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Tech TOSAs 101: 10 Tips for Teachers on Special Assignment

What exactly IS a Tech TOSA? We are lucky to have two former Teachers on Special Assignment in our community of Ozobot educators, Amanda Taylor and Christina Whitmire, who sat down with us to explain the role in their own words and provide tips and tricks for new or aspiring Tech TOSAs.

Amanda Taylor began her education career in Texas, where she taught family consumer sciences at the high school level for eight years. She then moved to California and found a job working for the technology services department of Saddleback Valley Unified School District. A TOSA, Amanda says, is a teacher working in a training capacity with other teachers, but it’s important to understand that they aren’t administrators.

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“TOSA is a regional term,” she says. “If I were to say TOSA in Texas nobody would know what I was talking about! Other states do hire ‘Instructional Technologists’ that work in a similar role as a TOSA does, but not everyone calls it a TOSA.” All of these roles, she says, specialize in instructional technology and training teachers.

Besides varying by region, TOSA roles can vary from district to district. At Amanda’s district, one instructional coordinator oversaw three TOSAs, whose jobs were completely focused on training. In other districts, TOSAs might serve as domain administrator for .edu accounts or manage grade book setup. “I probably spent 50% of my time in classrooms with teachers,” says Amanda. “What people love about the role is that you don’t have your own classroom to take care of, so on the best days, you get to be like a fairy godmother and float from class to class showcasing the best of your work without papers to grade.”

Christina Whitmire has spent the majority of her 25-year teaching career in the Oakley Union Elementary School District, which has about 5,000 students. She chalks her transition into serving as a Tech TOSA up to her district’s aspirations to become more technologically advanced and aware. “When the district decided to provide a lot of Chromebooks and have our students use Google,” she says, “they also decided that they needed training for Google and created the TOSA position, which I applied to and got.”

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Christina acknowledges her credential in technology and computer applications probably helped. She says her district “wanted someone who would be able to understand computers and Google, work with the tech, and be the go-between between the Technology Department and Ed Services Department and help each understand what the other was doing.” Her district, like many others, was looking for someone to bridge that gap and teach the teachers.

“We needed help on many levels,” she says, “but the main two were (1) teachers who needed training on actually using the tools and computer, such as ‘click there, double-click here’ basics. But (2) we also needed to show teachers how to go deeper than that to integrate technology, transform learning, then connect it with standards.”

Amanda and Christina both experienced great success in their TOSA journeys. Below you’ll get their tips and advice for other educators thinking of taking the leap.

Tips for Becoming a Tech TOSA

1. Get as many certifications as you can.

As the Chromebooks rolled into Oakley Union ESD, Christina took it upon herself to get certified with Google as a Trainer and Innovator. Through that training, she heard about our Ozobot Certified Educator program.

These certifications—Ozobot Certified Educator, Google Certified Educator Level 1 & 2, and Google Certified Trainer & Innovator—can be more impactful than a Master’s degree for consideration in applying to this role. “If your district is using Google or G Suite,” Christina says, “become a Google Certified Trainer. My district never required me to have the certification, but I felt far more prepared to train other people after having it.”

2. Gain experience in adult education.

Past successes working with and training educators prove more influential in TOSA hiring decisions than only having taught a classroom of students. “It’s not always the teacher with a Master’s in educational technology who becomes a TOSA,” according to Amanda. “It’s the teacher who has decided they want to work with other teachers. A misconception is that a TOSA is all about the tech, but working with adults is a really challenging piece, as they can be even more apathetic or disgruntled than high schoolers.”

3. Attend education conferences, and present at them!

Presenting at conferences is a great experience to add on your resume and exhibit evidence of your proficiency evangelizing tech and teaching it to the masses. There are plenty of edtech specific conferences to choose from—from London’s BETT, with almost 35,000 attendees from 130 countries, to Philadelphia’s ISTE 2019.
Christina leads by example for us here, as she just presented at Spring CUE 2019 last week about becoming Google certified!

4. Search EDJOIN, district job boards, and social media.

Amanda gave us some other names for TOSA-type roles in other states and districts, to help with your job search, including Instructional Technologist, Educational Technologist, Instructional Technology Coach, and Site Tech Coach.

Also nowadays, there are especially active educators in Facebook groups and on Twitter, so don’t be shy about looking around for districts posting job listings or even posting yourself in your target district’s page asking for a tech-focused teaching role!

Experience can be a major factor in terms of applications requirements, with most districts looking five years or more. Grade level, however, is less important. “I taught high school,” says Amanda, “but as TOSA most of my work was in elementary school classrooms.”

5. Introduce tech and share ideas in your current role.

School administrators who witness teachers naturally sharing technology lessons in class are more likely to create new opportunities within the district. Amanda expands on her experience with becoming a TOSA:

“All the people I’ve known who have stumbled into TOSA or instructional technologist positions have very different paths. Some start as a teacher leader, someone who stands out as wanting to see change happen. They’re the teacher who will have a small group of fellow teachers in their room, showing them something they just learned themselves after coming back from a conference, bringing knowledge and sharing it. Signs of a teacher who won’t be as successful of a TOSA: if they’re someone to hold all their knowledge and resources to themselves, then that’s just not the definition of a trainer. A TOSA should have a teacher’s heart for everyone.”

Advice for Serving in the TOSA Role

1. Work with your district’s resources and administrators.

Before planning your initiatives, get familiar with the WiFi bandwidth available. This will help you understand just how many devices and new types of tech you can implement. Christina suggests to keep trying new things and proposing them to your administrators:

“Keep being open. Really work with your district or the district where you want to go to figure out the logistics of things. WiFi, bandwidth, can you add devices, what devices are okay, and keep asking the questions: ‘How can I add more devices? Can I use more of the bandwidth? Can I spend this money on that, or can I get any money for funding?’

2. Tailor your approach to each type of teacher.

Know the continuum and theory of your ‘early adopters’ versus ‘late adopters’. Then, Amanda recommends the gradual release model for working with the late adopter teachers. For the first classroom visit, she would show the teacher how to use the new tech by doing it herself (“I do it”). Then, for the next classroom visit they would use the tech together (“We do it”). Finally, she’d come back again and the teacher would use the tech by himself or herself (“You do it”), with Amanda there just for support and troubleshooting. Amanda said this method worked wonderfully when her district was introducing Ozobots in their classrooms. She and her fellow TOSAs designed a three-day training program, so that by the third day teachers felt comfortable integrating Ozobots into one of their lesson plans alone.

3. Create online training for teachers to do at home.

It can be challenging to find subs or get district approval to host professional development (PD) during regularly-scheduled school days. Christina found success using a non-conventional training method. “I created tech academies to roll out Chromebooks and introduce teachers to Google. It became so varied, because some teachers could just take off and wanted to learn more at a more advanced level, others were still frustrated with turning the device on or getting it to project. From there, I created a gamified online training system for our staff, so they could look at modules they needed or had interest in. We earned badges and ran a friendly competition to keep learning going.” Research your district’s policies on time spent outside of class hours before going this direction.

4. Make your own training materials, embracing your style and comfort zone.

“Our beginning staff members felt much more comfortable hearing a voice and seeing a face that they recognized,” says Christina, “so I made a lot of my own training videos. They didn’t feel comfortable enough to seek out a lot of outside resources on YouTube, even though there’s a lot out there. The most effective training tools were still the ones that I created. Whether it was my podcast or my weekly videocast, I could have been sharing very similar information, but it really seemed to help when I could make the training materials match the exact same screenshots that the teachers will look at on our district’s devices.”

5. Train teachers by training students first!

Our TOSAs suggest overcoming one of the most common objections from teachers—that tech training is just “one more thing they have to do”—by getting them to see their kids’ excitement, and witnessing the value that tech adds to learning retention and engagement.

Christina spent a lot of her time going into classrooms and modeling different tech devices, and she found that one of the easiest ways to train the teachers is to train the students:

“There are so many of those ‘A-ha!’ moments. One of the best things about being the Technology TOSA is that you’re always the fun person. Even as I go in and give a lesson, I break up some of the monotony or routines that students are used to. We forget kids live by the bell too, so having something new and different is always exciting. People are excited to see you. Either you fix something that’s broken and they’re happy, or you show them something new and they’re happy. Lots of times students with behavioral problems shine in the area of technology, so they feel good about things. It’s just a very feel-good role,” Christina concluded.

A HUGE thank you to Amanda (@TeacherandGeek) and Christina (@EdTechChristina) for sharing their insights into this exciting opportunity to spread STEAM learning and teach tech throughout school districts everywhere!

Are you currently a Tech TOSA (whether your district calls it by another name) or looking to become a teacher of technology? Let us know in the comments below!


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