Sunday, August 28, 2016

Tiny Tech Cafe - Rationale

Our official work week began last Thursday and I could not wait to get back in the groove! Don't get me wrong - I adore my three children and I can assure you that I have literally poured every ounce of stay-at-home-mom-mode into their summer experiences! But there is something about a new school year that brings joy to my soul like nothing else!

New beginnings. New classes. New joy!

As a technology integrator in an elementary school, my main purpose is to provide training and support for students, teachers, and administrators who want to use technology as a part of their learning process. This looks very different from person-to-person, class-to-class, so as you can imagine, I stay pretty busy during the school year! Last year I shifted my mindset to move away from the "one shot" professional development sessions to a more personalized PD approach where I tried to provide training on what teachers wanted to learn and provide quality support throughout the entire year.

With more than 40 educators on staff, this was challenging, but I knew it was the right thing to do. I began the year by asking teachers to complete an in-depth survey identifying areas of interest, then I offered numerous training sessions on those topics throughout the year. I also made a point to do "check-ins" where I asked teachers how it was going and provided additional support/resources if needed. For me, the exciting part of this process was getting to know my teachers on a deeper level, strengthening that relationship, and watching them succeed in learning something new. When they became confident enough to continue the learning without me, I knew this was the right way to provide professional developmnet.

It was like watching a caterpillar spin a cocoon and emerge as a beautiful butterfly. Fascinating!

This process of providing personalized PD made me realize that I need to offer more opportunities for teachers to build relationships - with their students, with each other, with me. I quickly discovered that having teachers collaborate with me in our laptop lab was less than ideal. I have a desk in the back corner, with no additional seating unless a teacher moved items off a table. Teachers would come and pull up a chair beside my desk, its sharp angles poking at them as they tried to look from their laptop to mine. If we were collaborating while another class was using the lab, it was difficult to hear and focus on our training.  

Even working one-on-one with students was frustrating. If I was helping a third grader with their digital writing, I would have to scrunch down beside them, trying to whisper so as not to distract the other children nearby. When students worked on collaborative projects, such as our fourth graders creating Google Slides presentations about Regions, there was no area of the room that invited them to sit and chat as they worked out details for final publication. 

In addition, several teachers showed an interest in learning more about using a green screen with their students (where we photograph or record students against a green background then use technology to insert images making it appear they were in that location, similar to what you see on a traditional weather report.) Unfortunately, there was no place in our lab to hang a green screen curtain with our furniture arrangement of long tables, laptop carts and overhead document camera stands. The computer lab was just that - a sterile lab that was functional, but not inviting at all.

This summer, following the ISTE Conference in Denver, CO, I noticed a trending hashtag on Twitter: #StarbucksMyRoom. It showcased classrooms stepping away from conventional desks and chairs to offer students a more flexible seating arrangement, much like what you might find in a Starbucks cafe.

The concept got me thinking. What if I could somehow transform my little workspace in the corner of the computer lab into a Tiny Tech Cafe? Immediately my creativity kicked in and I imagined a space that was warm and inviting, maybe even offering coffee or tea for the teachers who might want to collaborate or receive personalized training. I could even picture students using the Tiny Tech Cafe to work with their peers or conference with their teachers on their projects. I would love to have a collection of new-release books available for teacher checkout, written by some of my favorite educators and administrators whose innovative leadership makes learning fun, empowering, and impactful.

With that vision in mind, I decided to jump in and make it a reality!

I started with baby steps - designing a unique logo and scouring yard sales and online forums for low-cost furniture. I quickly discovered that my grand intentions didn't quite match my meager budget! Eek! We all know that teachers have to purchase things our of their own pockets to outfit their classrooms; however, I wanted to create something our school would be proud to use and showcase to other schools as an example of an innovative learning environment for teachers AND students.

This is when I realized I couldn't do it all on my own. I needed to reach out for help. 

My next few posts will showcase the things I have made and purchased to make this dream come true, but I could really use your generosity as well! Please visit the Tiny Tech Cafe GoFundMe page and consider donating or sharing with your friends. No amount is too small and every person or company who donates will receive recognition on social media (Twitter, Facebook, and my blog) as well as have their name displayed on a sign in the Tiny Tech Cafe. Together we can make an incredible impact on student and teacher learning, by providing a space that is open, engaging, and productive!

Check back soon or subscribe to this blog so you can be kept up-to-date and see how the Tiny Tech Cafe progresses. I can't wait to share it with you all!