The more I work with schools that are seeking out device integration, the more I stress the importance of developing a school culture around those devices. I've seen technology initiatives falter or lose momentum when devices suddenly appeared and magic was expected to happen. What’s more, we cannot expect students and teachers to simply adapt to technology because it's the 21st century and Twitter says so. The pace at which we integrate technology is equally as important as our developing a positive school culture around technology.
Technology can be a great addition to any school, but it can also be a logistical nightmare if added too quickly and not planned effectively. In my experience of consulting with school leaders, working in the classroom and designing several large-scale technology initiatives, I've learned many pieces of this puzzle. In this post, I'll outline three important pieces that every school leader should consider before devices enter the school.
Develop a Culture of Trust and Openness
Every district-wide and building-based administrator should develop a strong relationship with his or her technology director and network manager. Additionally, school admin should seek out tech directors who not only understand the server room, but who can also be empathetic and understanding about what classroom teachers need. Furthermore, school leaders should place their trust in both teachers and students to leverage the technology in a positive manner. Many times this hasn't been the case, and the school's access is locked down. Instead of locking down the network, open it up and provide opportunities to educate both students and teachers on how this tool should be leveraged in an educational context.
Ultimately, technology should not get in the way of or inhibit classroom practice. This kind of obstruction will happen when districts deploy a technology initiative and attempt to control every last thing about it. While parents have every right to expect caution and transparency from the school district, all parties should also understand that tech integration must proceed with open minds about providing students with access to content and opportunities.
Embrace Risk and Promote Innovative Practice
This piece comes directly from the building principal and how he or she approaches staff evaluations. With the added pressure of high-stakes testing and emerging models of teacher evaluations, it's challenging for teachers to move too far outside the lines. And, despite the state or federal mandates, administrators should develop an environment that promotes risk taking in the classroom.
When conducting classroom observations, reassure teachers that it's OK if the wi-fi drops or the projector cuts out. Ultimately, the focus should be on the content delivery and methodology. Also, understand that the classrooms integrating technology are not always arranged in rows where kids are sitting silently and listening. More often than not, classrooms that are leveraging edtech are in motion or exhibiting organized chaos. Essentially, contemporary classrooms should resemble a Silicon Valley tech startup.
Don't focus so much on the devices being used in the class, but more importantly on the process toward the learning goals or objectives. Ask students what they're learning, not how they like learning on an iPad.
Schedule PD That Allows Time to Explore and Share
If your edtech professional development resembles a TED talk, you might want to reconsider the method of delivery. This is not to say that lecture is an ineffective means of delivering content, but edtech PD should include time to explore. It should be hands on, and groups or teams should have time to share their learning.
In my last post, I suggested that districts employ the Edcamp model for remixing their professional development. This model allows everyone to participate, share and be heard. Teachers walk away from this kind of PD ready to integrate what they've learned in the classroom. Also, administrators should model personal learning networks and leveraging a wide range of social media for on-demand learning opportunities.
Developing a healthy, progressive school culture is an essential step in any large- or small-scale technology initiative. School leaders must appropriately pace the technology integration and model digital learning strategies. Similarly, school leaders should leverage professional development time to include opportunities for teachers to connect, explore and share their learning. Also, there should be options throughout the year for teachers to seek out new applications and have time to tinker with them. When these leadership pieces are synthesized with devices and dynamic teachers, we can expect engaging digital learning opportunities to flourish.