This post is a little late, but having just finished my first year in my new position as an Instructional Technology, TOSA (Teacher on Special Assignment), I would be remiss if I didn’t post a reflection. I transitioned into this job in the middle of the school year last year. That first semester was a whirlwind, which included some very quick learning of the technology tools in our district and getting out to school sites to train and work with teachers. The fall semester of this year, my second on the job, can be summed up in a word: CONFERENCES. I had the great opportunity to attend several conferences and trainings for free. It was a time of information gathering and intense learning that has put me in a very great place as I start my second year on the job.
Attending a conference by myself used to be a very isolating experience. I would do my best to appear invisible, soak up all that I could without actually talking to anyone, and get home. One of the lessons I have learned over the last couple of years, is to not let these moments pass by without fully embracing them. Who knew a “hashtag” would help me so much with this process. Twitter and the use of conference hashtags allows an introvert like me a door through which to enter quietly. It allows me to get myself invested and makes it easier to interact with those around me. And that is where the magic of these events really occurs, in the CONNECTIONS, the relationships that can be developed out of that shared experience.
Being a TOSA can feel isolating. Especially being the only Edtech TOSA in a district of 22 schools. Having an Edtech department is still fairly new in our district and we are just picking up steam. When I was a new teacher I looked to the other Special Educators at my school. I stole as much as I could from them in those first few years. It’s what good teachers do. However, as a department of two, who can I steal from? That is where the development of a virtual network is vital.
I attended a Microsoft Innovative Educator training over two days in November. The drive to and from the training was long and trafficky. Mind you, on a trafficky day my typical commute takes six minutes instead of four, so driving an hour and a half each way was a little out of my comfort zone. All of the driving that week and two days filled with learning and collaborating had me feeling a little fried. I was looking forward to a weekend of relaxation. However, that Saturday, there was an EdCamp being hosted at Cal State Fullerton. I have been interested in attending an EdCamp since I first learned about them last year. So, despite yet another one hour drive, I decided to take my Saturday to get some learning on.
Attending EdCamp NOC turned out to be a decision that would open doors I didn’t even know existed. Through that Edcamp I met some other TOSAs, notably Ann Kozma and Jody Green, and connecting to them has introduced me to a whole world of other TOSAs. It turns out, I am not the only edtech crazy in the world. I’m not even the only edtech crazy in the area. I followed Ann and Jody on Twitter and saw the hashtag #TOSAchat. As I wrote in another post, that #TOSAChat turned out to be a pretty incredible experience. It also opened my eyes to another opportunity to connect. I had heard of Voxer before, but holy moly, these EdTech peeps know how to make great use of a tool! Joining the Voxer group has been at once, both overwhelming and settling. COMMUNITY, I have a community. These are my people. The voices I hear coming out of Voxer are echoing my beliefs. They are sharing amazing ideas and are inspiring me to continue fighting for the things I believe in.
Community is interesting. When you are truly involved in the community, you often don’t even recognize that you are in it. There are two distinct times that “community” become very obvious. The first is when you are lacking a community. My trip to Ireland last summer was my first inkling that I was in fact part of a bigger community. That sense of belonging, that shared vision and desire to help everyone in the community succeed, were very present in the MAET Overseas experience. However, bringing that back home with you, where you may be the only TOSA in the district or only tech motivated teacher in the building is a little more difficult. Trying to stay committed to growth and innovation without the support of community can be very daunting.
The other time community becomes apparent is when you find yourself smack in the middle of a community to which you do not belong. That shared vision, common language and connection that are so important to the members, become glaringly obvious when you are not a part. The most recent conference I attended was the Literacy Research Association’s 65th “Conference.” While the rest of the conferences I attended were filled with teachers and other TOSAs, this was a community of researchers. I went to many sessions and paper presentations on digital literacy. While I heard some great ideas and gained some insight into what goes into educational research, I was definitely on the outside of the community at this conference. That in itself was a rewarding experience, as it made me stretch and required me to view education, something very familiar, from a different lens.
What last semester and these conferences have proven to me is that there is community out there for everyone. We live in a more connected time than ever before. Whether it is through Twitter, Voxer, Facebook or some other digital tool, I promise you, your people are out there. A whole community of like minded people are ready to support and help you grow. You have to be willing to open the first door, foster the connections and then hold on for the ride!