Sometimes the only way to make progress is to leave something behind.
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” — Dan Millman (@pwdan), author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book That Changes Lives
I recently had the pleasure of collaborating with a group of principals during a leadership workshop for a district in Texas. Over the course of our conversations around technology, we came across the always-present obstacle of “change.” We discussed the various ways to address the notion of change and what it meant to propose something that would impact not only the teacher’s routine but also the students.
How do we overcome this fear of change? How do we achieve the grassroots buy-in so this isn’t just another top-down mandate? What came about from our discussion was a notion that seems so painstakingly clear.
It’s simply a matter of messaging.
Change has long been the most feared aspect of education. Regardless of its inevitability, each time it’s met with the same disdain and hesitance as the last. As someone who is very much still a creature of habit and a slave to his routine, I understand the importance of staying on task. As we position learning initiatives to teachers, instead of marketing it as another change, doesn’t it make sense to position these initiatives as a complement to their routines? When we start by embracing and celebrating everything that is great about what our teachers are already doing in the classroom through content and instruction, technology becomes a way to complement instruction instead of changing it. We can position technology as something that is not only going to make their instruction more effective, but — let’s be honest — maybe just a little bit easier.
As professionals, teachers need to embrace change that is best for students. Think about your doctor: When you go to see your physician, you expect that he or she uses the latest technology to provide the best medical outcome. Why shouldn’t teachers adopt a similar creed and embrace technology for the betterment of students?
In my interactions with our partner and friends at Google, they’ve embraced and promoted a phrase of “less teching and more teaching.” Isn’t that the case here? Instead of launching countermeasures the moment your staff hears about a new learning initiative, proactively plan for ways to create the buy-in by employing strategic planning, utilizing professional development and training as opportunities for collaboration and improvement.
Prior to the workshop, we were able to stop in and chat with one of the district’s champion teachers, an early user of technology as a complement to his classroom’s digital learning environment. I learned so much as he spoke as the unofficial voice of many educators. Schools are in such a race to replace — out with the old ways and in with the new — that in many cases we’re “dumping technology” on our teachers. Whether with software or hardware, we’re literally turning teachers off of technology by overwhelming them with it.
The larger issue here is that while teachers may feel overwhelmed, schools don’t think we’re moving fast enough to get technology into the classroom. If your goal is to get technology into the classroom, then you will get technology into the classroom. We shouldn’t be so quick to pass out that checklist of all the things we want our teachers to do with technology over the course of the year because that’s all we’ll get in many cases: a finished checklist. That’s no different than that group of students in every school for years who have done just enough to get by, just enough to graduate.
Instead of spending the time to effectively plan for technology and learn proper implementation, some schools leap over the obstacle that is fear of change. Start with addressing the leadership, the shared vision, and the pedagogical impact of technology, or a “high-access device” deployment; plan proactively for it to be a complement to what your teachers are already effectively doing.
As a part of this process, empower a small group of your champion teachers to pilot and unlock their creativity by making them super users. This is the purest kind of buy-in you can get. These teachers become your feet on the ground, the ones you encourage other teachers to pop in and observe, to learn from in the comfort of your own building or district. They can help with the seemingly elusive element that can make or break a technology and learning initiative.
It won’t be easy — change never is — but look how far we’ve come in education, particularly in the last 30 years. As Dane Conrad (@daneconrad), chief information officer for Hattiesburg Schools in Mississippi, says, “Implementing the technology is typically the easy part. Changing the habits of people is the real challenge, and it is hard … but totally worth the hard work.”
Technology is now a part of what we do, and in this race to replace, what are you going to do to position it to your teachers as a complement instead of a change?
This article is part of the “Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology” series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.