Techy Tribe brings technology to campuses – Odessa American

When those who follow schools see posts on social media about new technology at Ector County ISD — whether it be devices, or Promethean Boards or training, or platforms like Flipgrid — it’s likely thanks to the district’s Techy Tribe.

Some are teachers on campuses and others are with the Digital Learning Department, headed by Lauren Tavarez.

The tribe has just under 30 members and is in its third year.

She oversees six digital learning specialists and the department will be getting four more.

The first year is the Techy Tribe Ambassador Fellowship.

“Teachers that either apply or are asked to be a part of it because of the love that they show for digital tools just naturally in the work that our specialists do at the campuses, so during that first year we really work to build their pedagogy and their understanding of how to effectively use digital tools,” Tavarez said.

She said they use a book called “Shake Up Learning” and they meet once a month.

“It’s all about that learning, but it’s also about building that, literally, that tribe for them of other teachers at other schools that are passionate about digital tools. That’s honestly my favorite part. … Where the whole thing came from was how do we connect teachers that love using technology and teaching with other teachers that are passionate about that,” she added.

The friendships that have been built are the most powerful part of the initiative. “It’s a team,” Tavarez said.

She added that they have connected teachers who have found their “lifelong people.”

“We really are intentional about allowing them time to just talk to each other because it is once a month and that month goes quickly in between our collaborations. But that first year is all about just building that understanding of what effective technology use looks like,” Tavarez said.

Beyond year one, she said, then you become a Techy Tribe Ambassador and the monthly collaborations continue.

Ector County Independent School District’s Director of Digital Learning Lauren Tavarez poses for a photo Thursday afternoon at the ECISD Administration Building. (Eli Hartman|Odessa American)

Those who have been an Ambassador for two or three years are provided with a Personalized Professional Learning Pathway. This means they have been given what they call a playlist of learning choices/different professional learning opportunities and they decide what they want to engage in this school year to build their skills as a teacher, Tavarez said in an email.

“Some examples of the learning choices/different professional learning opportunities our #TechyTribe Ambassadors are able to choose from on the playlist are some that require less of a commitment including to become a Level 1 or 2 Certified Educator or to engage in a book study with a small group of others; we do have a few that are more involved including an opportunity to complete 30 hours of coursework with the University of Texas UTeach Foundations of Blended Learning and Advanced Blended Learning courses. Our Ambassadors are able to complete this coursework at their own pace and learn in depth about implementing blended learning in their classrooms,” she wrote.

The newest professional learning opportunity is a partnership with Texas Tech via their Blended Learning/Personalized Learning Graduate Certificate courses.

“We have 13 participants from both our Digital Learning department and #TechyTribe Ambassadors that will engage in coursework beginning this spring to engage in learning that will include job-embedded application of what they are learning as well as coaching and feedback from the Texas Tech professors. We are beyond excited about the opportunity this is going to offer these teachers and to see the amount of growth they gain from participating – all for the benefit of our ECISD students!” she said.

A goal for Tavarez is to have a Techy Tribe member at every campus, and she thinks that can be accomplished next year.

“It is somewhat of a challenge when we have so much movement in the district,” Tavarez said.

Also after someone has been an ambassador for a while, they will be able to build a tribe at their own school with the support of digital learning.

She added that they also use Techy Tribe members to try out new devices, such as the Promethium Board and to provide professional learning for teachers.

“We have a real partnership with them and we work really closely with them and it’s been fun,” Tavarez said.

The Ambassador and Ambassador Fellowship is more of a formal opportunity to be part of the Techy Tribe, but she said it goes beyond that.

It started six or seven years ago as almost a branding or marketing tool to entice teachers to use technology in their classrooms.

“Techy Tribe today is anyone that participates in professional learning with us, uses any one of our resources … Your level of involvement is totally up to you, but as far as being part of the tribe that’s for anybody,” Tavarez said.

Even students have a chance to participate. They are responsible for helping teachers to make sure that devices are charged and people are taking care of them.

They had one teacher share that she has a badge that her students wear that says Techy Tribe on it. “When you walk in the classroom, you know exactly who her Techy Tribe people are for the week, which I think is just the coolest …,” she said.

Instructional Technology switched to Digital Learning as of July 1.

“That really is that in an attempt to help people understand what the digital learning department does, and so a lot of times we have our IT team that we work very closely with, but those are guys (and girls) that help with hardware, computers, broken projectors, iPads not updating; those types of things. That has to be working for us to really do our part. So of course we can help in any way needed there. But our focus is really the learning part. And so now that ECISD is one to one and all students have access to a device at every school, that responsibility has grown a lot, which is exciting for us. And we absolutely love it. But we made that switch because it was somewhat confusing for people, especially when you have instructional technology, which is also Information Technology,” Tavarez said.

Chris Bartlett, coordinator for technology services, said he is starting his third year in technology. He spent a little more than two years with the Techy Tribe.

Bartlett taught freshman English at Bowie Middle School and found himself using technology in the classroom and helping others do the same.

Tavarez became their specialist at Bowie and Bartlett worked with her for two years.

He really enjoyed getting to know about the digital learning aspect, so it became logical to apply. He now works with Chief Technology Officer Kellie Wilks.

Bartlett said something he appreciated about the Techy Tribe and Digital Learning team is that they complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses and everyone pushes for success and strives to improve.

He said they can always call on each other for help and aren’t embarrassed if they don’t know something.

Bartlett has been with ECISD since January 2014.

Amanda Webber, a digital learning specialist, has been with the district for 13 years, 10 of which were as an elementary classroom teacher at Hays STEAM Academy.

“I love being a part of it. One of the reasons that I wanted to join was because I was doing this on campus anyway. I had been teaching for 10 years before I joined and I loved integrating technology in my class. I would share the things I was doing with other teachers on campus and I would help them if they were trying to learn how to do it,” Webber said.

“That was my passion, but it got hard to do — teaching my own classroom of kids and trying to teach the teachers and help them …,” she added.

When there was an opening on the Digital Learning team, she decided to go for it. If worst came to worst, she said she could always go back to the classroom.

“It’s been great. Even with COVID, the added stress of all the digital learning that had to go on … it was a good challenge …,” Webber said.

The campuses are split up among the specialists so they all have a point of contact.

Since the pandemic, teachers have become more receptive to using technology in their classrooms.

“… We try to get to those campuses as much as we can to support those teachers,” Webber said.

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