Jennifer Snelling
A woman standing points to the screen of a desktop computer while a man sits and observes.

Edtech coach. IT facilitator. Lead tech teacher. There are almost as many titles for people who fill the role as there are models for the role itself. Depending on the state, district or school, there may be one edtech coach per school or per district. Some co-teach or provide professional development. Others keep the technology inventory and help with repairs.

Ashley McBride, author of The EdTech Coaching Primer, has worked within many of these structures. She’s worked in one district supporting four different schools and in another where she had to take a part-time job and hope another school would hire her to fill out her week. She's also worked as the lone edtech coach in a small school within a district where every school defined the role differently.

What has she learned over the years?

Some models work better than others. For instance, an edtech coach shouldn’t have to coordinate testing – nor is the edtech coach the repair technician. These tasks are not taking full advantage of the coach’s unique skills.

While it's common for people to call the edtech coach when they run into technical difficulties, McBride advocates using the 10-minute rule. Give the problem 10 minutes. If you can’t fix it, put in a help desk request and ask the teacher how the issue is impacting instruction right now. Offer to help them pivot until the issue is resolved. The biggest priority is getting back to instruction ASAP.

“The research I’ve done is about making sure you have an actual, substantial change in a classroom,” she says. Below are her five keys to a successful edtech framework.

1. Make sure professional development aligns with digital learning plans.

Most states or districts have a digital learning plan and provide metrics and rubrics. Future Ready Schools and ISTE also provide resources for establishing teaching and learning goals.

Coaches can help here by doing a needs assessment with those goals in mind. For example, if a school hopes to promote personalized learning but is not providing personalized PD, there is an opportunity to bring that PD in line with the overall vision. If the goal is to get students working collaboratively, then ask teachers to do more collaboration during their PD.

2. Design PD in a way that works best for teachers.

If teachers prefer after-school PD, schedule it then. If they want it during the school day, accommodate them.

Setting up small, subject- or grade-based groups can save time and keep the content focused. Choice-based PD lets teachers seek out what they can use the most. For example, McBride sets up different tables according to interests, such as data and assessment, or vision and leadership. Teachers come in, select their topic, and get started. McBride goes from table to table to offer support.

Some of her teachers followed her lead and began setting up their classrooms similarly to facilitate differentiation.

3. Set up formal coaching cycles.

A coaching cycle is an opportunity to work with individuals on tech integration and rethinking the classroom. Start with regular observation, debriefing and coaching sessions. Ideally, coaching includes co-planning, co-teaching and modeling.

Some teachers may be reluctant to participate. Bring teachers on board carefully so they feel supported, not undermined. Get to know the teachers so that they like having you in the classroom. The message needs to be clear that the coach is there to observe and provide support where needed, not to be evaluative. It’s easier to start with teachers you have relationships with or those teachers who ask to collaborate. Word will get around that the coaching is helpful.

Provide coaching supports in a sustained time frame of three years or more.

4. Personalize teaching supports.

Some teachers may want the coach to do some research, some may need help rethinking a lesson or some may want the coach to be an extra pair of hands in the classroom when trying a tech tool for the first time. Give the teacher what they need, when they need it.

For example, when McBride was teaching an English class, she wanted to incorporate a lesson on blogging. She didn’t have an edtech coach, so, on top of grading papers, she spent her evenings researching the best tools for blogging and how kids could do it safely. That research took time away from her family. Now, she goes to teachers to ask what they want to do but don’t have time to research. Then, she does the research for them.

5. Focus on leadership responsibilities.

Some coaches are excellent with STEM. That coach can be a leader with STEM clubs and activities. Another might be great with PD and is most valuable at the district level. Play to the coach's strengths.

“After COVID, it’s more important than ever that we go all-in on this support for teachers now that we have devices purchased with ESSR funds," she says. "There are effective ways to blend the best of face-to-face and digital learning practices. An edtech coach can help people figure it out and give them a safety net.”

Edtech Coaching Primer

Jennifer Snelling is an education blogger based in Eugene, Oregon, who explores how technology enriches and enhances learning.