February 19, 2015
This post first appeared on Daily Genius.
Introducing a new technology into the learning environment can be an intimidating experience, even for seasoned educators. However, with careful and intentional planning on the part of administrators and educational leaders, they can become powerful tools as part of your curriculum and pedagogy. Here are eight ways that administrators and school leaders can empower their faculty to successfully adopt technology in their curriculum.
Is the Technology on Your School or in your School
Greg Kulowiec, in his talks on iPads and other mobile devices, is fond of asking “Is your technology on your classroom or in your classroom?” Using technology because it’s there, or because you’re “expected to” can be a path to failure. Instead, when choosing a tool, be it a device, a software platform, or another instrument, consider your educational philosophy, objectives, and vision. In his article, 5 Critical Mistakes Schools Make with iPads (and how to Correct Them), Tom Daccord argues that you should explore and examine your curriculum, learning objectives and goals, and pedagogical vision. Perhaps you are in the process of adopting technology at your school in the form of a 1:1 or BYOD; or expanding an existing program, however, don’t just throw technology at existing educational problems. Instead, make meaningful choices.
Reexamine Learning Spaces
A traditional learning environment, with students in rows looking at the teacher, is not an environment conducive for learning with mobile technology. Mobile devices are just that, mobile! Look at restructuring learning spaces to be more conducive to your learning environment. This could include having students work in pods or even taking their classroom outside of the physical building. Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs argues that forward thinking schools are fully redesigning the concept of what a school should “look like.” If you want to see some amazing, innovative architecture look at the cutting edge designs of Fielding Nair International. The Hilbrook School has some great tips on this in “5 Steps Towards an Intentional Learning Space.”
Bring Faculty into the Discussion
All of us in education are advocating for the children. We want our learners to be successful. Teachers are also stakeholders in this experience, in fact, likely the most passionate ones! By bringing them into the decision making and implementation process, you foster their investment, promote buy-in, and can readily address their needs and concerns. Teachers are your greatest allies, use them!
Technology Must be Education Focused
The transition of technology in the classroom has been a rapid one. Many schools are still scrambling to catch up. Because of this, technology often still falls under “Operations” (akin to utilities, car-pools, maintenance, etc) as opposed to “Education.” If you are introducing technology into your curriculum, then you must ensure that your technology has an educational focus. To this end, it’s important that Educators and Educational Administrators be directly involved in the decision making process for hardware, software, filtering, and more, just as they decide other school supplies like notebooks, textbooks, and pencils.
The most important and powerful thing you can do to empower your faculty is to provide them with meaningful, relevant, and dedicated professional development time. In a time when schools are experiencing budget shortfalls, Professional Development budgets are often the first ones slashed. However, remember that when introducing a device into the classroom, even your veteran teachers are back to year one. Their curricular thinking, classroom management, and lesson planning are being entirely restructured and shifted. Professional Development should be tiered and scaled appropriately; do not put AP Science Teachers in curricular training with elementary school science; do not train all teachers with an “introduction to email” course. Instead, professional development should be leveled (Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced), as well as focused on appropriate grades and subject matter. I also encourage you to not add training to already busy schedules. This should be dedicated training time in lieu of other experiences. In addition to in-house opportunities, arrange for funding and provide time off for teachers to attend conferences, participate in webinars, and take classes. While it is great to organize internal opportunities for professional development, look to bring in outside instructors such that you can tap their expertise and let teachers hear from a different voice.
Tap Peer Teachers
One of the best resources that you have are your teachers. Tap your power users and those who have greater social influence in your schools. Even if you make it clear that approaching your Tech Director or Department Chair for assistance is not a “penalty,” it can still be in the back of their minds. A peer is less intimidating. Additionally, they know that their fellow teachers have the same students and work conditions as they do. Their advice and ideas often carry more weight than a Tech Director with decades of experience.
Don’t Lock it Down!
If you allow your teachers to be their best professional selves, to personalize their tools and devices, you give them ownership of the technology in their classrooms. If you send the message: “This item is fragile and dangerous. You can’t be trusted to use it properly, install software, or explore,” then you can’t expect them actively want to use and explore with these devices. I am not saying it should be the wild, wild west. However, set a reasonable use policy and trust your faculty to be their professional selves. By managing their own devices they can explore new tools, become more comfortable, and therefore feel empowered to use it in their classrooms.
Allow Time for Learning and Growth
New devices come with a learning curve. While you can minimize it, there will be some growing pains. Do not make technology adoption a high stakes game for your faculty. Allow for mistakes and failure. One of my favorite podcasts, Freaknomics, posted an episodea few months ago entitled “Failure is Your Friend.” By failing, you take risks, learn, and advance. So don’t just tolerate failure, celebrate it! If you want an innovative environment, then you must celebrate the process of innovation, which includes failure.
Building and fostering an environment where your faculty feels empowered to use mobile devices requires an intentional process on the side of administrators. Respect them as stakeholders, support them professionally, and allow them to explore and take risks. You will be amazed at what they can do!
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