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Teacher Creates New Role: Instructional Technologist

After years as a teacher, Liz Taormina is sharing her love for EdTech

by Dr. Rod Berger

Liz Taormina spent 11 years teaching in elementary and secondary schools, and two years ago she was ready for a change. The position of Instructional Technologist became open at Lamar County School District in Mississippi, where she was a teacher, and she jumped at the chance to fill the position. She is glad she did.

As a technology junkie, especially in her classrooms, she knew the job was the right fit for her. She had been incorporating the latest tech into her teaching, and showing her fellow educators what she was learning and accomplishing. As she said,  “It got to a point where it was a culture change. I literally felt like I couldn’t teach without it.”

She continues to attend a wide variety of technology-focused conferences and to continue her professional learning about new platform and apps for education. And because of the nature of technology, she never gets bored or complacent. “Technology is always changing,” she says. “Once I got to another level, it was ‘wow, look where else we can go with this.’”

Interview Transcript:

Rod Berger:  Liz, it’s nice to be spending some time with you today. To me, instructional technologists are a very compelling group of professionals. You are supporting the technology and the way students and teachers interface with it.

With that as a backdrop, tell me a little bit about why that was the profession for you?

Liz Taormina:  This is actually a new position for me. I’ve only been in this Instructional Tech position for two years. It’s one of those things where technology is, I’d say, the wave of the future, but it’s not the future. Technology is now. This is where students are learning and this is, I think, what’s best for the students. For them to be able to figure out what they’re going to be doing with their lives.

RB:  Tell me about the decision that you made two years ago to take this position. What was it that was enticing to you? And the reason I ask that is because I think one of the areas that we can improve on in education is better communicating all the different avenues, professionally, that we have available to people in their educational careers. I think that young people in our own classrooms don’t really understand; they think that either “I’m the teacher” or “I’m an administrator.” And there are a lot of different roles, responsibilities, and opportunities between those two positions.

Take me back two years ago when you made that decision.

LT:  I started integrating technology into my own classroom, and it got to a point where it was a culture change. I literally felt like I couldn’t teach without it. So the days when they would take Chromebooks away from me ─ if they had to go get a state test or something ─ I didn’t know what to do with myself.

When the Instructional Tech position became available, I’d already been to several technology-specialized conferences throughout that year and brought that back and shared that with my teachers and staff. That was kind of the deal; I went and learned and came back and shared with my team.

I realized then that I was doing a lot of things that others teachers could be doing that would really change the culture in their classrooms as well. I knew this because I had a lot of positive feedback from students.

The students enjoyed class. They felt like they were learning. They were able to explore and research on their own. The culture was kind of moving from me standing up and doing a lot of lecture-style teaching to really engaging the students almost one-on-one. They were always on task. They were doing what they wanted to do. And they got a lot more exploration through it.

And so, when I began to share it with other teachers ─ and then this job opportunity became available ─ I just kind of stepped through that door. It also encouraged me as an educator because I thought okay, what’s going to make me stand out? Let me go get some Google certifications. So I went and did some of the Google certifications, which really challenged me in my knowledge.

Technology is always changing. Once I got to another level, it was wow, look where else we can go with this.

I think I probably got the position because of the tech integration that was already happening in mine and my team’s classrooms.

RB:  Have you noticed even in your two years that there are more professionals like you at the classroom level that you would be able to identify as “Well, that was me a couple of years ago,” that it’s becoming just another part of the daily fabric of their classroom? Are you seeing a change in their practice in the way that they interface with other staff as well?

LT:  Absolutely. Yeah, there’s still a divide. I still definitely see that. I see myself in a lot of these teachers because I work K-12. I can see it even at the elementary level which, I think, is awesome because they’re able to experience it at a young age. By the time they move up through their educational career and into the real world, they’ll be prepared.

When I go and walk through some of the classrooms and I’ll see what’s going on, the students are engaged and focused… and it usually has some kind of technology involved.

RB:  Let’s talk a little bit about technology itself. Tell me if you’re seeing the same thing that I am. I’m seeing educators who are looking at all the technology that is coming into the schools and finding alternative ways or additional ways to utilize it outside of its original intent. They’re starting to say, “Wait a minute… we were able to use this for this type of project or in this discipline or subject, why not this other one?” And then it’s starting to spread; it’s “Wait a minute. Now, we’ve got another department that’s using it in a different way.”

To me, it seems that’s a good sign. It means that we fully understand ways to discern and really unpack the technology that is being put into our schools.

Are you seeing the same thing?

LT:  Absolutely. I like to take baby steps in my training sessions when I offer PD for my teachers because once they get their feet wet, their wheels start turning… because that’s what teachers are really good at. They’re good at adapting things and figuring it out. Once the tools are presented and they feel confident in them ─ if they’re not confident with something, then they don’t want to try it– they say, wait a minute, let me try it with this. There’s always a plethora of other things you can do with it.

RB:  Liz, I hear stories of people getting inundated with hundreds of emails a day or a week where it’s something new, something shiny, something exciting ─ and it’s hard to know. I mean, is this product either valuable now or later or not at any point in time? If you were to provide a few questions that folks should be asking when they’re evaluating technology that is coming across their desks, through their email and into their schools, what are questions that they should be asking when they see something that’s brand new? You can think about it even from a budget perspective. You can think about it from an adoption perspective. You can also evaluate it against the current technology that you already have as well.

What are some questions that people should be asking?

LT:  When it comes to the budget part, it generally tends to be up to the school or the district level. But teachers are now getting a little bit of money to spend within their own classroom, and I often encourage them:  “Hey, let’s use this money for some kind of premium version. Let’s try it out.”

But I think, from a personal perspective, they need to look at the benefits for their students in the classroom. They really need to feel like this is something that they can use over a wide range of things that they’re going to be teaching and will work with the way that they’re teaching and various other things because you don’t want to waste your time and your money. Or even if you’re using free versions of things, it needs to be something that you’re going to be able to commit to.

Obviously, user-friendliness is a big thing. Can my students very easily do what they need to do and not let it be a distraction that takes away the learning experience?

A lot of times, it’s compatibility. Is it going to be compatible with different types of devices? Because I really encourage cell phone use in the classroom.

Some of my schools are not one-to-one yet but they have the technology that will still allow them to do so much more outside of the four walls of the classroom.

So compatibility and user-friendliness ─ and how can I get the most out of this particular tool in the classroom? Those are probably the best questions to ask.

RB:  Let’s close with this. What are currently some of your favorite technologies? What should we be paying attention to?

The list is long? (laugh)

LT: (laugh) Yes. It is very long. I’ll need to get out my tablet and look at my list from ISTE.

You can’t get past the G Suite. For educational purposes, there are just a million things you can do with just the G Suite itself.

I like anything that allows the students to create. So if it’s creating a web page with Google Sites or some other kind of fun website builder. Adobe Spark products are wonderful.

When you look at video creation and things like that, Flipgrid is kind of the latest thing and it’s super fun and easy.

Anything that allows the students to write, because of course literacy tends to be one of the big pushes at all schools at all levels; especially here in Mississippi. With the technology, we’re working on just those basic literacy skills. Things that are going to allow the students to blog, create digital books, and write what they feel, write what they are excited about… things like that.

Creation tools, video tools, screencasting ─ let me just keep on going. (laugh)

RB:  It is a long, long list. Liz, it’s been great to catch up with you. It’s nice to learn more about the profession and what you’re doing. Obviously, it’s pretty apparent that you’re excited about what you’re doing and that’s what makes the biggest difference in a school.

Thank you so much.

LT:  Thank you.

About Liz Taormina, M.Ed.:

Liz TaorminaLiz Taormina is the 2006 graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Theatre and recently completed her Master’s Degree in Secondary Education at William Carey University. Liz celebrates eleven years of teaching experience at both elementary and secondary levels.

Currently, she serves in the field of technology, where she works as an advocate for technology integration in the classroom and hosts professional development opportunities for faculty and staff within her district. She thrives on the opportunity to serve her fellow educators by finding innovative digital ways to make learning more engaging, interactive, and fun for all students.

Follow Liz Taormina on Twitter

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