Throughout his adult life Chris Wysocki, the Instructional Tech Lead at the School District of Greenfield in Wisconsin, has always been teaching kids since leaving college. From a reading tutor in a grade school, to camp counsellor, swimming instructor, instructor trainer for the Red Cross, lifeguard, and starting aquatics programs in California.
With half of his family members having a background as educators including his mother, aunt and grandparents, it was inevitable that he too would inherit the desire to follow in the family footsteps.
As an English Language Arts teacher for the past 15 years, Chris has now transferred to become district instructional tech lead, which is focused on implementing, advising, and procuring technology suitable for the curriculum, as well as the instruction and training of the teachers for their own personal development.
“For the last couple of years I have been starting to put on some other hats, like coordinating the social media for the school”, he says. A fitting role for an ELA teacher because of the nature of telling stories of the school through a new media.
The tech lead position became a priority over the last year because of the pandemic, when schools realised they needed to have a digital or blended backup option. Before that, it was a sub-responsibility of IT departments or administration, but this lacked consideration for the end user and what was best for them.
Both Chris and the school district hope the new job will eventually mean spending time in the classroom with the students, demonstrating and exploring the new technology — and showing them it’s okay to make mistakes, as well as having a peer of support for teachers so they don’t feel they are walking through the desert.
From podcast to pedagogy
Chris first came across OKIOCAM document cameras when his school purchased them for the teachers to use back in 2020. Deciding he would like his own, Chris applied to the OKIOSHARE program, which eventually led to him getting his own personal OKIOCAM to use at home, the size and portability were the deal clinchers in comparison to other models.
After the school closed its doors and transferred to a completely virtual program in March 2020 — which lasted until the spring of 2021, teachers had to learn very quickly how to deliver online lessons with no real plan in place. The Chromebooks that were issued to teachers along with the OKIOCAM cameras meant that either using a whiteboard or using the document and webcam camera was an option, which made things a lot easier.
Whilst some teachers were reluctant to make the most of the growing amounts of technology and its features, Chris embraced it and used the functions to get creative with his pedagogy. He soon learned that a great lesson is like a good podcast or a good YouTube video. It must be engaging, fun and sequenced, where things are moving and you are not doing the same elongated thing.
Filtering in the technology
Chris started adding a Snapchat filter to his online classes, and would appear as a different character each time. Despite the students loving the lessons and it making them much more interesting, he did on occasions forget to turn off the filter. “I [once] dialled into an IEP meeting, a special education meeting, with a case manager, parent, and student, conferencing about their goals for their education plan, and I appeared as a floating coconut in the sea.”
He explains that great teachers who might be excellent at what they do in a classroom, don’t necessarily translate to be as great digitally. The lessons they teach might be much better than other online classes but they lack the engagement of the pupils because of not using technology in an innovative way. Something Chris wants to change.
He adds that during one of his lessons in which he was annotating Abraham Lincoln’s speech at the Gettysburg Address, Chris used a Snapchat filter of Abraham Lincoln to recite the speech, and some background music which sounded like civil war music. He introduced the guest speaker to the class on the Zoom meeting and switched the filter on to reveal Lincoln. “I gave the speech in time with the ups and downs of the music, and tried to give some rhetorical value to the speech that was not given with such gusto the first time, so they [students] could remember it”, he tells me with such passion and energy.
Evidence over compliance
Chris also found that focusing on evidence rather than compliance worked much better during the online classes. Rather than asking the students to turn on their cameras, and by remaining trauma and emotionally sensitive to them — as the possibility that being at home may not be the safest place, something the pupil might not wish to share with the classmates — instead, he used evidence of them completing their tasks as a measure of satisfaction.
This shift in expectation increased the level of engagement and learning because Chris would ask the class to write something, and by using Pear Deck, could see the evidence in real-time, holding the students accountable for the work they achieved, through visuals.
His style, customer service and humor over discipline. The metaphor Chris likes to use; “You can’t get mad at somebody if they are not confronting you, but yet they are not leaving you alone.”
If you would like to connect with Chris, you can follow him on Twitter at @TeachWysocki