At one time in my career the pressure to use technology in my classroom made it feel like the walls were closing in on me. I knew this was the path education was taking. I knew that kids were interested in computers, but I honestly didn’t see the point. Every time I saw a student on a computer, they were playing a multiple choice game or learning multiplication facts. I can teach them deeper learning than that, I thought. The computer is just a vessel for rote memorization. Students were being babysat by a screen as they did little more than a digital worksheet with moving parts. Then, I moved to a new school. I thank the heavens for this change, as it was indeed a paradigm shift in my entire thought process as a teacher. It is by changing districts that I was able to learn a new mindset towards educational uses for technology. The differences were so stark between these districts, I realized that people really don’t know what they don’t know. Many education leaders claim they want their teachers to use technology, but they fault the wrong reasons as to why the teachers do not use technology. I wanted to lay out a formula for a successful model of what makes an environment for technology integration friendly to teachers. It is rarely because teachers do not wish to use technology.
The message must come from the top
The teacher may know technology is important, but if the leader of the school does not express that they feel technology use is important in instruction and student learning, teachers are unlikely to become new adopters. Those that are late-adopters will feel no push toward adoption and those that are new adopters will be unsure of their footing when it comes to the woes of technology integration. Teachers must hear from their leader that technology integration is important, without high pressure sales tactics. Indeed, the best encouragement is by example. Leaders who teach PD with various new technologies are doing their staff a world of good by educating them on new technology as well as sending a message of favor.
Safety must be assured
Almost every reason I had to NOT try technology had to do with my concerns about my job safety. When the technology fails for any of the millions of reasons that it assuredly will when I choose to use it with students, I know with out a doubt that will also be the exact moment one of my appraisers will walk in to do an observation of me. The teacher has to know that in this moment, the appraiser will compliment him/her for their valiant attempt, recognize their effort and gracefully bow out.
The teacher also must know that they will not be persecuted when they become behind in the curriculum because of these types of incidents, or because the students have to be taught how to operate the computer/program before they can use it. If the leadership is truly on board with technology integration, they must be ready to support the teacher in their learning curve and the students in theirs.
My fear of the above two incidents taking place paralyzed me and my classes into computer paralysis for many years. It was not until I met people who applauded and complimented others many classroom technological blunders that I decided I was in a safe environment.
A safety net must be in place
I can not over value the importance of having an IT dedicated to only your campus. A kind IT is worth a million dollars. I’ve had IT support that was knowledgeable and not kind, no one will go to that person for advice. If you have to make a choice between the best IT person to hire and the kindest, choose the kindest, they will reach more people. Lucky for me, I have both in one person.
Inspiration must be ever present
Leaders can force people to do things and people will hate every minute. Students can ask for things from teachers and they might be indulged. Teachers are most often moved to action by other teachers. Just like our students, it is our peer group that influences us in our ways. Google Plus is a great place to showcase ideas and ask questions in a safe space. Even better, those who are too shy to ask questions know who to email or ask in person because of what they see on G+. Having one person on each content or grade level team be the designated Techspert is always a good idea. Also, creating an atmosphere where teachers share one new technology idea a week in their meetings is usually something easy to accomplish. Find your most energetic, enigmatic teachers, and ask them to be loud and boisterous about their technology use. Have the teachers offer their most useful websites/apps for elective PD hours perhaps during lunch or after school. Only teachers know what is most useful to other teachers and can present it in a way that troubleshoots classroom problems no IT or career speaker can see.
When student work is celebrated, teacher work is celebrated. There is a teacher behind each piece of student work that beams with pride. If students do digital work, have them share their work with another teacher of their choice, unsolicited from that teacher. This might be by hitting the “Share” button on Google Apps, it might be by emailing teachers a link to an online creation, it might be that the one teacher may have to email the other teacher for the student, as the student has no email. So when my class created a diagram using Lucid Chart in class about the 3 major religions of the Mid-East, students were offered the chance to send a “Share” message to any teacher in our school. This act has so many ripple effects, it is hard to name them all. Not only does the student have a new sense of pride for their work, they have a different audience. They also get to make a different educational connection with a teacher who doesn’t usually teach that subject. The teacher receives validation as a member of that student’s social circle and also possibly sees the student with a new skill set not usually presented in their class. The teacher also sees a piece of technology in action that he/she might then see as a viable option for their class.
Display student work on the teacher’s website. Scroll it on the school’s website. Run it on the TVs in the cafeteria, front office, and everywhere else. Take that digital picture frame out of your closet and load it up with student work to show in your classroom.
Do you have staff meetings that start with celebrations? While you are talking about all those personal staff celebrations, why not add some student tech celebrations to the mix? Show a few pre-loaded pieces of student digital work from around the school from the past week. Students get applause, teachers get celebrated for their hard work, new types of applications are noticed, and those whose mantra is constantly, ” we don’t have time for that,” see that some teachers are using technology to make wise use of their time.
All in all, you must engage
There is a place for rote memorization in education. To reach the top of the pyramid, you sometimes have to start at the bottom. There are MANY apps for that. The message and the emphasis should be on creation. When I originally saw technology in use, I only saw teachers using multiple choice programs, multiplication websites, and point and click interfaces. This led to my thought that technology could not teach deep thought. Since then I have changed schools. My new principal held the belief that the internet was for creating thought through synthesis of content taught. This indeed was an eye- opener to me! As I began to look around my new campus at what other teachers used to achieve this, I was freed into a rebirth of technology where the skills of blooms met the skills of an artist, inventor, map-maker, engineer, scientist, and so much more. This was what must be so great about the internet! After this revelation the world was my oyster and only the minutes in the school day were my enemy. My students were the beneficiaries of my new discoveries.
So many teachers do not understand there is a distinction between these old out-dated point and click websites and the rich thinking that the art of creating something new can arouse. This is a distinction that actually has to be spelled out for teachers.
If you train them, they will come…
It may be an old, tired phrase, but PD is still one of the best ways to get teachers to use new tools. If you honestly think about your technology PD, how much time is actually dedicated to it? What message is sent by this? After the testing data is discussed, and the new system that just got adopted, the book study, the emergency procedures, the district goals, the PTA announcements, how much time is left for tech PD? And who teaches it, the IT person? Who determined this is what should be taught? Probably the district who just bought some new initiative. Grass roots efforts are best. Let teachers teach and let them be genuine in what is best for their peers.
A message of support, an atmosphere of safety, collaboration, and celebration. These are the pieces to the technology integration puzzle in a school. Oh, yes, and time. Paradigm shift is a lengthy process that cannot be pushed, but instead must be pulled ever so gently in the right direction.