Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Changing the Culture, One Teacher at a Time

As technology rushes into schools at an ever-increasing pace, we are constantly bombarded by talk about whatever happens to be hot this week.  Khan Academy! Ipads in classrooms! Skyping with your teacher! Attaining warp speed, Mr. Scott!

However, once we clear through all of the hype and excitement, the fact remains that no technology is going to change anything in a classroom without teachers who not only understand how to use that technology, but - far more importantly - understand how that piece of technology can have an impact on the way that learning takes place in their classrooms.  A teacher who has students use an ipad as a cool notetaking machine or who skypes with another classroom or an author as an activity in between curricular pieces is pretty much wasting someone's money, specifically whoever laid out the dough for all of that fancy technology.

The real challenge for school administrators is how to encourage teachers to adopt a mindset that sees technology as a powerful lever that can help them to alter their classrooms to produce more authentic and deeper learning.  The traditional answer has been through large-school professional development where the guru of the month comes in, gives a speech that wows everyone and gets them thinking about how they can employ these new ideas in their classrooms, and then everyone has another cup of coffee, sobers up, and continues teaching in the exact same way as before.  Thankfully, this approach is on the wane, but that still leaves us with the issue of how to move teachers towards incorporating technology in an effective and meaningful fashion.

The approach in my school is to narrow my view.  Instead of saying "How can we make our school a place where all of the teachers practice effective use of technology as a means towards better learning?", we turn our focus to one teacher at a time.  In our minds, there are teachers who already understand how to do this effectively, and they need only general support and encouragement from us to keep doing what they are doing and some guidance on how to take it to the next level.  That is usually enough, as they instinctively know what we am looking for and how to get there.

The real work on our part is with the next category of teachers - those who are willing to learn but are not sure where to begin.  With these teachers, we work one-on-one, on a regular basis, exploring their current curriculum, speculating about how it can possibly be taught in a more effective manner, and only then finding specific pieces of technology that can be helpful.  It's kind of PBL for teachers - we figure out the problem that we are trying to solve and then locate the means and the tools to help solve it.  As a result, we am slowly increasing the number of teachers that are on board.  The key word is slowly- we will not have a full faculty teaching in this manner by the end of the year. But then again, the guru or large-scale approach was not going to do it either.  My hope is that this approach will eventually increase the number of teachers who focus on 21st century skills and good technology integration to the point where they help to set the overall tone within the school.

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