10 Tips For the Beginner EdTech Technology Teacher on Special Assignment

By CUE Member and Guest Blogger Serena McKinney

TOSA Wordle


Packing up my classroom was a strange feeling after only having been in it for six years.  Until, I realized the size and scope of my new classroom; the Irvine Unified School District. This summer, nearly one  week before school started, I left the comfort of my 7/8th grade English class for the new position as Educational Technology Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) with the help of Common Core funding. Colleagues jokingly asked “so what, do you get a badge and a gun now that you’re on special assignment?”

My new position allows me the opportunity to collaborate with TOSAs in all subject areas as well as district wide staff and administration. Our 21st century learners are thirsty for skills and my goal is to help teachers see how technology integration can quench many common core alignment needs. Although at times it feels impossible to please everyone’s needs, I know my impact has more positive breadth and depth than I could ever have had in the classroom alone.  Now three months into this move, I realize how much I absolutely love it. Of course I miss the discussions and interactions or favorite lesson plans, even the predictable drama of a middle school student, but getting to go out to lunch, or to the bathroom whenever I feel like it has made the transition manageable, to say the least.


My position is mainly focused on the professional learning for the teachers in the district, with an emphasis on the technology and software we currently own/use, as well as keeping abreast with what is new/upcoming. With access to so much, the options go to waste if they are not properly trained and supported. Since Irvine is a decentralized district, this can be challenging at times, but the difference each day brings between school sites or teacher teams has allowed me to continue my own professional growth.  I am now a coach, with a huge team to guide and support!


With the help of Common Core funding, many TOSAs were hired at different districts to fill these positions, many of which had no previous job description. This change, for many, is  very daunting, too different, and sometimes even overwhelming. However, the need for us TOSAs, especially with Common Core curriculum needs,  to stick together and create our own professional learning networks (PLN) is ever growing, and most important in my opinion. Sharing ideas, problems, or materials with one another via Twitter, Google+, or even blogs (ahem, shameless plug for my blog in 3…2…1 Writing Nerdy) allows us freedom to be creatively aligned and edu-focused without reinventing the wheel. I thought to myself upon hiring, okay, I’ve got this. I do these types of trainings all the time, but, when it’s not the staff you’re accustomed to, or the projector doesn’t work, or even the wi-fi is spotty (yes, I know) I have learned that a few (10, in no particular order) key elements keep the training on track and engaging.


  1. Train to your lowest common denominator Someone may need a paper handout instead of the tiny url to feel comfortable. So, be prepared and think of them first in creating your training. Think small, first.
  2. Understand your audience – Something like PollEverywhere.com is a great tool to get to know a new audience and show off an awesome/easy to use technology at the same time. It even easily embeds a live update into your trusty PowerPoint!
  3. Survey at the end before they leave– I see the value in this now more than I ever did doing professional learning as a teacher. A short survey about the quality of the presentation, materials, and questions or comments they still have can be a good tool for improving your craft. The best customer service requires you to reflect always.
  4. Give sandbox time – I always had a hard time going to trainings where too many things were thrown at me and I had no time to practice while it was fresh in my mind. Giving teachers time to “play” with your live support allows them to feel more likely to try.
  5. Deal with opposition to change carefully – Another TOSA suggested I read an article, Learning Forward, illustrating the stages of change (CBAM) and how to address them. Reading and working through it really opened my eyes in how I approach teachers as they may all be in different stages of the process.
  6. Use humor – I always try to find some sort of video clip or funny cartoon to bring levity to and bond with my audience. Breaking the ice not only helps your audience feel comfortable in getting to know you, but also you with your audience.
  7. Immediate application is crucial – Without it, your presentation lacks purpose and practicality. If a teacher can’t see how they can use it in their own classroom the minute they leave, they won’t. I always try to give different idea starters for each training by subject area or grade level.
  8. Reminder: teacher first, techie secondAlways step with your teacher foot first. This allows your non-techie teachers to build trust in what you are saying, since they believe that you know what they are going through in their own classroom. What may seem easy for you, won’t seem easy for many.
  9. Test the tech and have a backup – My coordinator told me to arrive at least one hour to 30 minutes before the training in order to test the tech needed in the room and set-up. For example always make sure to have a wired connection for your iPad if you’re mirroring and lose wi-fi, or even screenshots in case you can’t access the webpage or software you’re trying to explain. If all else fails, make it a “teachable moment.”
  10. Use the support and training of other TOSA’s – Develop your own PLN on Edmodo, or Twitter, or any other social networking or sharing site and invite fellow teachers and TOSAs to collaborate. Connect big, maybe to even peers outside your district!


My coordinator, Kris Linville, always has such great optimism about professional learning and constantly reminds me that if I’ve “changed the mind or helped and supported one person in that room, it was worth it.” I think that we sometimes are so worried about the big picture it is difficult to remember the granular. So, to my other TOSA homies out there: connect big, think small, and reflect always.

Serena McKinney

Serena is a wife, teacher, tech lover, blogger, music listener, Pinterest lurker, dog snuggler, sunshine sunner, iPhone picture taker, tennis player, golf watcher, windows down, ridin’ nerdy type of girl. After graduating from the University of San Diego in 2006 with a BA in English and her single subject teaching credential, Serena moved to Orange County. Since then, Serena has been an English teacher, ASB advisor, and Site Teacher of the Year at Sierra Vista Middle School in Irvine. At the start of the 2013 school year, she took the position of Educational Technology Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) for the Irvine District. With this new position Serena is able to connect, share, and collaborate with teachers K-12 to impact the way they effectively use technology in their classroom. Follow her on Twitter – @serenapmckinney

7 thoughts on “10 Tips For the Beginner EdTech Technology Teacher on Special Assignment”

  1. Great post, Serena. A good one for any beginning edtech ToSA to read.

    I’ve had very similar experiences myself, and I agree with all of your points, except I think #1. While I agree that we need to meet teachers where they are, I am always trying to push them out of their comfort zone: sometimes just a little, sometimes a lot. That means modeling in my own workshops what they can be doing in their own classes. Most of the time that means no paper, no matter how uncomfortable it makes them.

    And thanks for the link to the Learning Forward article; I’ll read it soon!

    It’s something I’m still struggling with: how much to “meet them where they are” and how much to “push them farther”. I feel like I had a good handle on that with high school science students (after 16 years of teaching), but I’m still learning it with our adult teachers/learners.

    1. I appreciate you taking the time to give such great feedback. Thank you.

      I agree, we walk a fine line with pushing them out of their comfort zone and meeting them where they are. The up-front resistance feels different coming from a colleague, than a student. A recent presentation I went to had a wrap-up activity that included 4 posters (I’d do GoogleDocs) where people put stickies up for “questions still circling,” “points worth remembering,” something I heard that squared with me,” and “something I needed to feel comfortable.” I think this helped the presenter get a great amount of feedback in the end, and help support those teachers needing a push in future training. We are all still learning!

  2. Hi Serena,

    Thanks for writing this post! I am also a new Tech TOSA in my district this year. I agree that we need Tech TOSAs as teachers, first, technology user, second. Hopefully in no time the word teacher will just imply technology user. I also agree with Kevin – making teachers a little uncomfortable can be a good thing. This allows us to grow and puts us in a position where we have to move forward and experience new things. It is a fine line between a little bit of discomfort and totally turning teachers off – I’m still looking for that balance!

  3. Hi. I was just offered the tech tosa position at my school. I’m nervous. Be only been teaching four years. I feel completely comfortable with teaching technology. I’m just not sure if this is the right move for me right now. Thoughts? Insight? Guidance?

    1. Hi, I just saw this question, sorry it took so long. You’ve probably already made your choice. Without more information I’d suggest following your gut. How do you think you’d do working like that instead of in a classroom full of your own students?
      Sorry it took us so long to get back to you.

  4. Serena,
    Thank you for your outline, information and tips. There is a TOSA position combined with a 1/2 time teaching position, that I applied for yesterday. I am very excited about it, but I wanted to make sure I would serve others well. I have looked at information before about TOSA positions, but you made it clear clear to me, and I have a renewed sense of passion and “yes, this is a great fit”. I appreciate your efforts, and have printed this out to use as a reference.
    Thank you again,

    Sheryl Timm
    Bend, OR

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