Sunday, March 23, 2008

More Random Thoughts

A few months ago, I agreed to try to write an article about how to encourage teachers to use technology with their students, preparing them for an unknown future. The article has yet to be written. The longer I wait, the more my ideas change. I think this is because I am still learning, at a great rate. Each time I think I've plateaued or perhaps couldn't possibly learn more, I do. And then the idea for the article changes. So I thought I would use this space to flesh out some ideas. Let me know your thoughts.

Random Thought 1: I used to think that if teachers saw how "cool" new Web 2.0 tools were, they would begin to use them...sort of the "If you build it, they will come" idea. But I keep teaching classes, getting the wows and still...nothing. They just won't use the tools. Or most of them won't. So what's going wrong?

I think two things are happening. One is that I need to stop showing the cool tools. I need, instead, to start showing how easy these tools are to use, how easily they embed into the classroom, and how simple they are for children to master, even if the teachers find it difficult.

But, more importantly ...

Random Thought 2: The administration needs to start stepping in. Many teachers just won't change unless they have to (see Random Thought 3). They were taught this way, they've been teaching this way for years, and this is what they know. Status quo. Administrators have the power to force change. It happens everytime a new textbook is adopted and teachers go for training, everytime a new program is added, everytime a teacher is moved to a different grade. It is time for administrators to insist that teachers begin preparing our children properly. And, in order for that to happen, they need to recognize the urgency of the situation.

Random Thought 3: I hate change. No, really, I hate change. I've been a teacher since I was 21. I've been in the same district for 20 years. I take the same vacations each year. And I love every constant in my life. So when I was told, after being in my school for one year, that I was going to move fr
om fourth grade to second, I came home, cried for hours, and started looking for a new job. But then I realized that moving schools would be even more of a change, so I decided to stay. Turns out, I loved second grade so much, I stayed for 9 years. Then I wanted a change and took my class to third grade. Then asked to move to fourth, then fifth. Now I am looking to move into the technology department.

So what happened to cause me to embrace certain changes? Why have I been able to completely change how I teach, moving from mostly teacher directed lessons to mostly project based lessons? Why have I so willingly embraced technology and so easily embedded it into my classroom? I think two things are important for me.

One, I have always been someone who relished collaboration. I collaborated on
a project with a fellow student teacher when I was still learning to teach. I looked for partners in each school I taught, each grade I was in. When I couldn't find a collaborator in my grade or school, I looked outward - to colleges in the area, to teachers I met at conferences, to my husband, to my mother. Anyone and everyone who would listen to my ideas, brainstorm with me, and move me forward in my endeavor. I fought against the isolation of the classroom. I stayed away from the faculty room with all the naysayers and instead went into rooms with ready made collaborators: libraries, art rooms, sometimes the principal's office.

Two, I went into teaching because I was bored in school. I wanted things to be different for my students. There was no role model teacher who encouraged me, excited me, envigorated me. Only teachers who ignored me (good students too often get ignored) or bored me, accepting very average work from an above-average student.

Now, the second is what got me to attend conferences and strive for better. But the first is what really helped me embrace change. Collaborations give me better ideas and someone to push me when I think, "Great idea but it will be so much work." Collaborators even do the work with me. So much better than working alone.

So the solution for others: Be the collaborator they need. Be the cheerleader, the assistant, the shoulder to cry on, the person to lean on. If I can teach how and then be there afterwards, then maybe more teachers would be willing to use new technologies. And that brings us back to the administrators. Hire an ed tech facilitator. You might just get what you need.

That was a long thought. Here's one more:

Random Thought 4: This one came after a long discussion with Christine Southard, my co-teacher and newest collaborator. I used to complain that I didn't have time to use technology. Now I complain that I don't have time for the technology to be down. Funny how things change. Now the goal is to get all the teachers in my district to feel this way. So much work, so little time.


Martha said...

You spoke my thoughts. I agree, the beauty is in the collaboration. But the problem is finding others who understand that power of collaboration. Hard to collaborate when you are all alone. Hang in there!

loonyhiker said...

This was a wonderful post! You put everything in words that I was thinking. In fact, I wish I was still in the classroom so I could collaborate with you! This made me feel better about how I plan to "present" these tools to teachers in my course this summer. Instead of just showing them about these, I plan to make them use it as part of the requirements.

alicebarr said...

Great post! I have to jump on your random thought #2. It does take the administration stepping in to start the ball rolling. I have worked with a pro technology principal who "gets it" for three years and we are just now cracking the surface. He is excellent about the technology not being just my gig, but a great tool for ALL of us. It's been an uphill climb all the way!
One thing that has really helped is using "The Art and Science of Teaching" by Marzano. In Chapter 5 there is a list of Action steps to help with student engagement. We added three more steps that use technology. Teachers could choose from the book or the technology steps. Simple but quite effective. Keep going! It's tough being out at the front, but so worth it!

Andrea Hernandez said...

Random thought 1: I agree and have had similar experience.
Random thought 2: also agree and have been pushing my admin to really support tech in the way I think it should be supported. stay tuned for that one.

In my second yr as "tech specialist" or whatever you call me ( I wear many hats at work). First year I tried so hard to get things to change, get everyone to collaborate w/me and be excited, shared everything I was doing. This year am trying new strategy (after being worn out spinning my wheels). Now I am focusing on the people that want to collaborate with me. There are a few of them, and I give them most of my time and attention. Hoping change will catch on that way.
But ultimately, until my administrator backs me completely and pushes the teachers who need to be pushed, change will continue at a snail's pace.

AllanahK said...

I agree totally about finding a co-collaborator- otherwise things can be pretty lame- it is hard to be your own echo-chamber.

People say there isn't enough time and working on line does take time. But the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. I know the children in my class are better off because of the linking that we do. Let's face it- no-one outside my school would een know I exist without the web- and it has led me to some great places over the last couple of years- both geographically and in my mind space.

Dale said...

On the Friday post of there is a story of a poor school that gave all the teachers and students a laptop. The scores of the students have risen every year since.

NJTechTeacher said...

I've been putting off asking for time at the monthly teacher meeting for the same reasons. I don't know if you listened to this conference session by Dr. Tim Tyson over at Bit by Bit, but it spoke to me about the requirement of principals to lead the charge: Bit by Bit. I have found a few teachers in the building to help me with the collaborations that I have found online. I keep trying new ways to get others engaged in technology in the classroom while I plug away in the computer lab.

I am starting to get my ideas together for an in-school discussion. Good luck with your article.

elementarytechteacher said...

Great post.
Random Thought #1 So true that the kids catch on so quickly while many teachers struggle. I'm just starting to introduce kids to some tools in the tech class and then show the teachers-I'm experimenting with a voice thread with my 5th graders right now.
Random thought #2, The administration not only has to be backing the technology but needs to understand these tools as well. At my school the admin is very supportive of what I do but neither one of my building principals even knows what a wiki is. So, not only do I have to educate the teachers I have to work on the principals as well.
Random Thought #3-While reading this post and writing a response I really realized that I haven't collaborated with anyone this year. I do things to support classroom learning but we aren't planning together. I have just come up with an idea for next year regarding blogging-which isn't allowed yet, but I'm working on that.