How to Stop Worrying & Love Your Tech
Strategies to get your technology-shy teachers to take a chance on new tools.
Steven Anderson and his team at Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools are used to dealing with tech newbies. They train and support 4,000 teachers on a variety of equipment and software. But when one experienced, and respected, teacher said that she simply did not want to use technology in her classroom, it became the group’s challenge to change her mind.
“She told her principal that she taught well enough and she had data to show that her kids were growing,” recalls Anderson, the North Carolina district’s director of instructional technology. “Her principal told her, 'That’s not how our school works.'"
Anderson started slowly with the teacher, working one on one. He demonstrated how digital tools could help her convey her content expertise. "We started with the message, 'You’re smart. Let us show you how this can be beneficial,'" Anderson says. He spent several hours illustrating how to use an interactive whiteboard. Then he brought in another teacher, one who had recently integrated the whiteboard into her classroom.
“We showed her that by doing flip charts with a little bit of interactivity, the kids would get excited about what would happen next,” explains Anderson. “It changed the delivery, not the content.” After four weeks, that same teacher championed using interactive whiteboards in the classroom.
As more leaders strive to make digital literacy a nonnegotiable part of their instructional goals, they will need strategies to get reluctant teachers on board. Anderson and others have some ideas for gently but persuasively making that happen.
Differentiate the PD
“We encourage our principals not to mandate the type of professional development. Let the teachers decide what kind they need,” says Anderson. “We help administrators set short- and long-term goals so that the technology PD improves teaching and learning.”
Halfway through his first year as principal at Winston-Salem’s Wiley Middle School, Sean Gaillard had the same epiphany: Just like kids, all teachers learn differently. So when it came to communicating his vision to integrate technology into teaching, he differentiated his approach.
“This building is like a classroom, but bigger,” says Gaillard. “Teachers have to develop relationships with their students, and it’s the same for me with my teachers.” Gaillard took over as principal at Wiley in 2009. His immediate goal was to use technology to increase student achievement. Two years ago, the school formally adopted a STEAM magnet program.
Did the entire original faculty dive into interactive whiteboard software? Not at all.
“Reluctance is a given when you’re talking about change, but sometimes that can be poisonous,” Gaillard says. “Some folks did move on to other schools, and then I had some I would have least expected who came on board with [using the tech].”
“I’m not a dictatorial guy,” Gaillard says. “I try to model what I expect and provide the right resources for my teachers. And at the end of the day, I need to see a return on my investment for our kids.”
Keep the Goal Clear
The key to Anderson’s tech-reluctant teacher was that she focused on learning one tool, step by step. “We took it in small chunks,” Anderson says. “Each day we had a goal to do one thing.”
Anderson, who speaks nationally and blogs about tech for learning, urges administrators to help technophobic teachers find one tool that excites them—and not to expect too much, especially at first. Principals who state, or even imply, that they want to see technology being used in every classroom on every walk-through can generate staff anxiety, Anderson cautions.
When administrators in the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District outside Boston rolled out Chromebooks to every school, one teacher dug in his heels and told technology director Andrew Marcinek, “I’ve been teaching this way for 20 years. Good luck changing me.”
“But it was never about changing anything,” recalls Marcinek, who oversees digital learning for the district. “It’s always about leveraging the best resources to enhance the learning, whether it’s a tech device or a new chalkboard.”
What brought that teacher around was a combination of one-on-one work with technology specialists and collaboration with colleagues on a specific project.
“A year ago, the school where that teacher worked had no technology, not even wireless,” Marcinek says. “But one of their goals was to leverage technology to communicate with parents.” Some teachers jumped on the tech wagon right away, setting up Google sites for their classrooms, and their enthusiasm was contagious. Soon, even the teacher who’d said he would never go digital was part of the effort.
“The teachers banded together and used WordPress to make blogs on their sites,” says Marcinek. “It was a communal project and they had a common goal. At some point their focus got even the most reluctant guy to see the value.”
Marcinek’s team meets with administrators at the beginning of the school year to identify goals and the best digital tools. He suggests that principals encourage teachers to use their department and grade-level meetings to share successes with digital tools. “With reluctant teachers, something as simple as sending them to observe a [tech-savvy] teacher-leader can really help,” says Gaillard. “The days of one-size-fits-all PD are gone. We try to meet their needs on their level.”
Be a Lead Learner
Even for principals who are themselves comfortable using technology, there can be a learning curve when it comes to instructional integration. In some districts, the central technology team can help principals think through the best, most appropriate uses of technology. It’s powerful for teachers to see that their principal isn’t afraid to learn new tricks as well.
And don’t worry—district technology teams see it all, from principals who want to know about the latest apps to those who never send an e-mail. When Winston-Salem schools switched e-mail systems, several principals admitted that they couldn’t figure the new one out, so they never used it.
“We couldn’t, at the time, understand why they were risk adverse,” says Anderson. But once the tech team realized that no principal wants to appear unfamiliar with the new tools of the trade, they switched gears. The team devoted an all-day training session to basic classroom technology skills.
“Our job is to empower administrators,” Anderson says. “By the end of the day, they were working on interactive whiteboard lessons, making VoiceThreads, and editing videos for their websites. They had a passion to learn. All they needed was to feel empowered and [to get] the one-on-one time with the knowledge expert to make it happen.”
Of course, principals don’t need to know everything about the technology their staff will use—but learning about and using a few digital tools sets an example and makes it easier to determine expectations.
“The more the principal is involved and gives time to teachers to grow, the easier it will be,” says Mary Lange, an educational technology resource teacher for the San Diego USD. “A good principal gives her teachers time to learn and respects them for taking risks.”
Lange’s district offers technology training sessions just for administrators. All digital PD is aligned with content standards using the TPACK framework (see sidebar) and it exposes principals to tools to make their own jobs easier, including the Numbers app to create spreadsheets, interactive whiteboards for creating presentations, and the Evernote app to keep track of the many responsibilities of the job.
As with students, some teachers learn best in groups. Many principals use the PLC model to structure technology trainings. With a trainer present, teachers can teach one another how to use specific tools, such as whiteboards and student devices.
In San Diego, trainings initially focus on skills but they are always wrapped around the teachers’ curriculum. Trainings at this level often end up turning into one-on-one sessions, especially if the teacher is hesitant about using digital tools.
Encourage Best Practices
When Gaillard walks the halls at Wiley Middle School, he checks to see what technology is being used—but he also ties those observations to data. After collecting impressions (using the Teachscape app on his iPhone), he heads back to his office to send e-mails to various teachers he has observed. In the case of one teacher who used a document camera as nothing more than an overhead projector, Gaillard pointed out how she could use it for so much more.“
Once that teacher realized she could use Screencast-O-Matic to grade quizzes and that she didn’t have to bring her work home, she was converted,” he says. “She saw at a base level how it would make her life easier.”
He also asked his most tech-savvy teacher to run a workshop (and provided chocolate as an incentive), a peer-learning strategy that can be more effective than outside PD.
Overall, keep in mind that meaningful integration of technology doesn’t mean every classroom looks like The Jetsons. Principals on walk-throughs should see learning. If digital tools are out, they should be used to strengthen the lesson.
“I’m hoping in a few years people will just see learning, not what teachers are doing with iPads,” says Marcinek. “We don’t notice note-taking skills as anything special.”