For some, the technology rich classroom is easy to justify. Once you have made the transition and seen the benefits, it is easy to weigh them against the potential risks and worries about the problems resulting from having a room full of devices.
For these “dive right in” types, the process makes a lot of sense. Give it a try and see what happens! These are the teachers who typically make up 1:1 and BYOD pilot programs and test groups. They are also the teachers who more often than not are going to lead professional development and share what they have learned.
However, the teachers to whom they will be presenting may not be so easily convinced that this change will be entirely positive. There are reasons that veteran teachers SHOULD be questioning new initiatives and putting them to the “This Too Shall Pass” acid test, crunching the numbers on whether investing in technology will be time well spent. It is part of the reality of being a teacher. As a result, once training begins, there can be problems.
As more schools move to a 1:1 or BYOD format, it becomes increasingly important to support teachers – all teachers – effectively make that transition and to support them in that process. Dismissing their concerns is rarely, if ever, the best answer. Here are a few helpful ways to help reluctant teachers make the transition while showing empathy and understanding.
1. Correctly identify their concern
For many teachers the greatest fear that looming changes hold is the loss of effectiveness. Veteran teachers have worked long and hard to craft a system that gets results. Once they find what works, they are right to embrace it. It is easy to misinterpret this as being uncooperative or dismissive, but understanding their viewpoint will help you to have the conversation in a more constructive and less judgmental way. Demonstrating clearly how technology will increase effectiveness is the single greatest way to win converts and give you common ground to stand on.
When teachers are struggling to implement technology or any other initiative in their classroom often what they need is a chance to talk about what they want to accomplish, and have an instructor guide them to possible solutions. Offering too many options too fast, minimizing the difficulty of the transition, or dismissing their concerns outright, only makes it more stressful. We often talk about how technology helps us to meet the needs of our students. We need to be clear on how it also meets the needs of the teachers.
3. Build on what they are already doing well
Often we make the mistake of asking teachers to implement technology to improve on a lesson or unit where they feel that they are not currently being effective. Suggest that teachers implement technology into a lesson that IS effective in order to show them how it can help them to be even more so. These units are often points of passion for the teachers where they have invested time to get successful results. Here teachers will not be constructing an entirely new unit from the ground-up, but seeing instead how technology can augment previous successes. It is a more forgiving entry point from which they can operate from a position of greater comfort.
4. Help them understand that simply using technology is not the same as APPROPRIATE and MEANINGFUL use
Supporting effective technology integration means more than just mandating its use. Much like teaching people how to drive, we should not be too overly excited just because people will get behind the wheel and spin around a parking lot. That is a great starting point, but it is just that. Setting the bar higher, discussing pedagogy and framework, makes it clear that there is educational value and weakens the image of technology as a faddish gimmick. Establishing a conversation that defines meaningful and appropriate use, and allowing teachers the professional time to share their practice with each, will help the entire school to grow and build upon each other’s successes.
5. Let them know the greater “Why?”
Change for change’s sake will never be as meaningful as change that is focused on achieving a shared goal or objective. If your school can effectively align your program with your school and community goals and values, accepting it will make a lot more sense. Too often new programs seem to undercut or debase previous initiatives, causing confusion or a sense of changing direction. (Part of this can be caused by dramatic unveilings and theatrical rollouts.) For teachers, this can seem like their work – and more importantly their time – have been lost. Demonstrating how technology initiatives are another part of a step towards the established goals of your school will help these teachers move past their initial sense of reluctance. Teachers may be more likely to move forward if they view this as the next step on a continuing journey, and not a new journey altogether.
I have dedicated a fair amount of my life to redefining the experience in my classroom over the past 3 years. I still have a lot to do but I am proud of how far I have come. I count the following among my successes.
-Students are far more central to class activities than they ever were. I give them more choices and much more control not only in what we learn but how we will learn it.
-The products that students submit are widely varied but show a deeper understanding of learning.
-We have deeper more nuanced conversations about our subject matter (history) than we ever have before. Students find messy histories that we need to make sense of, something that did not happen very often before.
-There are different voices being heard in my classes. Students who used to get A’s are contributing great things to class and students who once sat silent find ways to share in ways that weren’t possible before.
All of the above are the results of having tools that help me redefine learning, but redefining learning is not without consequences. If you are to promote the change, you should be aware of some potential consequences.
Some changes can been seen as destructive to the prevailing archetypes of how learning should take place. Intentionally or not, people can be threatened by, resistant to and dismissive of the changes. If you are closely associated with the change, they will project these feelings on you as well. Unsettling the masses wasn’t on my to do list, but in a sense the people who feel this way aren’t exactly wrong.
What I have gained from all of this is that the best way to drive change is not to become the evangelical techie who condemns the practices of other teachers, but to respect the effective teaching they have done and show them where technology can add to what they already do so well. Accept that the transformation technology creates in the classroom is not imposed, but is rather a process that a teacher undergoes once they understand what is now possible. That is where the actual growth and the real change happens.
If you present technology as the end of what we know and love, it is natural to resent it. Beware condemning their past practice. It is a common mistake. However, if we present technology as a tool that will help teachers to more effectively accomplish the goals that they have dedicated their lives to, we have to hope they will embrace it. One thing that I am proud of is that regardless of personality, every person I work with on a given day cares deeply about helping our students. They won’t hesitate to employ tools that make that possible.
Putting Tech Before Content– New tech is exciting. Students (and teachers) will be focused on the new devices. It is easy to get sidetracked by the excitement. I spent so much time trying to front load all of the setup, sign up and procedure that I lost something essential to my class. While they were fired up about technology, I had not gotten the students excited about history. Keep your focus on your content. It is your content that defines your class and it is your content that will drive the way you use your device, not the other way around.
Too Much Too Fast– It is hard for students to get comfortable with a new piece of technology unless they have time. Requiring too many new tech competencies to quickly upsets students. They need time to build upon past skills and integrate them with new ones. I buried my students in accounts and passwords. I set up everything I thought I would be using for the year within the first week. It was too much for many students. Focus on fewer more important skills and Scaffold early assignments to build to more complex ones. Think big picture.
Lack of Tech Focus- There will be times where a new technology is AMAZING and perfect to generate more learning and deeper understanding. But there will be times where it is nothing more than a shiny distraction. I am constantly asking myself “Why use this? What is the benefit? What is the loss?” Choose your essential technology carefully. Choose things that support your lesson goals and allow productivity.You can’t do everything and be distracted by every new technology you learn.
No Recovery Time– Students have grasped a new skill and they need time to absorb it, apply it, and use it effectively. When lessons go well and students succeeded I can be too quick to move on the next big idea. I quickly learned that I needed to provide some recovery time for students to get proficient before I could focus on the next tech competency. Stop, and allow them to understand before you present new technology. Beyond just taking it slow (see above) I learned that sometimes you have to take a break. Don’t over complicate this though. Sometimes knowing the right time to proceed is as simple as asking. Trust your students in this process.
Limiting Students to What the Teacher Knows– When given a choice students are going to choose tools that they are comfortable with and that allow them to express what they know. You may not have the slightest knowledge of them or how they work. It is impossible to be proficient at every web tool, app and program available. I have poured myself into learning as many as I can. There are many where I would consider myself an expert but that in no way means that they are the best resource for every student. Don’t be afraid to let students use technology beyond your knowledge base and understanding. Accept that you are student too. Learn.
See the previous article in the series here.