Technology Coach Chronicles: How I Survived a Rough Start at a New School

My first year at my current job was extremely challenging. Yes, every job has its ups and downs, but let me explain. I am by nature, an overachiever. I thrive in workaholic environments and even enjoy the feeling of always being on the go. Many have told me it’s the “millennial” mindset of always working but I like to think it’s the work ethic my family instilled upon me. Nonetheless, when I joined the team at South Ranchito three months into the school year (I was a late hire), and working under a novice principal who offered very little help, I felt set up for failure. Somehow the job I had signed up for, Digital Learning Coach, became less about providing teachers support and creating opportunities for students to be innovative and more about putting down fires. In short, that first year was both mentally and physically exhausting.

Over time though, I learned a few tricks that not only helped me survive the second year, but also helped me thrive in my role. While these lessons required tremendous amount of work and insane amounts of energy of my part, looking back, I can say they were all blessings in disguise.

Lesson #1: The Multiplicity Effect

In joining an established team that is very comfortable with the way things are done, being the outsider is always difficult. Still, I knew that there was a lot of work to do and even if I worked twice as hard, there would be no way I could offer support to all while still providing quality time to students and parents. So, I learned to multiply myself. I sought teachers who were willing to learn a few new tech tricks, and I taught them all I knew. They then became my ambassadors and helped their own grade levels. This lifted weight off my shoulder but also created a network of support. Additionally, I sought people’s talents. The creative 4th grade teacher became my ally when it came to planning for an event or simply creating flyers. The engaging  3rd grade teacher became my connection to Student Leadership, allowing me to work with students on the school’s climate all while helping support my own growth. The fabulous 2nd grade team helped me with building connections to parents as well as provided me a space to learn new strategies for managing an elementary class. All in all, I realized that I didn’t have to do it all. I also didn’t need to wish I could clone myself; I could just multiply myself by developing other “Almas.”

Lesson #2: Appreciative leadership goes a long way

I am a firm believer that people who feel appreciated will often work harder simply because they know they are valued. Because of this belief, I made it a priority to lead with appreciation. Even when I was exhausted, I made sure to say “thank you” to every teacher as often as possible to remind them that their work didn’t go unnoticed. I made teacher appreciation week feel like a holiday because I wanted to ensure every staff member left school feeling a little extra special every day that week. I made it a habit to write personal notes and drop random gifts in peoples boxes just because and over time, I found myself on the receiving end. People realized that my love language was acts of service and without asking, teachers would go out of their way to bring me food (because I often missed lunch), or to simply fill my pen case because I have an obsession with felt tip pens, amongst many other things. Appreciating them not only led to a more community like culture, but it also developed the space for randoms of act of kindness to be a norm.

Lesson #3: Never say no

Yes, I know that most people advise to not take a bite bigger than you can chew or to learn when to say no, but this is a lesson that I know has made all the difference in my journey at this school. Teachers have a million things to do on a daily basis. They often have to play the role of teacher, parent, psychologist and nurse, all while having to also serve as their own class technician and assistant. In recognizing this and from my own experience in the classroom, anytime a teacher asked for help, I said yes. Sometimes the asks were simple: “could you make copies for me?”, “would you mind looking at my laptop because it is not printing?,” “could you cover my class so I can take a restroom break?”, etc. Yet, as small or big as the asks were, I knew that behind each request was really a teacher who confided in me and was leaning on me for help. I couldn’t walk around and preach teamwork but not be available when my team needed me. So I am now the “yes” girl. Of course, I have my limits and sometimes I have to be honest and share that I am really busy, but I will never just say “no” because I want to ensure that people know that we are ALL part of the village that is raising each child on our campus.

I share all of this because October is a rough month. There are no federal holidays which means no breaks all month long. This is also the month most schools have parent conferences, and those aren’t always easy. But in the midst of it all, take the time to reflect and realize that we are in control of our journeys. Perhaps another person would have walked away; I know I almost did. But in looking back, I realize now that all the challenges led me to this 3rd year, and I couldn’t be more sure that this is exactly where I am meant to be.

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Alma Renteria

Alma Renteria

Alma-Delia Renteria is a proud product of Lynwood schools. After graduating UC Riverside, with a B.A. in English and a year earlier than anticipated, she decided to commit her “gap year” to City Year. After City Year Los Angeles, Alma went on to purse a teaching career with Teach For America Los Angeles. Upon joining TFA, Alma began her education career as a middle school teacher. It was while teaching that she realized the need to do her part to help serve the community she grew up in and decided to run for office, getting elected to the Lynwood School Board at only 23 years old. Alma completed her Master’s degree in Urban Education at Loyola Marymount University and is currently pursuing a 2nd Masters in Education Leadership and her Admin Credential. She was recently appointed by the Speaker to the Instructional Quality Commission and also serves as a Digital Learning Instructional Coach at a dual immersion school in Pico Rivera.

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