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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Always Carry Blue Tape or What I've Learned as a New TOSA

So I'm currently 8 months into my new journey as an elementary math/tech-integration TOSA in my district. It's been a roller coaster ride so far-- just as many ups as downs, and plenty of corkscrews in between. I never really know from day-to-day what my role will look like, and it's still hard to tell
what kind of impact I'm having in my district, but I am learning a lot as I go, and getting a better idea everyday of what my role is, and what it could be. And as a district level TOSA, constantly on the road, regularly traveling between 9 sites, working out of staff rooms more often than my own office behind the district office, I am definitely in a position much different than the classroom teacher role that I had become fairly accustomed to.

Here is what I've learned so far as a new district TOSA:

Carry your own stapler...and copy paper... and pencils... and most office supplies, really
Unfortunately, it is not just my former site's staff room that is depressingly bare of office supplies. It would seem that most staff rooms are more of a black hole than anything else. And I've also found that not every copy machine in my district has an unlimited supply of paper included. At the sites where teachers bring their own paper to the copy room, I have found myself swapping favors for copy paper. I have learned that if I need a stapler, or paper, or paper clips, or pens, or anything else, I should plan to bring my own.

Keep the secretaries happy
Especially since they are often my gateway to the paperless copy machines! That being said, this isn't much different than when I was a classroom teacher. All teachers and admin know that the secretaries are really the ones that run the school, and if you want anything, you need to go through them. Now, I just need to make sure that I stay on the good side of 9 secretaries (and my own at the D.O. for that matter) instead of just one. Make friends, bring treats, say 'hello' and 'thank you' often!

It's all about relationships
You will get nowhere as a TOSA until you have developed trusting relationships with the classroom teachers. With some teachers, this will take a long time. Sit in staff rooms, chat with people, get to know them, compliment their strengths, build them up as leaders... make sure they know that you are not there to be evaluative, you are not there as a "spy". And once you have developed trusting relationships with teachers, have them write your "Yelp reviews", so to speak. Have them work with you at PDs, or talk to their teammates about the work you're doing together. When teachers see other teachers working with you, they will be more open to working with you.

Make sure your bag includes chargers , lots and lots of chargers

Especially as a tech TOSA, I carry quite a few devices with me and there is no guarantee that there will be extra
chargers laying around at the school sites. Carry your own chargers, and for your own sanity, invest in a good organizer for those chargers. It is not ideal to have to run back to the D.O. for a charger while out on the road, or worse, to find yourself at a conference without your chargers. Getting ready to present at a conference and finding yourself with a dead device is a major bummer! Oh, and dongles, don't forget your dongles!

Always carry blue tape!
Yeah, this was my favorite tool as a classroom teacher and it is still my favorite tool as a district-wide TOSA. Blue tape fixes everything.

Always have a backup plan
Standard classroom teacher knowledge, and it doesn't end when you move into a "special assignment" role. So far, I've experienced everything from simple lesson malfunctions during a demo lesson to wifi going out during my presentation at a tech conference to arriving for a Saturday morning PD and being locked out of our meeting space. Always have a plan B!

The best gift is gift of time
I've offered class coverage during rainy day recesses so teachers can get a bathroom break, extra prep time for worn out teachers, and sub duty so teachers can observe other classrooms. A TOSA friend of mine shows up during yard duty at his sites and relieves teachers from yard duty so they can take a little break. Teaching for an hour here and there keeps my practices fresh and provides a little relief to stressed out teachers. And reminding classroom teachers that you are indeed still a teacher by actually doing some teaching helps build and/or strengthen those trusting relationships.

Get connected
Being a TOSA can be a lonely job. Whether housed at a site or working at a district level, you aren't quite a classroom teacher anymore, and you aren't an administrator. It has helped me to find my "tribe" on Twitter via #TOSAchat, #educoach and #connectedTL. We swap ideas, share successes and failures, collaborate on projects, support each other, build each other up, remind each other why we love this job. Get connected!


  1. Great post. Important tips for any TOSA, instructional coach.

    1. Shout out to your yard duty coverage idea! :) Love finding different ways to give teachers a little bit of a break.