groups where we can really collaborate together and plan together.
Then there’s a lot of time where I can sit with each individual teacher and really build a more personalized coaching experience for them, so that I can kind of elevate what they’re doing in the classroom and celebrate what’s happening with their students and then just really challenge them to the next level so that they can see what’s working really well and then consider that problem of practice and how they can kind of push themselves up from that point forward using blended learning and personalization within their own classrooms.
Vicki: Deb, have you ever made a mistake in trying to help someone change and thought, “That was a disaster, I’m never going to do that again?” What was it?
Ramm: Yeah, and I think that’s the really great learning piece of all of this. I think there’s no one-size-fits-all for the teachers that we work with.
I think really appreciating them for who they are and what they have to offer and helping them to see that they do have something to offer regardless of their desire to change.
I think that teachers are pretty amazing people, and we are resilient as a group, but I think when teachers are trying something new, we constantly see ourselves as being that sage on the stage and reaching out for help and trying to get support from other people is sometimes an awkward thing.
I think letting my own guard down and kind of letting people know that I don’t have all the answers, either, and let’s learn this together, and kind of build this together. I think that’s really important.
I think there’s much to be said about a nod and a smile when you’re working with someone, to really just be a listener and hear how they’re doing something in the classroom and really engage them in developing and searching out their problem of practice so that, when they’re exploring a solution, it becomes something that they’re buying into and not something that I’ve just sold them. I think that’s a really important piece.
Vicki: What do you think about this statement, agree or disagree: “The greatest software for innovation in the world is the human brain.”
Ramm: Completely agree. Nothing can happen without real thoughtful consideration of everything that we do.
I think a lot of teachers nowadays, when they’re thinking about using technology in their classrooms, will consider that technology as the end-all and be-all. Quite honestly, as much as I’m helping people to bring blended into their classrooms, there are just certain times where using a computer and pulling in that technology is not the best way.
I think that’s the most empowering piece, to show teachers how technology can make something better, and when doing something with paper and pencil, or just a regular book, or a board game is just the most empowering way to do it.
I think, when people see that there really, truly is a blend, an empowerment, of how we can utilize our resources – that’s when they’re going to make that change: when they see it working for them and know that it’s not everything that you’re pushing for and you’re celebrating what they’re doing on a daily basis regardless of where it’s going in the classroom.
Vicki: So, Deb, I’ve given you a statement that I think and you agreed with it. Why don’t you give me one that you believe about helping teachers change?
Ramm: Oh, boy. I think, when we’re helping teachers to change, I think the most empowering thing we can do to them, and I know I’ve said it, is simply help them to find their tribe.
I know when I first was an early adopter of bringing technology into my classroom I really felt alone. I felt as if I was a silo.
When you’re practicing something and you’re all alone and doing that, it is very hard to find people to share your ideas with so that they can question you in a valuable way and spur you on when you need to be uplifted.
We all know that using technology, we’re going to have lots of instances where we fail. For some people, failing is really a let-down. For others, and the science-minded person in me says, “Failing is that first attempt in learning. We really need to see failure as just a way to find the good in something, switch the bad, and tweak it a little bit.
I think when you find your tribe, when you find the group of people that are going to celebrate the things in you that have challenged yourself with, when you find that group of people who’s willing to support you and give you some of that helpful hints or little suggestions, that’s how you’re going to excel.
So I say to people, “Come out of your silo, find the people that you can work with and that can push you on, and find the people that are going to elevate and celebrate what you’re doing in and out of the classroom, because doing it alone is never going to push you or anything else forward. In order to scale and replicate this, you need to share it and share it with people who are like-minded and can be your thought partners in this.”
Vicki: Oh, we need thought-partners. What a great way to finish up a Thought Leader Thursday, just to challenge all of us: do you have a thought partner, and how do you exchange ideas? How do you discuss ideas, and are you willing to change and level up? Thanks, Deb!
Ramm: Thanks so much!
Contact us about the show: https://www.coolcatteacher.com/contact/
Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford [email protected]
Bio as submitted
Debra Turchetti-Ramm is a 1992 graduate of Rhode Island College. She had been a fourth grade teacher for the Johnston Public School System in Rhode Island since 1997, though now serves as the JPS Instructional Technology Coordinator. She is a National Board Certified Teacher who has done a significant amount of professional development in the areas of science, math, and technology. She is President of the RI Association for Supervision, Curriculum Development and also serves as their Communications Coordinator.
In 2014, she became a state finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science and was recently recognized as a National PAEMST Finalist for Science. She created a STREAM (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts, and Math) program for her fourth grade students, has presented at RI Science Teachers Association, and attended several summer institutes including the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy, the American Geoscience Institute, and the Honeywell Space Academy.
In 2015 Deb was selected as a PBS Lead Digital Innovator and in 2018 she was selected as a PBS All Star. She has been both a participant and trainer for Rhode Island Teachers and Technology Initiative since 1998. Deb transformed her classroom into a blended learning environment using her class website as a launchpad, as well as laptops and iPads with her students daily. Her work with students enabled her classroom to be recognized as a Blended Learning Lighthouse Classroom, which provided personalized instruction for her students. She has presented digital storytelling and creation workshops highlighting the work of her students (often with her students) at various local forums, including the Learning First Alliance, RI Department of Education’s Innovation Powered by Technology, and the Highlander’s Blended Learning Conferences. She continues to share her technology expertise at local and national conference.
In 2016, Debra was Johnston’s District Teacher of the Year, and was a finalist for state Teacher of the Year for Rhode Island. Her new role as Instructional Technology Coordinator has her working with K-12 teachers to support the blended learning initiative within the district. Her primary focus is establishing Lighthouse Classrooms to increase the quality of teaching and learning for kindergarten through grade five classrooms. Her work was recently acknowledged in a Getting Smart podcast entitled “Network Effects Fuels Personalized Learning in Rhode Island.”
Debra is a founding member of EdUnderground, a hands-on laboratory where teachers can discover, explore, create and experiment with technology integration strategies, blended learning models, and other innovative tactics using hardware platforms and software programs to support the diverse needs of students. She is a Fuse RI Fellow, working to collaborate with the state’s districts to assess readiness, analyze data, and help disseminate best blended learning practices based on each district’s specific needs. She continues to provide support for the state’s educators as a Coach/Consultant for Highlander Institute.
Deb has appeared as a guest on the Meet Education Project Podcast and in a segment for PBS RI Classrooms. She is an advocate for personalization through blended learning, has opened her doors as a lighthouse classroom and continues to showcase JPS teachers and students as lighthouse classrooms for districts throughout the state. You can follow Deb on Twitter @Deb_Ramm.
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