Most districts have some version of a TOSA, teacher on special assignment. Often, these are edtech coaches brought on board with the idea that in 3-5 years everyone will be up to speed and the position will no longer be needed.
“That’s ridiculous because the rate of change is so fast and it continues to increase,” says Josh Harris, director of education technology at Alisal United School District in Salinas, California. “If anything, this is an area of teacher support that’s becoming even more important since teachers are already super busy with the work they have to do.”
Ideally, every teacher would have access to an on-site edtech coach, but as funding disappears those edtech coaches are getting reabsorbed back into the classroom. Harris and Kelly Martin, director of education technology at Lake Tahoe Unified District, have come up with a solution.
They are training full-time classroom teachers as on-site edtech liaisons. Here are their tips for how to make a similar system work in your district.
- Make a list. If you know the money is running out and your district may not have TOSAs next year, start compiling a list of all the tasks TOSAs do. This can be used to argue for their value as well as a job description for whoever has to fill that void.
- Pick passion. When choosing your new edtech liaisons, remember that enthusiasm is more important than experience. “We are a 95% Latino school district,” Harris said. “We want our professional developers to look like our students. Youth and enthusiasm are more important than tech skills because you can upskill people.”
If you know one teacher who would be great, but is worried about the time commitment, ask if they want to find someone who will work as a team.
- Decide on the basics of the job. Empower liaisons to be confident in their skills while meshing with the site plan. “We set up some clear goals for teachers,” Harris said.
Alisal asks the liaisons to hold office hours for small-group or one-on-one coaching, as well lead tech clubs that are 1-2 hours of professional development. Alisal pays an hourly wage and requires a minimum number of deliverable hours per month. Kelly doesn’t have the personnel to process timesheets for edtech leads, so Lake Tahoe District pays a stipend. These leads hold two half-hour PD sessions per month. They are allowed to hold additional trainings, upon request. Both districts also pay teachers an hourly wage to attend.
- Train the trainers. Alisal pays liaisons to attend three days of PD each summer, as well as three Saturdays in the spring where the agenda is almost entirely created by them. Whenever there is money for conferences, the liaisons get the first crack at them, and they are also encouraged to earn various certifications. The badges on their email bring them some street cred, Harris says.
- Provide support. Alisal holds monthly meetings with the liaisons that last 60-90 minutes. They are invited to share struggles and successes, which helps develop a shared vision and a common goal.
- Get fellow teachers to start relying on the liaisons. Martin says this has not been too hard. “Teachers like having someone at their site,” she says. “Since it’s much faster than waiting for someone at the district level to get to them.”
George Lopez, an edtech TOSA at Alisal, says he likes to work with teachers in their classrooms. That way the teachers start to see the site-based liaison as an expert.
Jennifer Snelling is a freelance writer based in Eugene, Oregon, and mom to two digital natives.