I really wish I could say it was my idea but it wasn’t. In 2012 my Principal and I attended the Building Learning Communities conference in Boston, BLC12. Apart from feeling incredibly affirmed about the digital direction we were taking at our school back in Australia, we were struck by one remarkable teacher and his team of ‘Tech Sherpas’. Kern Kelley was at BLC12, and was again there in 2013 as a Google Certified teacher hosting sessions on using Google apps in education. Apart from being one of the most engaging speakers at the conference, he had with him a team of students; his Tech Sherpas.
The Sherpas were at the conference to support the digitally challenged amongst us… to help us with our tech issues, to teach us how to use some things and to guide us as we climb the Everest that is teaching in a digital age. Apart from being entirely affable, they were a joy to learn from and to learn beside. Imagine my awe when the young 15 year old who was giving me a hands on tour of my then newly acquired iPad started telling me about the apps… yes, more than one… that he had invented and was now selling. The impact of being taught by such students was so profound we both went back to Australia determined this would become a part of our school culture. I am blessed to work with a Principal who made it happen.
We now have a team of Tech Sherpas ranging in age from 11 to 17. (There is one girl amongst a sea of boys but we’re working on that!). Two of the Sherpas are employed by the school and work with the IT staff after school and during the holidays. They are paid to do this. I have one in my English class who makes me look good every day. What I love about the Sherpas is their fearlessness, their curiosity and their ingenuity. They are completely reliable.
So what exactly do the Sherpas do?
- Their main brief is to support the staff in the use of Technology for learning – while they are fearless, some teachers are not. Fear prevents such teachers from engaging with technology. Rather than having these teachers left behind (a slippery slide to redundancy), the Sherpas are assigned to them to become their champions; to show them how to engage with technology, setting it up for them so it doesn’t fail and ironing out the ‘glitches’ they encounter. They act as human training wheels, keeping teachers upright until they are confident to ‘ride’ by themselves.
- They support other students. Where students once headed off to ask the IT staff to resolve their technical problems, they now talk to the Sherpas. Sometimes this occurs in class, at other times they visit the IT window. This window is manned by the Sherpas. A significant benefit of this, apart from the peer to peer learning, is that the IT staff are freed to work on other things.
- They are our roadies and gophers… they set up for events such as assemblies, open nights, presentation evenings etc. and ensure these run smoothly. They ask what is needed and they make it happen. The stress relief this provides cannot be overstated! It is such a joy to turn up to a microphone that works, a sound system free of feedback and a visual presentation that looks like it came out of Dreamworks studio!
- They teach each other. Because they are doing what they love, their curiosity drives them to learn, to discover and to share that learning with like-minded individuals. In this way, they are becoming regenerative, almost in charge of their own succession planning.
I am sure that as the role evolves, there’ll be plenty more that happens. This is really the very beginning of our journey and I hope the first of several posts which chronicle how this initiative unfolds in our school. If it’s something you are interested in implementing in your own school, you may want to check out http://www.techsherpas.org/ where you can view Tech Sherpa shows hosted by Kern Kelley’s students. It’s quite inspiring!