When school leaders decide to start a new technology project—whether it’s a small one like adopting a new technology tool or a large one like going 1:1—they often dread one or two teachers they suspect will be reluctant and could keep the project from succeeding. They may avoid these teachers or not address their reluctance.
But understanding the position of reluctant teachers may help the leaders preserve collegial relationships and encourage the teachers to accept and work hard for the new project—such teachers, far from being stubborn, may have valid points that those who are eager for change may have overlooked.
Change is difficult, and individuals accept it at different rates. In the fundamental work on how change occurs, Everett Rogers argued that people can be divided into five main groups in terms of how they accept change.
The innovators, the first group, jump onboard easily—these are the people who wait in line for the newest phone or laptop. The next group, early adopters, wait for a little more information but are relatively quick to embrace change and are often seen as leaders by others who are deciding whether to join in or not. The next two groups, the early majority and late majority, wait to see how things will work out—people in the late majority are generally skeptical of change—but they do join once they’re sure an initiative is moving forward. Rogers classified his final group as laggards, and these are the people leaders dread—very skeptical of change and willing to fight to stop it.
Working With Reluctant Adopters
The thing is, leaders should expect to find members of this group on staff, and they should be part of any implementation plan. What that requires is first exploring what it is that’s stopping them from implementing the proposed change. While it might be frustrating to spend time convincing people to move forward on a technology project, the time spent working to reduce barriers can help ensure positive relationships.
Peggy Ertmer of Purdue University has studied the barriers that keep people from adopting new technology projects. First-order barriers are external and technical, such as difficulty using a new piece of software. Second-order barriers are internal—for example, a teacher may think that a technology project doesn’t match what they believe about teaching and learning.
First-order barriers are the easiest to deal with; making sure that teachers have support to learn these technologies and to deal directly with technical problems will resolve these problems. Second-order barriers are more difficult. If teachers don’t believe that a specific technology will make a difference to students, or if they fear they will lose what they like about teaching, it can be difficult to change their minds.
As with all change, a new technology project is about relationships, so dealing with second-order barriers begins with getting to know the reluctant teachers and their concerns. Ask them to talk about their teaching—what was their favorite lesson in the last month? Why did they like it? Build on that lesson. Help them identify how technology could enhance that lesson.
Consider pairing the teacher with an early adopter or an early or late majority teacher. Innovators can be overwhelming because they may be too gung ho to empathize with a reluctant teacher’s concerns, but teachers who are a little reluctant themselves can show reluctant teachers classroom examples of how the project could benefit them. These teachers could help their reluctant colleagues identify a single app or feature based on individual classroom concerns—teachers are more willing to invest the time to learn a new technology when it directly addresses a classroom need.
If the teacher is fearful that they will lose control in their classroom, consider introducing tools where they have more control. Tools like Google Classroom and Squirrels software allow teachers to see what students are doing on devices. Programs like Nearpod allow teachers to control classroom presentation pace on student devices.
If teachers are worried that the devices will make them feel less connected to students, emphasize tools that promote connection and give student voice. Tools like Remind, Seesaw, and Bloomz allow an educator to communicate with students in new ways and also showcase student work and share positive stories with parents.
Encourage teachers to allow students to create content in open-ended assignments. Showing reluctant teachers these kinds of projects (videos, e-books, presentations, etc.) allows them to see how creating such work can empower students with learning differences or language challenges to participate in new ways beyond traditional classroom activities.
Many schools adopt the SAMR model (an acronym for “substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition”) when looking at technology integration. For example, filling out a worksheet online instead of on paper is substitution; adding voice annotation augments the student work; modification changes an assignment, as when a teacher assigns a multimedia product instead of an essay; and redefinition may involve completely restructuring a whole activity, like shifting to group problem-based learning. A mistake some leaders make is to expect users of new technology to redefine their practice with every lesson—for many teachers, just substituting technology can make a big difference in the student experience.
For example, going from paper formative assessments to using something like Pear Deck on Google would create positive change. Leaders should look for growth. An innovator may make major changes to their classroom and not show as much growth as someone who makes a smaller change from paper to digital tools. Celebrate the changes that reluctant teachers make and encourage them to push further outside their comfort zone.
For each new school initiative, the educators in the school will have different values that drive them. If leaders and other teachers acknowledge that every project will have some people reluctant to join based on valid barriers and then listen to their concerns and celebrate their movement toward integration, a reluctant technology user can be a valuable member of the team and their changes can positively impact student lives.