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EdLeaders Need to Find & Empower Mr. T

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Every district needs a Mr. T. Not the enforcer from the 80s TV show, more like Justin Talmadge (@mrtalmadge), a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) in the Snoqualmie Valley Public Schools in the Cascade foothills.

Talmadge was a seventh grade English Language Arts and Social Studies teacher for 11 years. He was an early Edmodo adopter, leveraging the technology he and his students had and turning his classroom into a collaborative project-based workspace.

"Crowdsourcing," said Talmadge, "is the real genius of Edmodo." In a blog post he explained that Edmodo provides "a forum where students can easily be a source of information for each other."

Talmadge uses the example of an absent student stating, "He could get onto the class social network and make a post asking what the assignment was that day. Another student could respond with his or her interpretation of what the teacher wanted." The teacher can monitor and contribute to the ensuing threaded discussion.

Talmadge said, "I found that the drawback of having to spend time monitoring posts was far outweighed by the beauty of a tool that allowed me to have a controlled environment in which to help my students be responsible digital citizens." Watch his Last Lesson if you want a better sense of the kind of innovation he brought to his classroom.

As a TOSA, Talmadge focuses on instructional technology and supports teachers with professional development, modeling and coaching. There are two other tech TOSAs in Snoqualmie Valley as well as a cadre of 20 classroom teachers who deliver professional development before school starts and on early release Fridays.

The TOSAs support the Tech Department vision to "to enable 21st century learning environments where students and staff collaborate, communicate, and create with digital tools while developing critical thinking skills and becoming positive digital citizens." The district has an extensive tech integration and training plan that supports several compensated learning pathways for teachers.

Snoqualmie Valley benefits from a tech levy yielding about $400 annually for 6,000 students. Tech Director Jeff Hogan leads a PC district but leads a Mobile Learning Initiative that allows teachers to apply for classroom sets of iPads. Talmadge has been training teachers in his district and speaking regionally about introducing iPads in PC districts.

When he was a teacher, Talmadge used his blog to communicate with students and parents. These days his Change Course Blog informs his district and the field. He uses Edmodo to teach tech classes. Participants join the group and access a folder with class resources. They take polls and post reflections. Assistant superintendent Don McConkey uses Edmodo for book studies including Marzano's "Becoming a Reflective Teacher ." Edmodo will be used to track teacher completion of assignments so that clock hours can be provided.

As districts implement the Common Core and shift from print to digital, individual practice to differentiated teams, and from time to competency, TOSAs can be an critical part of change capacity. LIke Mr. T, TOSA should be:

  • Early adopters and creative users of effective tools and strategies
  • Collaborating networkers that use social media tools to leverage impact
  • Skilled coaches that model, encourage, and support; and
  • Change facilitators managed phased implementations.

Talmadge will be leading a flipped classroom session at the OpenBlend conference in Tacoma on September 18. The conference will also feature Khan Academy, blended school models, and adaptive learning tools.

Edmodo is a portfolio company of Learn Capital where Tom Vander Ark is a partner.

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