Extreme Collaboration

This year I’m the Interim Director of Educational Technology at my school in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It is my 4th year at this school. When I began working here I had a team of colleagues. I’m the only EdTech person at my school now.

Sad, Depressed, Depression, Sadness

Everyone knows this is not the ideal situation. A late resignation in the year by the former EdTechDirector left the school with little choice. I proposed to the Head of School that I keep the ship afloat until a new captain can be found. How could one person possibly support a school of 1,000 students and over 100 faculty? Extreme collaboration? The question I’ve been asking myself, Is it really possible to collaborate to the point where I make up for positions that are not there? Can extreme collaboration be the key?

Our elementary school used to have two tech coaches. In order to support that division I proposed each grade level have a digital learning leader (DLL). A person who will guide their team in learning about and with technology. Regardless, of the change in support, I believe this is a positive change for our ES. Having a team member with the relationships developed and insight into the curriculum who is constantly present is ideal for meaningful technology integration. This also helps in the release of responsibility to the teachers, which has met resistance in the past.

Many of the benefits to this experience this year lie in the learning that I’m doing. Expanding my experience to working in the MS & HS divisions brings new learning, which is very welcomed. Explicitly listing the benefits for me helps fight the feeling of stress and being overwhelmed by an unrealistic ask. Who is doing the asking? The school certainly knows that I’m doing the best I can with what I have. I still have internal dialogues about how to meet the expectations of this position, and where this experience will lead me.

Tech Coach to Learning Coach

I’m coming up on ten years of working in education and technology. At the end of last year, I was told that my role would be changing. I had been serving 3rd Grade – 5th Grade. My position was changed to support the ES as a whole. Not only that, but we changed from specialty coaches to generalist coaches. I believe that there are some people who are skilled in tech integration, literacy, and math instruction, and whatever curriculum specialty areas, ex. PYP. However, I believe this a rather tall order. If you have a consistent coaching staff, development of all these skills to provide support development of these areas for teachers can happen.

I think that the role of the digital learning coach is essential and should be differentiated from the other learning coaches. This role is needed until we arrive at a place where the baseline of a faculty is proficient enough to not need this level of support. I believe the systems and structures in a school should establish a non-negotiable baseline of tech knowledge and skills for their teachers. It’s kind of unusual to strive to eliminate your own position.

The model that I have used in the past did not foster independence and ownership over the digital tools, planning, and application in the classroom. I knew that it needed to change. Currently, being available to coach, building relationships, and suggesting new ideas when I can, is my strategy. I don’t feel like it’s particularly successful.

To my dismay, my school is going through a transitional time with our IT program. Our hardware and technical support are well established. However, our resources for educational technology, pedagogy, and integration have been shrinking. I will the last person standing next year from the ed tech side of things. It feels a bit overwhelming and lonely. Working on reaching out more to make those steps forward regardless of the ambiguity and changes happening.

Redefining Roles

It’s been a lovely holiday break. The new year is in full swing, back to work. Of all the tidbits of knowledge and insight I wanted to volley in my PLN before the holiday break, this one stayed with me over the last month.

I have the pleasure of relocating next year, which means I’ve navigated the roller coaster of recruitment season. I review positions and posts, as I define myself in the teaching community. Whether I tell someone that I am a teacher, or go further to say technology integrationist, it feels a weak word to represent the job.

@hiphughes is a great resources I’m just discovering. Particularly his take on being a teacher vs. a FOLE. Facilitator of Learning Experiences, I wish the acronym sounded better.


This embodies the student centered and created content learning experience. I have come back to this idea over and over. I wonder if you agree?



Dreaming of the Future

I have worked in schools with Smartboards for many years now. They tend to go unused by teachers, who don’t have the time to learn a new software program, or figure out how to get it to connect and orient. A technician at work shared this with me. No beamer, no separate technology not connected to the users device.

Dreaming of the future, I love to. I don’t this one is so far away.

Change Pilots

Stop and take a look
Some rights reserved by Kate Uebelherr

When I first arrived at my school, many of the teachers new and returning asked for some kind of e-portfolio program. In tandem, a place for information and student learning can be shared and celebrated, on a teacher site or blog.

The first year of the teacher sites and blogs had 7 teachers, now the second year we are up to 20 teachers! In addition to rolling out Easy Blog Jr. in Gr. 1 & 2, with e-portfolio focus groups in upper and lower primary. Change is happening and takes time. I am taking a moment to enjoy this success.

Navigating the variety of perspectives, experiences, and situations that each teacher contributes to the community can be tricky. I bring my own subjective perspective to each situation, sometimes making it difficult to remove my ego from the equation. Seeing a way forward that respects and encourages dialogue, and further develops our practice as teachers. The role of change maker, change agent, or whatever else you want to call it, is not an easy one. Leaning on my PLN connects I found some great visuals to keep myself focused.

I have changed this to my desktop background at work. Regardless of the frustrations and challenges, I believe in what I am doing. As I continue day in and day out working to make change in my community, I will stop from time to time to take in the view, appreciate the progress that has been made, and continue building the relationships that change is built on.



A weekend away in Berlin for an inquiry about inquiry. Meeting new PYP teachers from different schools, grade levels, and perspectives was refreshing and fun. We even had a chance to experiment with foam. We were literally playing with the different kinds of inquiry, structured, guided, and open. (Just as we received our Makey Makey’s in the mail today at school!)

As a group we made our own inquiry cycle, as my reflection details. I’m able to participate in my classrooms in a much more knowledgable and supportive way since my PYP trainings this year. Creating more shared documentation of the PYP in action is a action piece I am following up on.

I tried out Adobe Voice for this story. It was simple, easy, and creates a nice product. Enjoy!


Google Drive with 1:1 iPads

At my school the Grade 1 and 2’s have 1:1 iPads, this is the third year in the program. Last year I created a Google Drive account just for the iPad classrooms. This allows the teachers to have a separate storage and sharing place for students, rather than using their teacher Drive account.

This has been a great tool for sharing and organizing. The Drive accounts are based on the position rather than an individuals name, e.i. Grade 1 Teacher 1. I connected each iPad to the shared Drive manually, to simplify this for the students. The students create their own folder in the shared Drive. We make agreements around the privacy of each persons folder. We set up a class shared folder that everyone is allowed to go into. This is a place that field trip photos and other curated collections can be easily shared with the students.

Today in Grade 1 the students we able to select four pictures from the shared folder of field trip pictures to show different building materials of shelters they saw. Once in the Drive they chose Open in, and save image. This made a copy in Photos, where the pictures can be accessed from many other Apps, like PicCollage.

The students will get their own Google Account when they are in 3rd grade. The shared Google Drive in Gr. 1 and 2 scaffolds the use of Drive, supporting independent use later on.


PD revival

After my first year of working at a PYP school, I was sent on a “Making the PYP Happen” Cat. 1 training. This course looked at the overall structure of the PYP curriculum. The training was done in a way that used best practices for leading inquiry and collaborative learning. I have to say, I left feeling like I had finally discovered a curriculum and philosophy that I can believe in.

When I first entered teaching it was certainly motivated working with students, giving back, contributing the to better future of those who I work with. However, the curriculum never inspired or captured my interest. I was a very inquisitive student in a private Catholic education. My favorite question to ask was, and still is, why? Not in an annoying way of a child playing around with the idea of unending questions, but truly getting to the core of the idea.

Asking this questions was, and still is one of my favorite questions to ask. My trainer opened the course with a short video by Simon Sinek .

Asking why became a theme throughout the weekend, and I couldn’t believe what got me attention from frustrated teachers as a student, was a legitimate and valuable part of teaching. I enjoyed my weekend of PYP training and look forward to another one soon about inquiry. I have come away, not only with a much better understanding of how teaching and learning is happening at my school and how I can be a more effective part of that, but a renewed sense of purpose in my career.

I was fortunate to be on the course with two friends from school Ash and Karen, who both work in the Early Years Center. At the end of the course we needed to produce a  collaborative expression of our understanding. We had a great time putting together this little book called “Why’s Rocks”.

Making the PYP happen KU Fall 2015 Book

We laughed and sat outside working together in a very natural and organic way. Always bring our teaching practices back to why is a keeper for me.

As I look at my Why, I also have been studying how I use my time. Mastering my time is something I have been studying. It has been suggested that dividing your time into sleep, play, physical activity, focus, connecting, time in, and time out are key areas to balance, bringing inner growth.

I was shown this jellybean video at my staff meeting this week.


Being more aware of how I spend those jellybeans of actual free time in my life is an exercise I am enjoying. In fact, writing more is a way I would like to be more creative in my life.


Being Human is our Greatest Gift

It has been a long time since I have been so uplifted by a short film, as I have with this one by Tiffany Shlain, founder of Moxie institute.

Take a look at Adaptable Mind.
I often wonder about where are we going with all this technology. It’s so easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of information, knowledge, innovations, etc. zipping around us.

Adaptable Mind emphasizes that it’s our unique humanness that is our greatest asset for today and the future. They identify curiosity, creativity, initiative, multi-disciplinary thinking, and empathy as five skills/qualities/characteristics that will be valued in the future.

Accessing knowledge is not a challenge anymore. It’s filtering, sorting, understanding, and reflecting on the vast amount of knowledge out there, is the challenge. Some instructional strategies of yesterday do not give students the opportunity to develop some of these skills discussed in Adaptable Mind.

I think there are strong natural connections between the skills discussed in the film and many of the PYP learner profile: inquirers, open minded, caring, balanced, risk taker, reflective, principled, communicators, and knowledgeable. As my experience working with technology in education evolves, so does my perspective on the what, how, and why of being an educator. I appreciate the deeper look at how our world is changing, and our relationship to technology.

I feel passionately about the importance of balance and reflection, especially when it comes to technology. It is seamlessly in our everyday, we have to make an effort to unplug. Taking care of our relationships with ourselves and others is important in having a balanced life. I think it is crucial to look at how we really spending the hours of our days and if it reflects our priorities.

Tiffany Shlain & The Moxie Institute Films has a series called The Future Starts Here, that I have been enjoying. I recommend diving deeper if you like this short film.


Flipped blog time

Ms. Kate's Kids screenshotI have recently started using Kidblogs with my third graders at school. Using the idea of flipped classrooms I wanted to have the students use their blogs at home because we don’t have the ability to do this at school.

I would love to have blogs be a regular part of learning about digital citizenship and communicating with their peers, however it’s just not possible in Yangon, Myanmar now. I know in the future it will be possible, I remind myself of this when I want to write it off as a failure. It’s truly better for them to have a little experience with them, than nothing at all.

I attempted to have the third graders open their blogs in ICT class today, only to find that no one could get the page to load. I encouraged them to get online at home if they could to continue writing posts and commenting on others posts. Some day soon I will be connected for real!

I will be moving to Switzerland this summer, and I’m VERY excited to be the Primary Technology Integration Specialist at Inter-Community School, Zurich next year. All this work in CoETaIL has really made a difference in my career. I finally have an opportunity to carry out my vision of tech integration with the proper resources and support. I think I need a new name for my blog.

Some rights reserved by MadGeographer
Some rights reserved by MadGeographer