August 23, 2018

Some of you might not know it, but I started at a new school this year. I planned to be a full-time technology integration and educational consultant from the start of 2018, but then the opportunity came along to spend two months at a new school, and I just could not resist – it doesn’t take much to coax me back into the classroom. But what an eye opener it has been.

I have now been there almost two weeks and guess what has been the hardest part? Getting the technology sorted out.
Getting classroom keys, no problem.
Textbooks sorted within a few minutes.
Starting to teach, bring it on!

I decided to compile some tips & ideas for teachers making it easier to use a new school’s technology based on my experiences. These tips are mostly aimed at ICT coordinators and principals, but as a teacher, it might also be a good idea what you need to expect from a new school.

Getting my wifi username, password, computer, printing code, email address, accessing class lists, adding marks, receiving emails, connecting with learners, accessing the shared resources, downloading the programs that should be on my computer…it took forever, and I have a sneaky feeling that my 2 months there will be over before everything is working as it should.

Now take into account that this is a school that has been doing this for years, and I am not really new to the technology thing. How on earth do other teachers deal with it?

The new normal

If you are a Cape Townian like me, you are familiar with the concept “The new normal”. Well planning to assist new staff with technology is another new normal. It would be a mistake to think that in a few years all teachers will be used to teaching with technology and just slide into your school’s system. I am used to using technology, figuring out how programs work and I moved from one technology-infused school to another. And I still spend every free lesson of my first week running from one person to another to get my stuff sorted out. The only advantage I had was that I knew what I needed to figure out. Even if teachers are used to teaching with technology, they might not be used to your technology. And in the chaos of starting at a new school, they should not need to figure this out by themselves.
The first and most important tip is, have one person deal with creating new staff online. I think part of the reason that my online persona is still not complete is that my new school has such a complicated system. The person who created my wifi username and password was not the person who manage the email groups, and that is a different person from the one who is in charge of the admin program, while another person deals with the learning management system and still another one loaded the necessary programs on the computer. Getting my printing code meant searching for another person, by this time I knew the school buildings like the back of my hand and I was ready to give up. There should be a list of everything that needs to be done, and one person should be in charge of it all.

A technology orientation day

At my previous school, we introduced a technology orientation day with great success. New staff were expected to come in on an afternoon before the start of the new school year to get their computers, log in and make sure that everybody was set up and ready for the first day.
In the past they would only get this information on the first day, the problem is that so much of what is happening on the first day is based on technology. We no longer give them think files with all the policies and processes. All of that is in the cloud, and until they can access the school’s cloud, they are lost. It was also very useful to give new staff their school email addresses the moment they sign their contract, that way they stay up to date with what is happening at the school from the word go. Having the orientation day before the start of the school year has an advantage that the teachers get to play around and get comfortable before school starts.

The physical stuff

The second important thing is to make sure that the hardware is ready for the new staff. Before new staff can be allocated computers you have to get the devices back from the teachers that have left, clean them up and upgrade them. It is important that you have a policy and process in place for staff to hand in their devices in good time when they leave.
Also, make sure that new staff know how to use the tools in the class and where to go if they need some help.

Communication systems

Even at schools with very little technology, most communication takes place via email. When I started I was told that they had done away with daily staff meetings, and replaced it with one meeting a week, the rest is all done via email, which sounds very impressive except for the fact that after two weeks I have not received any emails yet. For some reason the system doesn’t like me, even though we have tried several times, I still don’t receive the bulk emails.
And it is not just about receiving emails, as a new teacher you need to know what is the policy about emailing learners and parents. Are you able to email your classes? Are there other bulk email options. And while you are setting up their email account, don’t forget to create a school signature for them.

Teaching with technology

You might think this will be the hardest of them all, but it was the one aspect that I managed to get under control first. But that might just be me. There are so many tools and programmes that school can use for eLearning, that even if your new teachers are familiar with eLearning, they might not be used to the programmes you are using.

When we started using Classroom three years ago, we had lots of training sessions. We spend a lot of time and money on getting everybody on board. Last year we had three new staff members, so I thought I would just sit with them and showed them how Classroom work. It wasn’t beneficial, while they set up their classes, an hour session here and there just wasn’t enough to give them the self-confidence to use it.

This year I tried something new, I wrote a ten-day course, walking them through the basics of Google Classroom. While this cannot replace the hours and hours of training we had at the beginning, it was much more successful in getting the new staff started. Especially the ones who are computer savvy could use this as a starting block, while the ones who are not so computer savvy could use it as a starting block, at least they know what they wanted to ask about.

BTW this course is now available to anybody, for FREE!

But classroom technology is about a lot more than just the Learning Management System. Each subject collects lots of electronic resources over time, which should be shared among teachers. Make sure that new teachers know how they can access these resources.

I have created a checklist, that you can adapt for your school. Complete the form to receive a link to the checklist. I think for me the worst part of this process was that I didn’t know what needs to be done. Give a copy of this list to your new teachers, so that they can a least ask if something is not working.

If you have started at a new school recently, share your experience in the comments. What could your new school have done to make your life easier?

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