Earlier this month, I was invited to spend the day with a team of teachers that has volunteered to be their school district's technology team. They are committed to working together this year to learn more about teaching with technology and to begin to implement more technology in their classrooms. The district has contracted with the Hudson Valley Writing Project, which asked me to spend some time with them.
I coined the term "Dream Team," after working with them for just a short time. These teachers were excited and a bit nervous, but each one had hope, curiosity and enthusiasm for what the future might hold. The day led me to be thoughtful about what can make the adults in a school embrace the incorporation of technology, and here are some ideas from my own experience and from my experiences working with other teachers:
Working with a small, eager group is a great way to build enthusiasm and support.
My own school piloted its 1:1 laptop program with the 7th and 8th grades, and many teachers of the other grades became enthusiastic about adding laptops to their students' lives as the 7-8 team met with success. Being part of a pilot group meant the teachers could easily find each other for support and ideas. That first year, the technology support staff really had the piloting team as a priority and we were able to set up routines and troubleshoot without stretching that personnel too thin. Teachers and students were excited and, felt special and supported. Together we helped to create a buzz about the future during the first school year of the program.
Student work is the best promotional material possible.
With all due respect to innovative blog writers, educational theorists, and the 21st Century booster club, good teachers will understand why they should add new methods to their classes when they see student work with their own eyes. Whenever I present, no matter what I say or how many times I manage to make the audience chuckle, the light always begins to shine in the participants' eyes when I begin to show student work. Teachers are professionals and experts, and we like to make up our own minds. Showing student work makes this possible.
Classroom management with technology isn't what teachers seem to worry about.
This has been a happy realization. I have heard teachers, who want to include technology more, agonize over restrictions placed on them by school administrators. Because of this, I had the impression that teachers must have concerns about student behavior. It's not the teachers who are concerned, though! Teachers that do professional development are good teachers. They understand how to manage a classroom and they understand how to keep students focused on the work at hand. Because their classrooms are well run, the presence of laptops rarely encourages students to stray off task more than they would given any other type of material or equipment. Professional development that is focused on how to assign meaningful student work using technology takes care of almost all the classroom management issues.
Honesty is the best policy
Every group of adults I have spoken to, formally or informally, seem to eventually ask the question, "How do you have time to learn all of this?" The honest answers: I take the time. I do work outside of school hours (don't all teachers?) I do sometimes give priority to learning a new technology instead of, say, responding to student work super fast. I also get help from others, and from my students. And, I can honestly guarantee that for every new technology a teacher learns, learning the next one is faster. Being a life-long learner means plunging in, and that is well worth modeling for students. Learning something new makes my whole life better, not just my school life. So, the time I use is as much an investment in myself as it is an investment in my students and my school.
The trials and successes in the adult community of a school certainly set the stage for the experience of the students. My own experience, and likely my whole career, would have been different if I hadn't been in a school that values professional development tremendously. So, my last BIG point: Find good professional development, cultivate a support network, and support teachers who do so.